It’s Friday, and that means it is time for another installment of VBR roundtable. Be sure to check here every Friday during the season for our predictions for each Penn State game. Speaking of the season, there are just two Fridays left before the Nittany Lions open the season in Ireland against the UCF Knights.
Today we as a staff give our takes on which newest member of the Penn State offensive line will have the biggest impact in 2014.
Lead Editor Barry Leonard Jr.
The biggest question mark for the Nittany Lions this season has to be the offensive line. It was already questionable with just two real experienced starters returning in tackle Donovan Smith and guard Miles Diefenbach. Unfortunately, Diefenbach went down with a knee injury this offseason, prompting the coaching staff to make some players around on the depth chart.
One of those players is former defensive lineman Derek Dowrey. I believe that of all of the new players on the offensive line, Dowrey will make the biggest impact. Although guys like redshirt freshmen Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson have played offensive line since high school, I think Dowrey’s talent and game experience will put him ahead.
Last season Dowrey appeared in eight games and mainly saw action in short-yardage and goal line situations. That experience should help him this year when doing battle in the trenches. During this year’s Blue-White Game he started with what was essentially the first team offense.
Dowrey is one of the strongest players on the team has good speed to go with his size. He’s even added 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason. I look for him to quickly adjust to his new position and be an important cog for the Nittany Lions up front this season.
Staff Writer Corey Hunter
To me, the lineman making the biggest impact this year, besides Donovan Smith, has to left guard Derek Dowrey. He’s going to have the biggest impact simply because he and Smith will be charged with protecting quarterback Christian Hackenberg‘s blind side. Keeping the franchise quarterback upright and able to make throws down field greatly enhances Penn State’s chances of being successful this year.
Aside from keeping Hackenberg safe, Dowrey is also one of Penn State’s strongest players. According to his PSU bio, he squatted a team-high 500 pounds at the end of spring practice. Leg strength and drive are key not only in pass protection, but also in creating holes for the running game. With the most experience on the offensive line coming on the left side (Donovan Smith), don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator John Donovan sends a lot of the team’s running plays to the left, especially if Dowrey demonstrates his ability to handle the load.
I believe that Derek Dowrey will be the new offensive lineman that will have the biggest impact this upcoming season. Obviously he’s a new offensive lineman because he played defensive tackle last year, but he’s a big, physical kid who has experience from playing offensive line in high school. If he can figure it out early on and if Penn State runs Zwinak behind him a lot, opposing defenses aren’t going to want to go up against that powerful duo.
Staff Writer Jeff Jezewski
With so much turnover at a position, it gives others the opportunity to step in and shine. This year many new faces will see time on the offensive line and many of them will be given a chance to make an impact. If I had to pick the player that I believe will have the biggest impact, it would be converted defensive lineman, Brian Gaia.
Last season Gaia saw time in all 12 contests on the defensive side of the ball and on special teams. This season he has made the move back to his original position, offensive guard. Coming out of high school, Gaia was a top-25 offensive guard on ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. He was a three-time all-state selection and played in multiple high school all-star games at the position.
After shifting to the defensive line for the early part of his career, Gaia now has a chance to return to his old position and I believe his impact will be immense. Gaia added at least 10 pounds of muscle over the off-season proving his dedication to the position switch. He won the Red Worrell award in the off-season, given to the most improved offensive player through spring ball. With Miles Dieffenbach injured and a spot open at guard on the offensive line, I think Gaia will ultimately end up locking down that position and help pave the way for the Nittany Lions talented trio of running backs.
With a young, talented quarterback like Christian Hackenberg, the offensive line needs to be in sync and I think Gaia can help make that happen.