Five years ago when James Franklin arrived at Penn State from lowly Vanderbilt, he likely assumed he had ascended the collegiate coaching peak. He remembered the Penn State of the 1990s - never ranked outside the top 25 between 1993 - 99 - and knew, implicitly, that this was a college football blue blood. And armed with those memories, he chose to implement a smash mouth, Power O rushing attack.
His memories didn’t match reality, however, as the sanctioned roster he inherited featured just four scholarship offensive linemen. The 2014 Blue vs White spring game actually featured a third jersey color - gray - because there simply weren’t enough bodies to field two different offensive lines. His handful of OL had to wear gray and play for both Blue and White.
A quick look at the depth chart tells us the OL situation at Dear Old State has changed dramatically for the better. Specifically, the two guard spots now feature an “OR”, signifying co-starters. Let’s take a look at the two new guards, CJ Thorpe and Mike Miranda, from last week’s thrashing of hapless Idaho.
Kill The Lights
CJ Thorpe grabs your attention. He looks like a bowling ball - a really, really big bowling ball. And - good gravy - when it’s a run play that asks CJ to drive block, you practically cannot miss him.
Not that it needs stating, but for the record, CJ is the right guard in the gif below. You’ll note the low pad level, constant foot drive, inside hand placement, and how he locks on like a pit bull. This guy genuinely wants to bury you six feet under on every darned run snap.
On passing snaps, CJ still wants to bury you six feet under. Unfortunately, that unquenchable thirst to punch you in your face results in bad pass pro technique. He’s a leaner, or waist-bender, or reacher, depending upon your chosen scouting terminology. He gets his head too far in front of his hips and toes, and that’s a recipe for whiffing in pass sets (though he moves his feet and picks up the blitz in this gif below).
The other newcomer at guard, Mike Miranda, got named offensive player of the week. He played right guard, left guard, and center in the same game, and played them well. It’s easy to see what the coaches love about Miranda - he plays exactly how they coached him to play. As shown in the gif below, Mike is technically proficient. He’s uncovered at the snap on this zone run, so he chips the nose with his forearm, and progresses to the second level with exactly the right footwork in search of the linebacker. He gets rolled up from behind in this gif and goes down, but don’t fault him for that.
Below, Miranda is “covered” by a big fat dude six inches from his face. He’s not the raging bull that Thorpe is at the point of attack, but - again - it’s his technique. He’s technically precise - knows his assignment, blocks the right guy, hands are right, feet are right. It’s not dominating, but it’s a win.
The gif below shows the contrast in both new guards in the run game. Thorpe, of course, is right guard - you can’t miss him. If he wasn’t wearing a jersey and helmet, you might mistake him for a grizzly bear attacking a child in the woods of Montana. He blots out his victim by his shear size; there’s a flurry of violent thrashing; and then it ends with CJ buring his prey, and presumably, eating his head for a snack.
Conversely, left uncovered on the backside of this rush, Miranda gets surprised by the speed of the Vandal LB #8, who creases Mike’s gap and blows up the play. In Mike’s defense, no one on Idaho’s squad did much of this shooting gaps, or aggressive play making, or playing fast, or trying hard. So this really surprised me, too, and I’m merely watching. But there you go.
Let’s toss in a little pass pro to even things out - because that’s where they get evened out. In the gif below, CJ’s still leaning over his toes. Fortunately, however, the Idaho nose tackle is either too stupid or too tired to attempt anything other than a bull rush. And guess which pass rush move CJ Thorpe can handle all day long.
Conversely, on the left side is Mike, playing a perfect symphony with new LT #53, Rasheed Walker, handling an E-T stunt with the greatest of ease. It’s as if they’ve been doing it together for 12 seasons in the NFL.
Here’s one more pass pro. CJ gets burnt for his forward lean with a simple arm-over by the Idaho DL. On the left side, Coach Miranda gets off the snap perfectly, steps perfectly, uses his eyes perfectly, redirects perfectly, and punches the NT in the ribs when no one enters his zone.
Hit The Lights
It’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Certainly James Franklin must think so. But friends, you can now safely get excited for the two new guards. That’s not to claim no issues going forward, or that we’ll never witness another mental error. But there’s a lot to like with these two guys.
Thorpe is easy to love, because he murders defenders and then eats them like a snack. Who wouldn’t love that on your team? He’s a total savage. If you’re in the stands this Saturday, watch him on the sidelines because he’s probably chewing on a human arm between series.
Miranda - once he gets a few more snaps to adjust to the speed - is a coach’s dream come true. He does everything exactly as you taught it, all the time - and he does it at three different positions in the same game. It’s easy to see why a depth chart that used to feature just 4 scholarship OL now features an “OR”.