Breaking Down Penn State’s Offensive Line After Blue-White
The annual Blue-White scrimmage came and went, giving fans plenty of fuel as summer approaches. This season brings with it a recurring question: How exactly will the offensive line fare in 2015?
The unit’s performance on Saturday gave Nittany Nation little to get excited about, allowing Christian Hackenberg to be touch-sacked five times. The unit faces little turnover as it returns four starters, but the small percentage of turnover represents a huge loss for an already struggling unit. With Donovan Smith headed to the NFL, the offensive line will need to persevere while figuring out a way to keep “The Franchise” well protected with the assets available.
James Franklin had plenty to say about the offensive line after the game’s conclusion, stating that he still has faith in the unit — it’s just going to take a little time.
“I think we are way ahead of where we were at this point last year. As a group, we still have a situation now where we still have guys trying to learn left tackle, which I think showed up at times today,” Franklin said. “As a group, four out of the five in totality of it, we still have a lot of work to do. Like I told you guys last year, it wasn’t going to be like we were going to be able to flip a switch and it’s going to change overnight. I am confident that between now and the start of camp, we can take another step and then continue to grow during camp and be ready to go.”
A big piece of that puzzle will be offensive tackle Paris Palmer, whom Franklin hopes will be in the 305-310 pound range come fall. Palmer is a behemoth offensive lineman with an incredibly high ceiling. He’s exactly the type of player a coach can insert into a lineup and see instant improvement. The only problem is, he entered spring practice weighing in at around 280 pounds — far too light for a Big Ten offensive lineman. If he can add more muscle mass to his already gargantuan frame, you’re looking at a completely new type of player, capable of protecting Hackenberg’s blindside for the next two seasons.
Although Palmer struggled on Saturday at times, it’s important to remember where he’s coming from. Palmer’s last stop was in the JUCO ranks — a far cry from the level of play found in the Big Ten. The sentiment Franklin shared in his postgame press conference applies here as well. Just as it goes for the offensive line as a whole, it won’t be an overnight transition for Palmer. It takes months to get a player with no Division I experience up to speed with the intricacies of the game, not a few weeks. Getting Palmer ready for regular season play is a top priority for Franklin’s staff, and although he may not seem ready now, all the work will pay off when it matters.
With Hackenberg’s anchor in Smith now gone, someone will have to step up and assume the role. Palmer got his feet wet on Saturday at left tackle, and he may be the best fit for the position when he adds weight. Right now, it’s redshirt sophomore Andrew Nelson. He may not be the most tenured lineman on the roster, but he’s been tested the most. As a redshirt freshman last season, he saw the likes of Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun. He’s gone up against some of the conference’s best right out of the gate, which erases any doubt that he would struggle on the left side. Nelson’s presence will be imperative to success against the rush, and although Smith won’t be returning, Nelson will need to be the “next man up.”
It’s too early to start judging the offensive line after such a limited opportunity of observation. This will be a process, not a quick fix. As the months progress, the unit will continue to gel, resulting in a much more refined finished product come August. Patience is a virtue, and with expectations continuing to mount, it will be needed with this unit more than ever.
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