Penn State’s Offensive Line Teeming With Competition Entering 2019 Season
Plenty of position battles have popped up around Penn State heading into the 2019 season, and the offensive line is no exception. Key departures have left spots open, and a few youngsters are eager to earn their places along the offensive line.
The Nittany Lions’ offensive line should end up as a good mixture of new faces and established veterans, but final positions and starters won’t be set in stone until the latter parts of a summer that’s shaping up to be a competitive one in the trenches.
Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover will need to make some tough decisions at both tackle positions following the departure of Ryan Bates, who signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after the NFL Draft. However, the offensive line coach has confidence in many newer faces in the locker room including redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker, junior college transfer Anthony Whigan, and redshirt sophomore Des Holmes.
“We’ve got a really good group,” said Limegrover. “Rasheed Walker did a lot with the first group in the spring. He’s got tremendous physical attributes, but he also loves the game of football. He loves learning about it, asking great questions. You couple that part with the physical attributes and you feel like you’ve really got something there.”
Walker will primarily compete for a tackle position against veteran Will Fries. The redshirt junior started at left tackle in 2018 when Ryan Bates couldn’t play due to injury, but he was deployed at right tackle at the Blue-White game this spring. Fries’ versatility and ability to play right tackle could create an opening for Walker to play at left tackle where he’s more comfortable.
Des Holmes is also eyeing up a tackle spot entering this season. The redshirt junior played a little last year, appearing on offense briefly in just three games. Holmes primarily played tackle throughout high school, and doing so at Penn State would likely be his preference. It doesn’t seem likely that Holmes would beat out Walker or Fries for a starting spot, but Limegrover believes he’ll earn playing time if he keeps working toward it.
“Holmes is an older guy and the game is slowing down for him because he understands it a little better,” Limegrover said. “I thought he had made some great strides and he’s got to have a starter mentality. If he comes out in the fall and plays well, we’re going to find a spot for him. That’s just the way it is. The best five are going to play.”
Holmes and Walker aren’t the only new faces vying for a spot at tackle. Anthony Whigan, a junior college recruit who committed to Penn State last August, will compete for a spot now that he has some experience with the Nittany Lions under his belt.
Limegrover said he doesn’t want the JuCo transfer to come in and warm the bench, and his strong spring helped his case to earn snaps in the regular season.
“As the spring went on he started to understand the offense better and better, and you can see him playing better,” he said. “I feel like he’ll carry that momentum through the summer and into fall camp.”
Michael Menet is poised to line up at center once again for the Nittany Lions where he started 12 games in 2018. According to Limegrover, the junior will act as the “quarterback of the offensive line” and lead the group throughout the 2019 season.
Like Menet, senior Steven Gonzalez will likely return to his 2018 position at left guard. Gonzalez started all 13 games at the position for the Nittany Lions and will act as an important veteran presence in the locker room, hopefully setting a good example for younger players and recruits.
“Steven’s not only a guy who’s played a lot of football, but he’s pretty hungry right now,” Limegrover said. “He wants to be that next success story, the next guy that hears his name called in the draft.”
Right guard appears to be the most contested position along the offensive line as Connor McGovern, who started 12 games there in 2018, is no longer in the locker room after getting drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
CJ Thorpe, who played on the defensive side of the ball last season, is returning to the offensive line and will compete against Mike Miranda for the starting job at the position. Miranda’s experience may give him the edge, but the job seems to be up for grabs right now.
“It’s great to have [Thorpe] back,” said Limegrover. “He had a great spring. I loved his focus, and I want to say that him having some experience on the defensive line has gained him some perspective on our side of the ball. Miranda started the Maryland game for us last year and did a nice job.
“Both of those guys know [the starting job] is right there for the taking.”
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Clifford will take the job left vacant by Trace McSorley, who went 31-9 as the Nittany Lions’ QB1 in three seasons at the helm of the team’s offense.
2019 seems to break a trend for Penn State football, which usually named just three captains per season (one on offense, defense, and special teams).
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