Penn State Football 2017 Position Preview: Offensive Line

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: Running back Saquon Barkley
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: Running back Saquon Barkley /

A strong offensive front started to show itself a little last year. Now, the Penn State football O-Line looks to become a dominant one this year.

The Nittany Lions’ offensive line went through some struggles in the Christian Hackenberg era. They took the brunt of the criticism for not keeping him upright. To this group’s credit, they progressed quickly and played much better in Trace McSorley’s first year. It helps that Penn State football added some great freshman linemen, but the veterans made huge jumps as well.

Penn State improved in nearly every stat category, and the offensive line deserves some of that credit. In the first few games Penn State didn’t show the necessary push in the run game or protection in the passing game. Saquon Barkley would create a play as the line would stalemate up front. As multiple redshirt freshman and veterans received more in-game reps, it improve with a more violent attack.

Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern stepped out as two freshmen starters, and they proved highly effective. Bates started all 14 games on the offensive line at both left tackle and left guard. He kept Barkley and McSorley clean most of the season earning Freshman All-American honors from USA Today. Bates should start at left guard.

McGovern also started a majority of this season’s games with nine starts at right guard. At 6-foot-5, 307-pounds, he added great size inside and displayed a quick growth as the season progressed. Much like Bates, he earned postseason honors most notably All-Big Ten Freshman Team Honorable Mention. He’ll be back starting at a new position, center (according to LandOf10).

Old and new faces

Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon add in a veteran presence of this group. Both are fifth-year centers with a combined 56 starts between the two. Nelson missed more than half of this season’s games, but his long-term experience should ease the line’s transition with newcomers.

The graduate student duo will bookend the line with Nelson starting at right tackle and Mahon starting at left. Mahon earned one of the highest honors in college football as Pro Football Focus put him on the All-Big Ten First Team (Courtesy of Pro Football Focus). This means he graded better than any other tackle in the entire Big Ten which is quite an accomplishment.

Penn State football has to replace really just one spot at right guard. It won’t be too much of a replacement, as 2016 contributing freshman Steven Gonzalez fills in after seeing action in 11 games and starting three. He rounds out an offensive line that stands at least 6-foot-4 and weighs at least 300-pounds at every spot.

Related Story: Penn State 2017 Position Preview: Linebacker

Even at the backup spots, they’ll also have experience with hulking junior Chasz Wright (6-foot-7, 345-pounds). With this much power and experience the offensive line should keep its progression and also grow into one of the Big Ten’s best lines.