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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Set To Field Talented Group In Trenches

by on August 29, 2018 12:00 PM

Penn State's offensive line might actually be a strength this season as the Nittany Lions are set to play with the deepest and most talented group in recent memory.

And while promises of a stronger offensive line "this year" have been spouted off every summer since the sanctions, this might be the season those tall tales finally come true.

For real.

There is little doubt that 2017 was trying for offensive line coach Matt Limegrover, a campaign that saw five different line combinations during the course of the year. Between injuries and the ensuing personnel changes only Connor McGovern would play every game at the same position, while he and Steven Gonzalez were the only two linemen to play all 13 games.

So it has been a bit of a challenge. Take for example, Will Fries, who is slated to play at right tackle this season but played three different positions in 2017.

"It's harder to switch from right-to-left, tackle to guard, than most people think because there's different plays you've got to know and different schemes," Fries said on Tuesday. "Right-to-left you're switching your balance and strikes and stuff like that. Definitely switching sides is a little more difficult."

"Last year was awesome as far as my development. I got to start at three different positions on the offensive line last year, so that was definitely a challenge and something that's helped me grow and become a better player. Just playing in tough stadiums on the road, playing in the White Out, just all things that helped me grow and become a better player."

As it stands today, Penn State is planning on rolling out a line of Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Michal Menet, Connor McGovern and either Chaz Wright or Will Fries at right tackle. Menet's role at a center is an interesting one as he makes his collegiate debut at a crucial spot, but the once highly touted prospect seems ready to take it on.

The group as a whole accounts for 83 total starts, losing 41 following the graduation of Brendan Mahon. While Menet will have to forge his own way at center, three of the other four linemen boast over 15 starts, that number could rise to four if Wright gets the nod on Saturday. Both Bates and McGovern will hit the 30 starts mark if they start at least eight games this season.

So what's the biggest difference between this year and the ones before it? Competition. The offensive line has been the last position group to recover from scholarship restrictions and where there once was a limited number of options, now there is depth, talent and skill. And that's sometimes all it takes to turn the corner.

"You never take it for granted when you get into a situation that I'm in now, you never say, boy this is so much better, because the work is never done," Limegrover said. "The thing I am very lucky about now is before there wasn't a lot of competition, so you're artificially trying to create it and that's hard with 18 to 22 year olds, I think the best thing now is there is competition across the board at each and every position."

"The one thing I tell guys is hey, I'm going to play you at a position and I want you to get comfortable and master that position, but if you're a left tackle and somebody else goes down and you're our next best player, I'm going to find a way to make that work to get the best five guys on the field. You may be the back up left tackle, but you're not just competing against the starting left tackle, you're competing the backup left guard and the starting left guard and the starting left tackle because if you're one of those best five, those pieces can get moved around."

It is true that Penn State will always be an injury away from the shuffling the deck once again. But it's hard to deny an obvious truth, that the once elusive dream of the Nittany Lions fielding a dominant offensive line might no longer be a dream but reality.

And look at any of the best teams in football at any level, they all have one thing in common.



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