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‘We Haven’t Reinvented The Wheel’: Penn State Pleased With Offensive Line Improvement

It’s no secret that Penn State’s offensive line has commonly been a weak link over James Franklin’s tenure as head coach. From inconsistent play to giving up 10 sacks to Temple in 2015, it hasn’t been pretty. But now, the Nittany Lions have come a long way in building up its five-man front.

This past season was probably the best for the line since Franklin began at Penn State in 2014. A quick example can just be seen by looking at the total sacks allowed by the front five, which was nearly cut in half to 18 from 34 last season.

The rise of left tackle Olu Fashanu certainly helps on that front, as he emerged as one of the best offensive linemen in college football this season. He was even projected to be a potential top-ten pick in the 2023 NFL Draft before announcing his decision to return to Happy Valley for the 2023 season.

It wasn’t just Fashanu that improved from last season, though, as it was the entire line as a whole. When asked about what is the most significant difference from years past, the 6’6″, 308-pound lineman chalked up the improved play and his own to the rest of his teammates.

“I owe it all to my teammates,” he said at Penn State’s Rose Bowl Media Day. “All offseason, we spent a lot of extra time working on the finer details, on different things, like our technique. Just different things we can do on the field to improve [how we play]. It was just a great experience going out there with all my guys and just all the success that we had.”

Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein received credit throughout the year for the leap the group took, as well. In addition to working hard on the practice field and growing the culture within the position group, he believes the line grew a lot naturally from being under the second year of Mike Yurcich’s offense.

Yurcich, though, gave all the credit to Trautwein for the way he’s coached all season long.

“I think [Tratuwein] has done a hell of a job in that room of just pressing on,” Yurcich said. “We haven’t reinvented the wheel this year. It’s just been the process taking its course and those guys deserve the credit because it’s all about their mindset and their will. I think that’s the biggest thing, and I think Trautwein is a big reason behind it.”

Not only did the offensive line improve in performance this season, but the depth of the line also improved.

Unfortunately, Fashanu suffered a week-to-week injury and missed the rest of the season after Penn State’s crushing loss to Ohio State at the end of October. With big shoes to fill, it was reasonable to expect a drop in production from the left tackle position.

Then, enter Drew Shelton.

Shelton came into the 2022 season as a true freshman, a four-recruit from Downingtown, Pennsylvania. He appeared in two games prior to making his first career start in Penn State’s dominant 45-14 win over Indiana, a game in which the Nittany Lions scored four rushing touchdowns. From that game on, Shelton began to turn heads with his flashes of brilliance at left tackle. During his four-game starting streak, Penn State eclipsed 400 total yards of offense in each game, including a game against Maryland where the offensive line did not allow a sack.

Looking back at the end of the season, Shelton was pleased with his performance at left tackle.

“I feel like I played well,” he said. “I really was focused on going out there and doing my job to the best of my abilities and at the same time having fun. So, I feel like I was able to contribute and do well in my time.”

Penn State was really banged up across its entire line at some key points in the season, but Trautwein was pleased with how the line embodied the team’s “next man up” mentality, discussing how it improved the team’s depth ahead of next season.

“It’s always good to build that depth,” he said. “You usually want to do it without injuries, but sometimes it has to happen through injuries. [It’s good] the guys are out there playing well, and hats off to them for preparing like they’re always a starter.”

With Fashanu returning, Shelton gaining valuable experience at left tackle, and some of the top-ranked offensive linemen coming to Happy Valley next season in Alex Birchmeier, J’ven Williams, and Anthony Donkoh, Penn State has the potential to be dominant on offense with Drew Allar presumably under center. There’s certainly a lot to look forward to for Nittany Lions fans.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected]

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