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BSD Blue-White Position Preview: Offensive Line

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BSD’s annual preview series begins with what should be a very experienced unit.

NCAA Football: Georgia State at Penn State Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Last year at this time, Penn State faithful had high hopes for the Nittany Lion offensive line, who then were returning six of seven players who had started during the year before. But with concerns about injured players (Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson), concerns lingered around whether the young line could make an impact and stay consistent and get to a successful season. With a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance, and even with injuries and a bowl loss, overall, the young line improved over the year.

And here we are, in 2018, again returning most starters (four of five, after Brendan Mahon’s departure) with Ryan Bates, Will Fries, Steven Gonzalez and Connor McGovern all back. But what’s different? A line and a team that came off an impressive season-ending bowl game win, racking up 203 rushing yards on a very meaty Washington defensive line. A full roster of skilled backups for a true two-deep offensive line. And no injuries going into the spring game.

Does this mean this is the year for the Penn State offensive line?

Coach James Franklin seems to think so:

...I think we’ve got a two-deep that you can win with in the Big Ten. So instead of having six guys that you feel good about that you’re moving parts all over the place, you still may have a little bit of that, guys that create some flexibility,” said Franklin.”

“But I think there’s a two-deep where you look across it and you say, ‘you know, the guy that’s actually behind that position to go in and play in the game and you’ve got a chance to play well enough to win in the Big Ten.’ So we’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re more experienced. We have more depth.

Excited yet? Then watch the offensive line in action at spring practice, courtesy of BTN.com and read on:

The Starters

Returning are Will Fries, Steven Gonzalez, Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates. The great news is that they’re not all freshmen and sophomores, and have solid starts, wins and bowl experience under their belts to start off 2018 and build momentum for the fall.

Will Fries began 2017, his redshirt freshman season, as a backup but soon became a starter at right tackle---then started at left tackle for the rest of the season, after Ryan Bates was injured. Fries started in the Fiesta Bowl when Bates was healthy enough to play again, so that should be an indication that Matt Limegrover will hold the spot for Fries for the 2018 season. At 6’6” and 305 lbs., and in his third year at Penn State, he’ll bring strength and continued improvements to the position.

Steven Gonzalez (redshirt junior), at left guard during the bowl game, is a best guess to hold that spot, with 16 starts in his career for plenty of experience. At 6’4” and 336 lbs., he’s at least 30 lbs. bigger than when he started at Penn State, and has improved over the past few years into a true leader for the unit.

6’5” 320 lb. center Connor McGovern (junior) is locked at the position after starting all of 2017 in 13 games in the spot he was recruited for. After playing parts of 2016 as a guard, he seemed to settle into the center position just fine and will bring even more experience to the role this season.

Ryan Bates played at left tackle most of last year. But after a late season injury that saw Will Fries sliding into his spot (with Fries likely securing it for 2018), Bates is a best guess at right tackle. Bates brings some of the most experience and versatility on the line as a redshirt junior who has played at left tackle and left guard, too in his tenure at Penn State.

Rounding out the starters is Michal Menet (redshirt sophomore), most likely at right guard. At 6-4, 301 and growing, Menet has impressed in the past year and the 2018 season may give this four and five star recruit the playing time he wants.

The Others

As a redshirt junior, what about Sterling Jenkins? At 6’8” and 343 lbs. it would be nice to see him in the lineup and that’s likely at left tackle. He could be in rotation with Alex Gellerstedt (redshirt sophomore), who has some solid playing experience.

The left guard backup could be Mike Miranda (redshirt freshman), who has impressed over the past year.

Center Zach Simpson (redshirt junior), a walk-on who played on special teams last season, is a likely backup at center. And Penn State fans may finally get a chance to see freshman C.J. Thorpe’s talent shine as backup at right guard.

Redshirt senior Chasz Wright (who started nine games in 2017) has been a strong backup at right tackle and should stay in the spot for 2018.

Rasheed Walker and Nana Asiedu, top tackle recruits, will have to wait their turn along with Juice Scruggs, but when it’s time, they’ll be exciting to watch. As for the rest of the linemen, they’ll have to be patient, too: redshirt senior Charlie Schumann, redshirt freshmen Robbie Martin and Des Holmes along with 2018’s Bryce Effner.