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BSD Blue-White Position Preview: Offensive Line

Penn State v Maryland Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

These are large, unusually smelly men who sweat a lot and push people around on Saturday afternoons. They do not boast aesthetically pleasing figures. Generally speaking, they won’t wow an average spectator with feats of sheer athleticism. They’re typically only mentioned when they false start, or get flagged for holding. Wholly under-appreciated, they are a vitally important component of any offense. All the ‘skill’ (read: little fast guys) position players matter little without a strong offensive line.

Last year’s line was, in the BSD tradition, often criticized. But as opposed to some seasons, last year’s line mostly earned it. Despite a bevy of returning starts, PSU’s veteran offensive line fell far short of becoming the long anticipated “strength” of the offense. Although the squad posted a fine 5.11 yards per carry on the season, PSU’s offense never broke 4.0 ypc for a single game in the final 6 contests - save Maryland, which isn’t a real contest anyhow. As well, the Sacks Allowed increased each of the prior two seasons, from just 24 in 2016’s 14-game schedule, to 29 in 2017, and up to 31 last season. That’s the wrong direction for progress.

But if you’re one of the constant complainers who didn’t like last year’s OLine, then you’re about to get some great news. This year’s line gets no fewer than three new faces, with the graduation of Chasz Wright, and early entries of Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern to the NFL Draft. Of course, despite the fresh faces, the expectations don’t change: 1) lead the offense; 2) keep the (new) QB clean; 3) clear some running lanes; and 4) remain anonymous while absorbing a seemingly unending river of complaints. For now, let’s try to change that 4th one.

At The Tackles

NO Name POS Year Starz Starts
71 Will Fries OT 4th 0.8761 20
53 Rasheed Walker OT 2nd 0.9676 0
55 Anthony Whigan OT JUCO-JR 0.9034 0
72 Bryce Effner OT 2nd 0.8709 0
75 Des Holmes OT 3rd 0.8488 0

Will Fries looks to take a leap forward in this, his 4th season in blue and white. Will nearly had his redshirt pulled during his true freshman season of 2016, as PSU lost its top 3 offensive tackles during a run to the conference championship. He took 9 starts in 2017, mostly at right tackle. Then he garnered another 11 from the coaching staff last year, beginning on the right side, splitting time with Chasz Wright, before struggles forced the staff the shuffle the line - moving Will to the left side, and Ryan Bates to the right. While 2018 didn’t go exactly as planned for Will, this season presents an opportunity to cement his spot in the lineup - probably back on that right side - and put his name on next year’s NFL draft boards.

Unfortunately, friends, that’s it for our known entities at OT. No one else on the roster logged more than a handful of game snaps. At one point in September 2018, rumors hinted that Rasheed Walker may drop his redshirt and work his way into the lineup - but a disciplinary issue a few days later put an end to those rumors. However, Rasheed’s back running with the 1’s this spring at LT, apparently clear of the doghouse, and hoping to nail down a starting spot.

Behind Will and Sheed, we know even less. Des Holmes is supposedly quite large, and quite nasty, which usually indicates a “RT” positional designation. But it’s only “supposedly”, for now, since we’ve rarely seen him. Anthony Whigan joins the room from Lackawanna CC with two years of eligibility remaining. Bryce Effner will get his first real chance to make his mark in blue and white this summer.

At least one of that troika must break through this summer, and establish himself as a dependable 3rd OT. That 3rd spot is absolutely critical, because it’s been 8 years since PSU put the same two offensive tackles on the field for an entire season (Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, 2011).

At The Guards

NO Name POS Year Starz Starts
74 Steven Gonzalez OG 5th 0.8911 29
69 CJ Thorpe OG 3rd 0.9584 0
73 Mike Miranda OG 3rd 0.8747 0

April’s NFL Draft should give 5th year senior Steven Gonzalez a real boost. His former linemates Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern will likely get drafted at some point, sign a rookie contract, and get paid some amount of money for wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. Given that Gonzo played at their level last year, Bates’ and particularly McGovern’s signing bonuses ought to provide Gonzo substantial incentive to hone his craft in his final go, and be the veteran leader this 2019 unit needs.

CJ Thorpe successfully transitioned from “supposedly” large and mean, and into “definitely” large and mean. To wit:

But when defensive tackle depth vanished in the middle of the season, CJ switched sides of the ball, and ate blocks instead of delivering them. Coincidentally, this afforded fellow 2nd year guard Mike Miranda a few more snaps on the field last season. Thus, even though Gonzo brings the only returning starts at OG, both CJ and Mike have game experience - and consequently, you should feel optimistic about Guard this season (as well as this OLine’s ability to defend itself in a Calder Way brawl outside the Shandygaff on dollar pitcher night, should the situation arise).

At The Pivot

NO Name POS Year Starz Starts
62 Michal Menet OC 4th 0.9818 12
70 Juice Scruggs OC 2nd 0.9118 0

If you’re looking for a breakthrough player on the OLine, though, you could do worse than Mike Menet. Center is a wholly unique position on offensive line. First, it’s a phone booth, not an island. Second, it’s a phone booth inside a tornado, because everything happens immediately. The DE twists from out of nowhere and directly into your chest at 20mph. The 360lb nose tackle starts every snap about 6 inches from your face. The MLB tries to time his blitz at the very second you’re turning your head. You get the idea. All of it, frankly, is a lot for any first year starter.

Which is precisely why you ought to take a look at Mike Menet for your breakthrough player. He has the pedigree. He has the ability. He has the brains. And now, entering his second season with the 1’s, he has the tacit knowledge that can only be gained by the experience of fighting for your life inside of a phone booth, that’s inside of a tornado.

Of course, if Mike doesn’t make a leap forward, then super freak Juice Scruggs will take his spot. Because Juice also has the pedigree, and the ability, and the brains. That’s how Jimmy Franks rolls with the croots these days.

Next Men Up

NO Name POS Year Starz Starts
UN Caedan Wallace OL 1st 0.9627 0
UN Saleem Wormley OL 1st 0.9027 0
50 Will Knutsson OL 2nd 0.0000 0
59 Kaleb Konigus OL 2nd 0.0000 0
63 Collin De Boef OL 2nd 0.0000 0

Outlook

Offensive line is a have it your way buffet. The optimist gets valid reasons for hope. The pessimist gets valid reasons for panic. And the BSD comment sections will resemble the food fight from Animal House. Prepare accordingly.