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Projecting Penn State Football’s 2023 Starting Lineup: Offensive Line, Wide Receivers, & Tight Ends

Three. More. Days.

Penn State football is just around the corner, and with a few days remaining until the season opener against West Virginia, we’re laying out what the Nittany Lions should look like when they take the field on Saturday, September 2.

The Nittany Lions have depth across the board, most notably at the offensive line and tight end positions. Plenty of players in those positions have starting or playing experience, and the coaching staff has spoken highly of each unit. While the wide receivers may be a different story, wide receivers coach Marques Hagans seems comfortable with his group’s development.

Offensive Line

Starters: Olu Fashanu, Landon Tengwall, Hunter Nourzad, Sal Wormley, Caedan Wallace

Reserves: Drew Shelton, JB Nelson, Nick Dawkins, Addison Penn, Vega Ioane, J’ven Williams, Alex Birchmeier, Golden Israel-Achumba, Ibrahim Traore, Anthony Donkoh, Matt Detisch, Henry Boehme, Jim Fitzgerald, Liam Powers, Ian Harvie

While Penn State didn’t have a ton of consistency in its offensive line health in 2022, it comes into the 2023 season with a good understanding of its starting players and some impressive depth. The Nittany Lions will shuffle some players around to replace center Juice Scruggs, but the group is in a strong place.

Perhaps the best player on the entire Nittany Lions roster comes in left tackle Olu Fashanu, who opted to stay at Penn State for a third year after spending the back half of last season injured. Fashanu was projected to be a top selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, but his stock has only risen after he elected to stay in Happy Valley.

Landon Tengwall and Caedan Wallace, like Fashanu, both had their 2022 season cut short by injuries. Tengwall had a season-ending surgery after the Northwestern game, while Wallace’s season ended after Minnesota. Still, with their backups no longer in competition with them for their starting roles at left guard and right tackle, respectively, they should be set to see starting reps as long as they stay healthy.

Sal Wormley was one of two Nittany Lion offensive linemen to start every game of 2022, and the only one still with the program. Wormley was a consistent force at right guard, and James Franklin will have no need for rotation there.

Hunter Nourzad, who took over for Tengwall at the left guard position last season after Tengwall went down, is almost certainly Penn State’s new center. With Scruggs gone, Nourzad will step up into a role that the coaches have been preparing him for while the new Texan was still at Penn State. Since Penn State had a bit of a battle to see who would grab that starting center role, there’s a stable of promising depth behind Nourzad in Wallace, Wormley, and Nick Dawkins that offensive line coach Phil Trautwein feels confident in.

Penn State also recruited exceptionally well at the offensive line for the Class of 2023. Franklin brought in J’ven Williams and Alex Birchmeier, who were ranked as the No. 6 offensive tackle and No. 2 interior offensive lineman in the country, respectively, by 247Sports’ composite rating system. Williams and Birchmeier aren’t expected to shed their redshirts, but they could quickly become important depth pieces as the year progresses.

Wide Receivers

Starters: KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Trey Wallace, Dante Cephas

Reserves: Omari Evans, Liam Clifford, Kaden Saunders, Malik McClain, Malick Meiga, Mason Stahl, Jake Spencer, Anthony Ivey, Jason Estrella, Jan Mahlert, Tyler Johnson, Ethan Black, Carmelo Taylor

There is no one position on Penn State’s roster that seemingly feels less prepared for West Virginia than the wide receiver corps.

It can be assumed that KeAndre Lambert-Smith will start for the Nittany Lions. He was Penn State’s No. 2 receiver last year behind Parker Washington and seems poised to be the team’s No. 1 pass catcher this year. In 2022, Lambert-Smith made 22 catches for 389 yards and four touchdowns, including an 88-yard touchdown catch in the Rose Bowl.

Behind Lambert-Smith is likely Trey Wallace. He was a strong third option for former Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford last season, catching 19 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown in his redshirt freshman season.

Behind Wallace, things get messy. Sophomore Omari Evans ripped off a complete performance during the 2023 Blue-White Game, but is expected to fall behind incoming transfer Dante Cephas in the depth chart, who posted 48 catches for 744 yards and three scores a year ago.

However, with Liam Clifford, Kaden Saunders, and most other contenders taking second-team reps at practice as the West Virginia game inches closer, it looks like the Nittany Lions’ depth should be competent to step into the ring barring injuries. There will likely be some movement at the position as the season progresses, and Hagans seems ready to adjust his lineups as needed.

Tight Ends

Starter: Theo Johnson

Reserves: Tyler Warren, Khalil Dinkins, Andrew Rappleyea, Jerry Cross, Joey Schlaffer, Finn Furmanek

There’s been plenty of debate over the offseason regarding who would replace Brenton Strange at the tight end position. In all likelihood, Penn State could have two replacements.

Theo Johnson seems to be the most likely starter this season. Johnson does have plenty of experience coming into an increased role for the Nittany Lions. Across three seasons at Penn State, Johnson has played in 32 games, snagging 43 catches for 597 yards and five touchdowns.

Right behind Johnson sits Tyler Warren, who will at least split plenty of reps with Johnson, if not split starts altogether. Warren suffered from several nagging injuries last fall but still finished the year with 10 catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns.

There isn’t a plethora of experience behind Penn State’s dynamic duo. Both Jerry Cross and Khalil Dinkins have previously spent time with Penn State before the 2023 season, leaving the search for increased reserves hanging in the balance.

The battle is up in the air, though the Nittany Lions have the benefit of Andrew Rappleyea, one of the top tight ends in the 2023 recruiting class joining the team this year for some depth strength.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football, and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please direct all praise about punters toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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