James Franklin Sheds Light On Offensive Line, ‘Green’ Freshmen

After announcing his new starting quarterback in Trace McSorley, James Franklin touched on the progress of the offensive line and indicated a trio of game-ready freshmen designated as “green lights” following Wednesday’s practice.

“You have [Andrew] Nelson at right tackle, you’ve got [Derek] Dowrey at right guard, you’ve got [Brian] Gaia at center, you’ve got [Ryan] Bates at left guard, and you’ve got [Brendan] Mahon at left tackle,” Franklin said. Clearly, Franklin and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover covet the ability to finally line up a veteran unit in the trenches, as only Bates, a redshirt freshman, has spent fewer than three years in the program.

Nelson initially looked like the long-term left tackle for the Nittany Lions, but having Mahon put everything together as a redshirt junior has allowed them to slide Nelson back to his old spot. Dowrey is one of the strongest athletes on this team and Gaia has ample starting experience under his belt at guard, which helped him take the reins as a vocal leader at center this offseason.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that one or both of the promising true freshmen in Michal Menet and Connor McGovern crack the rotation or even nab a starting spot by the end of the season. At the very least, they’ll practice with the two-deep rather than handle scout team duty throughout the season.

“[Michal] Menet’s done some nice things. Obviously, some guys that have played in the past, like Paris Palmer, and [true freshman tackle] Will Fries has done some nice things,” Franklin said. “There’s a number of those guys that I could mention, but that’s probably the five right now that have started to separate themselves a little bit.”

Franklin also mentioned which three true freshmen have already been awarded green-light status for the upcoming season. “I think right now, Miles [Sanders] is a green, [Connor] McGovern is a green, and [Blake] Gillikin is a green. Then there’s another group of yellows and reds,” Franklin said.

Sanders arrived at Penn State as the nation’s top Class of 2016 running back, according to 247Sports. All the physical tools are there for the Woodland Hills High School product to make an immediate impact on Joe Moorhead’s offense, whether that be out of a two-back set, rotating with Mark Allen and Andre Robinson, or contributing in the return game. He’s simply too talented to keep off the field this fall.

McGovern enrolled early this past January, allowing the Larksville, Pa., native to adjust to college life in the classroom and with his new teammates during spring practice. The few extra months of work has done wonders for McGovern’s development as a complete offensive linemen, who saw time at right tackle in the Blue-White Game, but projects as Penn State’s future center. He has the frame and the mentality to do what so few freshmen can up front – take on the intimidating defensive lines of Big Ten East foes like Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan as an 18-year old barely out of high school.

Gillikin’s verbal commitment was an enormous win for Franklin and special teams coordinator Charles Huff this past recruiting cycle, as the heralded Atlanta punter picked State College over Athens and the home-state Georgia Bulldogs. Gillikin’s got a cannon for a right leg, and evidently he’s been able to boot the ball with accuracy during camp as well.

Though Aussie Daniel Pasquariello has two years of college experience in his back pocket, he was often unpredictable with his consistency. Gillikin wasn’t brought in on scholarship to ride the bench his first year. Evidently, he’s shown the coaching staff he has no intention of doing so, which could signal a huge boost to Penn State’s confidence in the field-position game.

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected].

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