2019 Penn State Football Preview: Offensive Line

By Nick Polak on August 15, 2019 at 8:00 am
Sep 1, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions offensive linesmen Steven Gonzalez (74) blocks during the first quarter against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Appalachian State 45-38 in overtime.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It may seem strange to see such high expectations for the Penn State offensive line with long-time stalwarts Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern off to the NFL, but that's exactly what we have here.

Last Year

It was supposed to be the year. With Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Connor McGovern, and Will Fries all returning from the season before, plus the addition of highly-touted Michal Menet, 2018 looked like it was finally going to be the year when the Penn State offensive line took the step forward from solid to great.

That's not to say the line necessarily struggled in a season ago, but they just didn't become the dominant unit that fans were desperately hoping they could be. For the most part, they did their job. They kept McSorley upright for most of the season, they opened up holes in the run game (though not with great consistency) and they stayed healthy.

In the most simple terms, they were fine.

The Starters

Left Tackle- No. 53 Rasheed Walker (So./Fr., 6'6, 324 lbs)

Left Guard- No. 74 Steven Gonzalez (Gr./Sr., 6'4, 341 lbs)

Center- No. 62 Michal Menet (Sr./Jr., 6'4, 313 lbs)

Right Guard- No. 69 CJ Thorpe (Jr./So., 6'3, 322 lbs) OR No. 73 Mike Miranda (Jr./So., 6'3, 295 lbs)

Right Tackle- No. 71 Will Fries (Sr./Jr., 6'6, 313 lbs)

The good news for the Lion offensive line is that despite needing to replace two long-time starters in Bates and McGovern, things are fairly clear-cut as far as who will fill those roles.

Rasheed Walker will be given the reins on the blindside as a redshirt freshman, a fact that is more a testament to his talent level than anything else. There are other options at the all-important left tackle spot, but Walker has seemingly left no doubt that he's the man for the job.

At right guard, the battle between CJ Thorpe and Mike Miranda continues. The coaching staff has insisted that both will play, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them on the field together from time to time with one of them spelling Steven Gonzalez at left guard for a series or two. Regardless of who "wins" the job, however, both of these guys are going to bring an element of nastiness that has been lacking in this group over the past few seasons. McGovern was a very solid all-around blocker, but both Thorpe and Miranda are players who want to embarrass you and steal your lunch money. They both love to get to the second level in the run game, and it would not be surprising in the slightest to see the run calls favor that side of the line.

Gonzalez, Michal Menet, and Will Fries all return at left guard, center, and right tackle, respectively. All three have shown flashes of being some of the best linemen in the conference. Now as the experienced leaders of the line, will Matt Limegrover be able to coax the best out of them?

The BAckups

Left Tackle- No. 75 Des Holmes (Jr./So., 6'5, 315 lbs)

Left Guard- No. 72 Bryce Effner (So./Fr., 6'5, 297 lbs)

Center- No. 68 Hunter Kelly (Sr./Jr., 6'2, 309 lbs)

Right Guard- No. 73 Miranda OR No. 69 Thorpe

Right Tackle- No. 55 Anthony Whigan (Jr./Jr., 6'4, 301 lbs)

Overall, it's a very young depth chart along the offensive line for Penn State. The good news, though, is that of the starting group, only Gonzalez is set to graduate after the 2019 season. That will allow for each of the primary backups to get more and more time on the practice field in anticipation of taking over when their times come. Still, it's a group that the staff should feel good about, as the depth of this position room has gone from night to day. Expect to see all of these guys get reps during the non-conference slate, but don't be surprised to see any of them check in for a series here and there throughout the season to give the starters a break, as well.

The Reserves

No. 79 Caedan Wallace (Fr./Fr., 6'5, 333 lbs)

No. 77 Saleem Wormley (Fr./Fr., 6'3, 319 lbs)

No. 70 Juice Scruggs (So./Fr., 6'3, 285 lbs)

Of this group, Wallace is the only one who could see the field in 2019. The freshman is absolutely massive already and has reportedly made a big impression on the staff. They will surely not allow him to burn his redshirt, but it is likely we'll see the true freshman out of New Jersey get a shot at the back end of a lopsided game or two.

The other two will not see the field in all likelihood. Wormley still has room to grow before he's ready to step up, and Scruggs is still recovering after an offseason car accident.