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Penn State Football: Offensive Line Coming Into Focus As Camp Continues

by on August 17, 2016 2:45 PM

Penn State's offensive line may still be a question mark heading into the 2016-17 season but after years of struggles it's a position group that might be slowly turning the corner.

While the results on the field are still to be determined, it was evident on Wednesday morning during Penn State's 14th practice of the summer that true depth on the offensive front has finally arrived. It may not be a sign that the Nittany Lions are going to make a complete 180 flip from the struggles of 2015 just yet, but James Franklin and new offensive line coach Matt Limegrover finally have options.

In turn the summer has given Limegrover the opportunity to try new things. Longtime guard and right tackle Brendan Mahon working at left tackle, true freshman Connor McGovern and Michael Menet getting reps with the first team offense. The Nittany Lions return nearly all of the starting five from 2015, but that doesn't mean they'll all be starters again this season. In the past that wouldn't have been the case, not because the starters were so good, but simply because there were no better options.

"That's the great thing about practice 13, 14, 15, you can experiment, you can try some different things, and we get to three or four more of these, maybe Saturday, we'll start to really pair that down," Limegrover said. "You start to see how it all fits together."

"I think both Connor and Michael are guys who came in and felt like they could play right away and physically they have that ability," He added. The single biggest challenge for guys like that is the mental. You're going from day to day and the defenses are going from a four man front to a three man front, they're going blitz one day and then they're dropping back, that's the part that gets on these guys backs around this time of camp. I want to put them in the worst possible scenarios and see how they respond and sometimes it has been good and other times there is work that needs to be done. The great thing about both those guys is that they're so attentive and really into everything details wise so their future is really bright."

As of Wednesday that future may turn out to be making a more immediate impact in 2017. Through a few viewings of the rotations senior Andrew Nelson and junior Brendan Mahon look to work at the right and left tackle spots with Noah Beh in reserve while senior Derek Dowrey will dig in with redshirt freshman Ryan Bates at guard with McGovern and Menet waiting in the wings.

Often criticized JUCO transfer tackle Paris Palmer appears to be the odd man out while senior Brian Gaia continues his tenure at center with McGovern likely behind him in reserve.

Despite no official decisions just yet the result is a Mahon, Dowrey, Gaia, Bates and Nelson offensive front that would be a mixture of new faces and returning starters, albeit not all where they were seen last season. The difference this time though, unlike the past several years where depth was limited, injuries or struggles can result in legitimate depth moving up the chain rather than shuffling players around the line throughout the game. A luxury when it comes to stability and continuity in the trenches.

"I think we're pretty close," Nelson said of final spots getting nailed down. "I think that's something that weighs on Coach Limegrover's mind a lot, trying to get a five that can get together, and gel together, and kind of get used to each other, because in the past, we've kind of rotated a lot of guys, guys have been playing different positions, sometimes three positions in one game, so that's something that's on his mind, but it's a difficult things to do in camp, when guys have bumps and bruises, see what guys are able to play at, so, I think that's important to him."

Between a new offense designed to help support a struggling line and more talent and experience along that front there seems little doubt Penn State will be a better team in the trenches this season.

How much better is the unknown, but a question thats answer could make or break a season surrounded by plenty of cautious optimism.

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