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Blue-White Game Position Previews: Offensive Line

Penn State’s  offensive line returns a number of starters with a host of talent down the depth chart.

NCAA Football: Temple at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Fans saw Penn State's offense improve last year, doing a solid job of protecting quarterback Trace McSorely on the road to a Big Ten Championship win and a Rose Bowl appearance.

The good news: the offensive line is only going to get better, returning six of the seven players who started up front at some point in 2016. Coming back for the Nittany Lions are sophomores Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez and Connor McGovern, junior Chasz Wright and seniors Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson.

The bad news: Nelson and Mahon are unlikely to play in the Blue White game due to lingering injuries, and it's still uncertain if and when they'll return to play in the fall though reports on Mahon have been positive. With several key linemen departing, including Paris Palmer, Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia and Wendy Laurent, and with Noah Beh transferring, who will fill critical roles?

The Starters

The big change for spring is moving McGovern to center, after starting 12 games last year at right guard. McGovern is one of the more experienced (and beefy) players, at 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds, on the unit. He has 20-30 pounds on former center Brian Gaia, and an added advantage of good height and wingspan.

After spending time last year at guard and later at tackle, Bates, freshman All-American, has spent all of spring practice at left tackle, likely cementing his spot there.

Mahon doesn't appear to be starting for the Blue-White game, but will likely be a starter in the fall if he can recover from an undisclosed injury, possibly sliding back in at one of the tackle spots. The same goes for Nelson, who could come back at right tackle if he can overcome a second significant knee injury that left him sidelined for much of last year.

Wright finished 2016 as the starting right tackle and would likely return to the same spot. Gonzalez started three games and played in 11 at left guard, and could start at guard again this year. Former top-50 recruit Michal Menet, a redshirt freshman, has worked at both guard spots in practice and could possibly slide in at guard or even one of the tackle spots.

Menet caught the eye of Offensive Line Coach Matt Limegrover and Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead in spring practice. Moorhead shouted out Menet as one the offensive line's top performers in spring practice.

The Depth

Don't count out Will Fries for a tackle or guard spot, as he's had solid performances in spring practice and nearly had Coach Franklin burning his redshirt in 2016 to get him into games.

Ryan Bates recently talked about Fries with 247 Sports, and was impressed with Fries' spring performance.

Look for two more solid contributors in sophomores Sterling Jenkins, who played in 11 games last year, and Zach Simpson, who played on the kickoff return team.

Rounding out the underclassmen are redshirt freshman tackle Alex Gellerstedt and true freshman center Michael Miranda (who is already earning reps in spring practice), along with C.J. Thorpe, a top-100 player in the 2017 class. Thorpe will arrive on campus this summer and looks a prime candidate for a redshirt given Penn State's newfound depth.