EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of our annual position preview series. Be sure to check back over the next couple of weeks as we preview the rest of the positions in the lead-up to the 2020 season.
The Starter: Rasheed Walker, CJ Thorpe, Michal Menet, Mike Miranda and Will Fries
The Nittany Lions offensive lines will be rich with experience entering the 2020 season. Penn State returns five starters from 2019, sort of. Walker, Menet, and Fries all return to their starting spots from a year ago, while Thorpe and Miranda, who rotated starts at right guard, will now head opposite directions with one at left guard and one at right.
Menet and Fries will be seniors and third-year starters, while this will mark the second year starting for Walker, Thorpe and Miranda.
While having senior leadership at the center position is always important, as Menet will be tasked with calling out blitzes and making checks, the player I’m most intrigued with is Walker.
The Maryland native came to Penn State as a blue-chip recruit who chose the Nittany Lions over Ohio State. He assumed the starting role as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and was impressive, rarely being beaten for sacks or conceding penalties. Walker, at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, is large enough to be a mauler in the run game but also shows quick feet in pass protection.
As a whole, Penn State’s offensive line will be tasked with leading the way for Kirk Ciarrocca’s downhill run game. If the OLine gets rolling early as is expected, the Nittany Lions should have one of the nation’s best offenses.
The Key Reserves
Barring injuries, the five starters should see most of the game time unless the score is out of hand. Two names to watch, however, are Des Holmes and Caedan Wallace. Holmes saw time last year in all 13 games and played both tackle spots. There’s a strong chance he’s a starter in 2021 and James Franklin and new OL coach Phil Trautwein may want to see him in a more expanded role. Wallace, like Walker, was a blue chipper and is now in his redshirt freshman season and stood out on the scout team a year ago.
The Departure: Steven Gonzalez
A four-year start, Gonzalez established himself as one of the best downhill run blockers in the nation with Penn State. While he sometimes struggled in pass pro or when asked to pull, Gonzalez had a better than average career with the Nittany Lions and recently joined the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. Thorpe fills his spot almost perfectly and bring similar attributes to the table.
The Additions: Jimmy Christ, Olu Fashanu, Golden Israel-Achumba, Nick Dawkins and Ibrahim Traore
Penn State’s 2020 recruiting class lacked a bit in terms of star ratings, but there’s plenty of versatility and upside in the class. Christ and Israel-Achumba, who project to tackle and guard respectively, are probably the furthest along of the group. Dawkins was one of the leaders of the class and, according to him, is still growing. He’s likely a guard at the next level. Fashanu and Traore are both very raw, but massive human beings who are uncommonly athletic for their size. Given what Trautwein accomplished at Boston College, there’s a lot of reason for optimism.
If all goes to plan, this should be the best offensive line that the Nittany Lions have had since 2012, when Donovan Smith, Miles Dieffenbach, Matt Stankiewitch, John Urschel and Adam Gress helped Penn State to an 8-4 record in the first season under Bill O’Brien. If this unit can match what that unit did given the glut of talent in the backfield, then the Nittany Lions offense is cookin’ with gas.