Penn State junior offensive tackle Donovan Smith has been named to the Outland Trophy preseason watchlist for the 2014 campaign, the fifth Nittany Lion to make one of the preseason watchlists this week. The Outland Trophy is presented to the nation’s best interior lineman (offensive or defensive), and is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious awards that can be given to an interior lineman.
Smith enters the 2014 season as one of Penn State’s most talented and experienced players. He will be the anchor of the offensive line, and will be tasked again with the role of protecting Christian Hackenberg’s blindside. He also enters the year with a few accolades under his belt, as he was named a member of the preseason All-Big Ten First Team by USA Today, and a member of the Second Team All-Conference by Athlon Sports.
Smith’s presence will be even more important this year for a variety of reasons. Hackenberg is no longer a freshman, but is now among the Big Ten elites. Providing ample time to make big throws will be pivotal to Penn State’s success on the offensive side of the ball. That all starts with the offensive line keeping the pocket clear of defenders and allowing Hackenberg to go through his progressions.
Smith will also be counted on again to be the bulldozer for running backs Bill Belton and Zack Zwinak. Last year, he helped the duo rush for a combined 1,792 yards. That number will only grow as rising redshirt sophomore Akeel Lynch will receive an increased amount of touches.
Penn State is very thin on the offensive line this year, as the unit lost seniors John Urschel, Ty Howle, and Garry Gilliam to graduation along with rising senior Miles Dieffenbach to a torn ACL. Smith will have to step up and keep the unit consistent with his play to make up for the critical losses.
The Outland Trophy list will be cut down to six or seven semifinalists on Nov. 20, and will then be cut to three finalists on the 24th. The Outland Trophy presentation banquet will be held on Jan. 15 in Omaha, Neb.