2010 was a tumultuous season for Penn State. Besides the thrilling wins and heartbreaking losses, PSU’s season was defined by a quarterback controversy that nearly ended Rob Bolden’s career prematurely. What gets overlooked is that despite starting two different inexperienced quarterbacks, Penn State only gave up 12 sacks last season. Not only that, but they did it with two starting tackles who weren’t even offensive tackles prior to 2010. That’s one reason why even with center Doug Klopacz and All-American guard Stefen Wisniewski graduating, there’s still hope that Penn State can put together a solid O-line in 2011.
Miles Dieffenbach was widely regarded as one of the best prep centers in the country two years ago. However, with only one redshirted season under his belt, Penn State will have to wait for Dieffenbach to develop further before sticking him in the starting lineup. In the meantime, junior Matt Stankiewitch shifts over from guard to take over as starting center while sophomore long snapper Ty Howle backs him up.
Penn State has a bit more experience at the guard position than at center. Big ol’ Johnnie Troutman first picked up a starting job in 2009 and comes back this year as the only PSU offensive lineman with more than a year of starting experience. Troutman will likely get all-conference consideration this season at left guard while sophomore John Urschel starts at the other guard spot. Urschel only has experience starting one game in his Penn State career: versus Indiana as a redshirt freshman last season. Oh well, you know he couldn’t have been that bad as PSU put up 41 points and 496 total yards that Saturday.
The main reserve at guard should be senior De’Ontae Pannell, who actually started the first two games of the 2010 season before being replaced by Troutman. Pannell is a lot more experienced than Urschel, so don’t be shocked if he gets some snaps against challenging opponents like Alabama. Sophomores Frank Figueroa and Mark Arcidiacono didn’t see any game action last year, but they’re there in case anything catastrophic happens.
No one would have guessed at this point last season that Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli would be the starting tackles of a line that only allowed 12 sacks all year. At this point in 2010, Barham was getting ready to start his first game at left tackle despite his only prior line experience being on the inside. Okoli on the other hand, had just switched from defensive tackle to provide depth at offensive tackle. Yet, when Lou Eliades got hurt in the Temple game, Okoli was pressed into starting duty and stayed at right tackle for the rest of the season. This year both Barham and Okoli actually have a year of playing tackle under their belts and should provide some stability on the outside of the line.
Battling for reserve reps will be Mike Farrell, Adam Gress and Eric Shrive. All three guys saw a little bit of playing time last season, so at least no one will be too green should PSU need extra help at tackle. De’Ontae Pannell also has experience playing tackle, so there’s actually a lot of depth to be found here.
The struggles Penn State went through last season will only help them be stronger in 2011. At no position is that more true than offensive line, where Penn State has solid experience at both tackles and at least one guard spot. If Stankiewitch and Urschel can hold their own against quality competition, it bodes very well for PSU’s chances this season.