The Big Uglies Have Big Potential: A Preview of the Offensive Line

As we wrap up our previews on the offensive side of the ball, let’s check out the big uglies on the offensive line who will be protecting the quarterback and paving the way for the running game.

Along with the QB position, this is the position group on offense that has the most experience coming back. Despite losing senior guard Brendan Mahon, the 2018 unit has experience, and more importantly positive experience, that hasn’t been seen at Penn State since before the sanctions in 2012. The group returning for the Nittany Lions has notched 83 starts as a whole, so let’s dive a little more in depth into the individuals who will make up this year’s offensive line.

Ryan Bates is the likely candidate to start at left tackle in 2018. As a sophomore, Bates earned Third Team All Big Ten honors by multiple publications despite missing multiple games. The 6’4’’ 300 pounder will look to be the anchor to the line and protect Trace McSorley’s blindside in 2018.

On the interior of the offensive line, Steven Gonzalez and Conner McGovern return with each starting all 13 games last season and making starts on the line in their freshman campaigns, as well. Both are rising juniors with Gonzalez locking down a guard position while it is unclear whether McGovern will play center or guard in 2018 despite making all of his starts at center in 2017.

The reason why McGovern may shift back over to guard is because rising sophomore Michael Menet may turn enough heads to secure the center position in 2018. Menet, a former 5 star recruit, appeared in 12 games last season as a redshirt freshman. Whatever the position, expect Gonzalez, McGovern, and Menet to secure the interior part of the Nittany Lion offensive line in 2018.

On the right side, it appears that there is an ongoing position battle between senior Chasz Wright and sophomore Will Fries. Wright played in 12 games last season, making nine starts and has appeared in 36 games throughout his career as a Nittany Lion. As a redshirt freshman, Fries appeared in 13 games in 2017, while also making nine starts last season. All in all, whoever wins this starting job will have a good amount of experience and the backup will most certainly serve a very valuable role spelling both tackle positions or filling in for an injured tackle.

A rarity on the offensive line in recent years, the offensive line has experienced depth backing up their starters this season. Alex Gellerstedt, Zach Simpson, and either Fries or Wright all have experience on the field and could fill in due to injury or just as a part of a rotation that OL Coach Matt Limegrover wants to use. In addition, C. J. Thorpe, Mike Miranda, and Des Holmes will look to crack the field as redshirt freshmen in 2018.

Also returning is physically daunting Sterling Jenkins, a 6’8’’ 330 lb junior who will look to tap into his potential. Combined with the experience on the line, Coach Franklin and Coach Limegrover will be able to work with true freshmen Rasheed Walker, Juice Scruggs, and Bryce Effner. It may be a year or two before we see these names on the field, but listen for their names in terms of performances in practice or in case of multiple injuries on the line.

A very experienced group returning in 2018 should shape perhaps the best offensive line at Penn State in the post-sanction era, meaning this is finally the year for this group to push around the rest of the Big Ten.

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