With veteran tackle Donovan Smith's recent decision to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft, a spotlight has been pointed at the Penn State offensive line even before offseason workouts begin.
How will position coach Herb Hand go about replacing the three-year starter (not to mention graduating guard Miles Dieffenbach)?
Well, it helps that the Nittany Lions have already signed four-star juco tackle Paris Palmer, a 6-foot-8, 305-pounder who will enroll next week. Another towering tackle, recent high school grad Sterling Jenkins, is also set to join the program soon.
Palmer appears to have the size, skill and experience to step right in at a starting tackle spot. But nothing is ever certain with juco prospects. As for Jenkins, most experts believe he has a huge upside but will take at least a year to fill out his 6-8 frame.
Though neither was listed as a second-teamer this year because they were redshirting, they both took second-team reps in practice. The staff wanted to have them both ready in case a regular was lost for the season at some point.
Fortunately, they were both able to stay in their redshirts, because both needed it. The potential is there, though.
Chance Sorrell, Chasz Wright, those two tackles, both mammoth guys with a lot of strength and athletic ability, one team source said. Those guys have a really bright future.Chance Sorrell
The key for the 6-5 Sorrell was bulking up. The former high school tight end has added about 30 pounds since arriving on campus last summer and should be over 300 by the time spring practice arrives. Insiders believe Sorrell and 6-6 guard Noah Beh, who also took second-team reps all season, will both benefit greatly from their first offseason in the PSU strength program.
A source said Lion strength coach Dwight Galt is gonna get them in the winter and put a lot of weight on them and get them nice and big and strong. Hopefully those guys have good springs, too, and can help us next year.
Of Beh in particular, a source said, He has a lot of upside to him. Has to put on a little bit of weight, but he has great athletic ability and toughness.
Getting bigger is not the primary concern for Wright, a 6-7, 321-pounder.Chasz Wright
His size and strength are second to none, a source said. He's strong as an ox. He's picking things up, and that's what you're looking for. He's got to learn the playbook and focus in on things like that. But he's getting better every day. I'm excited about him.
If two players from among the tackle trio of Palmer, Sorrell and Wright emerge, it could allow Nelson to move to what some believe is his more natural position of guard. (Though one source disagreed, saying, No way, he's a great tackle. Fantastic tackle. He'll be a high draft pick.)
But that is a big if, considering head coach James Franklin has repeatedly said he would prefer to wait until an O-linemen is in his third year in the program before throwing him into the proverbial fire.
However, at least one of the three is likely to emerge as a starter at tackle next year.
Whether or not Beh gets to that level so quickly will depend in part on how much bulk and strength he can add. He is pushing 270 now, but, as Franklin has said, he looks like he weighs 250. His frame seems like it can easily handle 300-plus pounds. One source said Beh is already getting huge.Noah Beh
Also coming into play will be how the returning guards improve in the offseason. Transplanted defensive linemen Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey both struggled in their first year on offense in 2014, and neither fit the long-body style of O-linemen Franklin says he favors. But their bulk and strength could keep them at or near the top of the depth chart. Same goes for redshirt sophomore-to-be Brendan Mahon.
It is difficult to envision undersized redshirt junior-to-be Wendy Laurent (6-2, 283) filling any other role than that of backup center behind veteran Angelo Mangiro.Gaia (72) and Sorrell (58) have much different body styles.
The rest of the redshirt freshmen on the O-line spent 2014 on the foreign team, and all appear to be at least a couple of years away from potentially making an impact.
Scholarship tackle Brendan Brosnan (6-6, 296) must get much stronger. Walk-on tackle Charlie Shuman (6-8, 305) has a huge frame, but really has to work on his quickness, footwork, agility and strength. Walk-on guard Adam DeBeof (6-5, 265) has a similar body style to Beh, which means he has to fill out. And finally, walk-on guard Steve Myers (6-2, 315) has good size but must improve his athleticism.
But remember, all four had the luxury of seeing a lot of snaps on the foreign team because Sorrell, Wright and Beh were up practicing with the ones and twos. So that meant guys like Brosnan, Shuman, DeBeof and Myers were able to go head to head with PSU's talented defensive line in practice every day.
As one source said of that situation, It's an up and down season. Your confidence goes down, because you're used to being dominant and now you're not. Then you start to question yourself a little bit. But you listen to your coaches, and they give you some positive reinforcement, and then you go through winter training and you're getting bigger and stronger.