The number one thing that I’ll be looking at during this year’s Blue-White Game will be the Penn State offensive line. The offensive line is one of the most important positions in football and when you have a stud quarterback like Christian Hackenberg, protecting him is always going to be a top priority.
The Nittany Lions lose three starters from last year’s offensive line in center Ty Howle, right guard John Urschel and right tackle co-starters Adam Gress and Garry Gilliam. The two returning starters are left guard Miles Dieffenbach and left tackle Donovan Smith. If you follow Penn State football, you most likely know that Dieffenbach suffered what’s believed to be a serious knee injury that could possibly keep him out for all of if not most of the 2014 season. So with all the uncertainty surrounding the Penn State offensive line, the Blue-White Game should give us a decent idea of which players are going to step up and play big roles in the trenches come time for the regular season.
Starting in the middle of the offensive line, there are two guys that could replace Howle at center. Those guys are redshirt junior Angelo Mangiro and redshirt sophomore Wendy Laurent. Even though Mangiro has primarily played guard at Penn State, he is listed on the Penn State roster as a center and is interchangeable between the two positions. Laurent is more of a true center and played that position when he got playing time this past season. There should be a solid competition in summer training camp to see who gets the honor of snapping the ball to Christian Hackenberg.
Now moving over to right guard. If Laurent ends up winning the starting center position, it’s quite possible that Mangiro could become the starter at right guard. Also, redshirt freshman Brendan Mahon, who was a heralded recruit coming out of high school, could grab the spot if he shows enough leading up to the regular season. Redshirt junior Anthony Alosi could also be up for significant playing time. However, he was recently charged with assault from an incident in March, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens with him. And obviously depending on the extent of Dieffenbach’s injury, all these guys could be switching around sides throughout training cam and during the season too.
Right tackle could be another position on the offensive line where a redshirt freshman could potentially start. This redshirt freshman is Hershey native Andrew Nelson. Even though Nelson and Mahon are promising players who have bright futures in Happy Valley, having two redshirt freshmen both possibly starting on the same side of the line could pose problems due to their lack of experience.
If there’s one positive to take away from Penn State’s offensive line as of now, it’s redshirt junior Donovan Smith. Smith is experienced (started the last two seasons), he’s massive (6-5, 322) and he’s done a pretty good job protecting Matt McGloin‘s blind side in 2012 and Hackenberg’s blind side in 2013.
So those are a bunch of names to keep an eye on during Saturday’s game. New offensive line coach Herb Hand has been coaching for a long time and he certainly seems like he knows what he’s doing. And even though there’s plenty of uncertainty with his unit right now, by the time the regular season rolls around, Penn State should be able to boast a capable group of players who will pave the way for the running backs and protect Christian Hackenberg.
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