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Penn State Football: Nobody, Not Even Franklin Has Answer To Season's Most Pressing Question

by on August 30, 2016 3:15 PM

If the past several seasons have been a reminder of anything for Penn State fans, it's the value of an offensive line. With a good one you can do just about anything, without one and all the schemes in the world won't save you.

In a lot of respects Bill O'Brien has an offensive line to thank for his current job in the NFL. The Nittany Lions rolled out a handful of future NFL players during his tenure in Happy Valley. Under James Franklin the well has been considerably drier when it comes to talent that comes in 300+ pound packages. That's something Franklin can at least partially "thank" O'Brien for as he often opted for skill positions over linemen on the recruiting trail.

Either way and no matter how Penn State got here, the Nittany Lions face the a the same question for yet another season. How good is the offensive line? The change to the inquiry this year is a small but important one; "Joe Moorhead's offense is supposed to take pressure off of the line, but is the line actually better all on its own?"

And really, nobody knows. Not even James Franklin.

"Well, I think that's what we're all waiting to see," Franklin said on Tuesday. "Until we get into the games and have the chance to produce and be successful; practice is great, but it all comes down to production in the games."

"I think the mobility at quarterback is going to help our offensive line. I think the scheme and the tempo is going to help our offensive line and I think the depth that we have at wide receiver and at running back is going to help our offensive line, and I also think it's going to help a quarterback when you have a new quarterback coming in and you have these pieces of the puzzle around them. I think at the end of the day, the coaching staff, myself, you, the media, and the fans, it really comes down to what we do in the games and that's what we're excited to go out and show."

In reality Penn State's line probably couldn't be worse on the whole, even though to its credit the unit started to find its stride at the end of 2015.

Penn State returns four players who have started while adding in redshirt freshman Ryan Bates at left guard. The potential issues arise as Brendan Mahon looks to play at left tackle for the first time in his career while Brian Gaia, Derek Dowrey and Andrew Nelson work at center, guard and right tackle respectively. Similar faces playing similar positions, but not in that configuration for any significant period of time. There is continuity on the roster, but less so as it arranges itself on the field.

The result is a potentially frightening or exciting answer to the unanswerable question of how good Penn State's line can be. Just a bit better and Moorhead and company might be able to work around it effectively enough to take a step forward. Struggles and no amount of quick snaps and schemes can fix the problem completely. One might recall that the John Donovan era wasn't short on screen passes trying to address the exact same issue. Perhaps slightly ominous in its own right, Joe Moorhead's offense gave up 43 sacks in 2015, while Penn State's nationally recognized struggle on the offensive front gave up "only" 39. Perhaps apples and oranges, but still an interesting statistic to digest.

And so Penn State enters its season opener with plenty of reasons to be excited and with plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future. But even the big man in charge doesn't have an answer to the most pressing question of the year, and he may not for a few more weeks.

But hey, that's football.

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