Projected First-Teamers: O-Line

In our ongoing Penn State position previews, we take a hard look at the key figures on Mac McWhorter's offensive front.

So in the middle of our Penn State Ones series, where we are projecting those Nittany Lions we expect to have first-team reps in 2013, PSU released its official post-spring practice depth chart.

Hmmmmm.

We're just kidding. The school's athletic communications staff released a post-spring depth chart around the same time last year. Besides, what it rolled out and what we are presenting are two different things.

The official depth chart lists first-, second- and third-teamers at each individual position. Where there is still a serious battle between two players, the old “OR” is placed between their names.

Of course, we know nothing is ever that cut and dried. At certain positions, multiple players will see first-team reps during a game. So our goal is to let you know who we believe will see first-team reps -- some as starters, some not.

As we noted previously, our projected starters are listed in normal type. Others we expect to see first-team reps are listed in italics.

We continue the series with the offensive line.


OFFENSIVE LINE ONES

Penn State lost two offensive line starters and yet still returns five O-linemen with starting experience and two others who logged significant snaps last season. That's something new and different from the end of the Paterno era, where developing depth on the line during the course of a season rarely seemed to be a priority.

Bill O'Brien and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter seem much more willing to mix and match linemen not only through the season, but also during games. In the Blue-White Game, for example, there were times when left tackles Donovan Smith and Eric Shrive were replacing one another in the middle of series -- almost like receivers shuttling in and out.

That said, the primary offensive line rotation appeared to be all but locked in at the end of spring practice, and that's always a good thing. Barring injury, the Lions will have an experienced bunch protecting whomever the new quarterback may be.

Inside, right guard John Urschel has the size, strength and intelligence to make a run at All-America honors. Miles Dieffenbach is back after starting all but one game at left guard last season. Angelo Mangiro, who played in every game in 2012, can rotate in at both positions.

Fifth-year senior Ty Howle -- finally completely healthy and without an All-Big Ten caliber player in front of him -- saw time at guard last season but has moved over to his natural position of center. Don't expect any platooning here, as the center makes all the line calls and Howle is very good at that. If he is injured, though, Mangiro can play here, too.

At tackle, expect Smith to start on the left side and Adam Gress to get the nod on the right. Shrive, who also has experience at guard, will definitely see first-team reps. Exactly where -- left tackle, right tackle or both -- will depend on the health of converted tight end Garry Gilliam.

The staff thought they had their backup left tackle after moving Gilliam there in the off-season. And it apparently still does, as he is listed as the second-teamer on the preseason depth chart. However, a strained calf that kept him out of most contact in the spring hampered his transition to the position.

With that in mind, for now, we're not prepared to predict Gilliam will see action with the first team. He may well prove us wrong.

One area of long-term concern here is that of the seven players we envision seeing first-team reps, four (Gress, Howle, Shrive and Urschel) are entering their final seasons of eligibility.


Projected first-teamers:

LT: Donovan Smith, Eric Shrive
LG: Miles Dieffenbach, Angelo Mangiro
C: Ty Howle
RG: John Urschel, Angelo Mangiro
RT: Adam Gress, Eric Shrive


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