Penn State’s offensive line has been a focal point for the Nittany Lions over the years and usually dictates the team’s success in a given season. In the first two seasons under James Franklin, the offensive line was a target for scrutiny and was the equivalent of Swiss cheese as Christian Hackenberg was on the ground seemingly every play.
Last season, the O-line improved and was able to protect Trace McSorley en route to a Rose Bowl appearance. Although you can attribute some of its recent success and reduced amount of sacks to McSorley’s athleticism and ability to extend plays, the O-line provided McSorley ample time to throw when he stayed in the pocket. This unit hopes to continue momentum from last season into its 2017 campaign while replacing some veterans with new faces.
Penn State will lose several key lineman to graduation and the draft, including Paris Palmer, Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia, Tom “Bigs Guns” Devenney, and Wendy Laurent. With their departures, Penn State will need to find replacements in the younger players on the team.
“The number one goal is to be more physical in the offseason. We want to be known as being more physical than any other group on the field.” redshirt sophomore Ryan Bates said.
Last season Bates split time between guard and tackle when several players in the rotation were injured. Bates has played primarily at left tackle throughout the spring and is feeling more confident after every practice.
“I’m doing really well at left tackle and I’m continuing to progress,” Bates said.
In addition to Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Zach Simpson, Connor McGovern, and Chasz Wright are expected to play big roles on the line this season. Last year McGovern was a true freshman, while Simpson and Gonzalez were in their freshman year of eligibility following redshirt seasons. All three have learned and developed after their first full season on the field.
“We have a lot more experience than last year with people getting playing time. Our goal this year is to take the next step and be better than we were last season,” Bates said. “We are competing and making each other better everyday,”
Freshman Mike Miranda impressed both his coaches and his fellow teammates at spring practice.
“He’s a good young player but he has to gain weight. If he gains the weight he’ll be a really good player for us,” Bates said.
This unit will only continue to develop over the next several months. As the young players gain invaluable on-field experience, they will gain confidence and comfort in the system. In an ideal world, they won’t give up may sacks and the Nittany Lions will be hoisting a Big Ten Championship trophy again at the end of this season, but it’s going to take some quick transitions for this squad to be fully prepared.
“The biggest thing with offensive lineman is we need to have trust, and I trust the guys next to me,” Bates said. “We are a tight unit on and off the field.”