BSD’s position-by-position preview continues with the offensive line. The position group was finally a strength for Penn State last season, and with left tackle Olu Fashanu coming back, it figures to be one of the top groups in the Big Ten once again.
LOCKED IN STARTERS
Let’s start at left tackle, where Olu Fashanu spurned the NFL for another year in Happy Valley. We’ve talked about Fashanu quite a bit this offseason, but the point remains the same — there might not be a better left tackle in the college game than Fashanu. He has tremendous feet and athleticism, and was already an elite pass blocker. The idea of him coming back to school and becoming an even better run blocker has to truly excite offensive line coach Phil Trautwein.
Plus, not for nothing, but Fashanu seems to be stepping up in the leadership void left by the likes of Sean Clifford and PJ Mustipher. Fashanu has been very vocal this offseason about what this Penn State team wants to accomplish.
At center, I think Penn State feels pretty good about Hunter Nourzad making the move and taking over for Juice Scruggs. Nourzad dealt with injury-after-injury last season, but kept coming back in and playing through the pain. Will be interested to see how he looks if the good graces of health stay with him in 2023.
On the opposite side of Fashanu, there’s a right tackle battle brewing between Caedan Wallace and Drew Shelton. Wallace brings with him tons of experience, having been the starter at right tackle dating back to the 2020 season. But after succumbing to an injury last season, Shelton saw his redshirt burned and performed admirably in Wallace’s absence down the stretch of the season. In the past, we’ve seen Phil Trautwein go with a rotation if it was warranted — see; Wallace and Bryce Effner last season — so I wouldn’t be surprised if that route is taken again.
At guard, there’s a mish-mash of players fighting it out on the left and right sides. Landon Tengwall returns as the starter at left guard, but he’s being pushed by JB Nelson. Meanwhile at right guard, you have Saleem Wormely who started all 13 games, but has the 6-foot-4, 352-pound Vega Ioane waiting in the wings.
While Penn State might just shift a guard into center should Nourzad get hurt, the Nittany Lions do have the experienced Nick Dawkins at center too. He was injured himself for much of last season, and ended up taking a redshirt year because of it.
The fourth tackle spot, as silly as it sounds, is something Penn State would like to figure out this spring. Jimmy Christ returns for another season, but much of the attention will be on the true freshmen J’ven Williams and Alex Birchmeier. I imagine the hope and plan will be to preserve both of their redshirts, but that was likely the plan with Shelton last year too. If the injury bug bites, it could prove crucial that at least one of those guys are ready to go. This spring will be a big factor in that.