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Penn State Football: Menet Nearly Played In 2016, But Staying Off The Field Has Paid Dividends Down The Road

by on July 15, 2019 1:45 PM

One of the most challenging aspects of Penn State's battle through the sanction era was the ability to delineate the cause of the Nittany Lions' various weaknesses. Did the offensive line struggle because of coaching, because of depth or because there was a lack of talent?

In reality all three things came into play, but the unique circumstances made it harder than usual to pinpoint the cause of some of Penn State's biggest issues on the field.

And finding an answer was sometimes even harder.

Take for example, late in Penn State's 2016 season as Brendan Mahon missed the remainder of the year for medical reasons. The Nittany Lions were short on flexibility and short on options. James Franklin could have played freshman Michal Menet, but to do that so late in the season would burn a year of eligibility for a player the program had high hopes for down the road.

"We'll see how it plays out," Franklin said at the time. "You'd love to keep those (Menet and fellow freshman Mike Miranda) guys as redshirts if you possibly can. But the way this thing is playing out, you never know. We want to be prepared, so those guys will be up with the varsity and will get a bunch of reps.

"On a side note, it was great to see those guys sitting in my office because they look beautiful. They've gotten big and strong and have matured. They're two good-looking young players that we're excited about."

In the end Menet didn't play, and years later his time finally came, starting throughout the 2018 season and now an important piece to the offensive line puzzle in 2019. Penn State was obviously able to win the Big Ten without his services, but only in hindsight does it seem like the simple and obvious choice.

"It was just staying in the moment, just getting better every day," Menet said this week about potentially playing in 2016. "That's at least what I did, I didn't really worry about what my role was because it was changing day-to--day, week-to-week, what I might be doing. So I was trying to work every day to get better and things kind of fell into place like they did."

"Redshirting gave me a ton of time to mature, on and off the field in terms of mentally and physical so i definitely think I used it to my advantage and it'll benefit me in the end."

While Menet is just one example of holding off on offensive line talent until it is truly ready to play, Penn State's entire roster is a testament to the value of depth, and the resurgence on a roster that has still taken time to recover from the sanctions. Now there is competition, quality players waiting in the wings, and high end talent ready to take that next step.

Not long ago that wasn't the case, Penn State was forced to play its best players no matter what. Not long ago the departures of linemen Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern would have spelled doom for the offensive line.

Now it's a matter of reloading. 

Even with the loss of the two upperclassmen starters Penn State is still slated to start three more of them with potential replacements for Bate and McGovern having some game experience as well. Compare that to the 2016 season when Brian Gaia was the only upperclassmen on the offensive line near the end of the season and the contrast is stark.

Age is not a guarantee of quality, nor is youth an indication of a struggling depth chart, but top to bottom offensive line coach Matt Limegrover finds himself with options, and an offensive line room the is no longer simply trying to stay above water.

"It's way more competitive because you know the guy behind you is plenty capable of coming in and playing if he has to," Menet added. "So just the competitiveness has been raised a ton and continues to rise."

No offensive line will be glad to see NFL caliber players leave the program, but for the first time in a while, the Nittany Lions have the horses to replace those departures.

But like all things, what you have on paper and what you get on the field can sometimes be two very different things, the latter to be determined over the next few months.

2019: Probable Week 1 starters (Not listed in on-field order)
  • Michal Menet (Jr)
  • Steven Gonzalez (Sr)
  • Will Fries (Jr)
  • Rasheed Walker (RSF)
  • Mike Miranda (So)

---Late season starters, upperclassmen in bold

2018:
  • Connor McGovern (Jr)
  • Ryan Bates (Jr)
  • Steven Gonzalez (Jr)
  • Will Fries (So)
  • Michal Menet (So)
2017:
  • Ryan Bates (So)
  • Steven Gonzalez (So)
  • Connor McGovern (So)
  • Brendan Mahon (Sr)
  • Chasz Wright (Jr)
2016:
  • Ryan Bates (RSF)
  • Steven Gonzalez (RSF)
  • Brian Gaia (Sr)
  • Connor McGovern (TF)
  • Chasz Wright (So)


Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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