One of the keys for Penn State during spring practice is developing a cohesive offensive line. So far, the Nittany Lions appear to be miles ahead of where they were last year at this time, when the front five featured only one player with starting experience.
That one player was Donovan Smith, who has since made an early exit to the NFL. And now the left tackle spot he manned appears to be the only place where there is a serious battle for playing time.
Veteran walk-on and former tight end Albert Hall began the spring running first team at left tackle. But Saturday, junior college transfer and January enrollee Paris Palmer (73 above) had climbed to the first team, with redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell (58) backing him up. Hall was stationed at guard.
It does not take much reading between the lines to figure out that PSU coach James Franklin believes Palmer and Sorrell have greater upsides at left tackle.
We're kind of force-feeding Paris and Chance Sorrell right now on the position, Franklin said. Albert's still doing some nice things, but we feel we need to force-feed those guys and get them as many reps as possible.
The other positions, I think guys for the most part are taking control of some spots, he added.
Andrew Nelson is the right tackle, and started every game last season. Center Angelo Mangiro was also a 13-game starter in 2014. The guards -- Brian Gaia on the right and Brendan Mahon on the left -- combined for 21 starts last fall.
Franklin is hoping all of that playing time results not only in that quartet being better, but also rubs off on the new faces at left tackle.
The experience is the important thing, Franklin said. They have to have the confidence to do it. So if they're lining up next to a young guy, they've got to ID the front, they've got to make the calls, and allow that younger, less experienced guy to play with more confidence because the veteran next to him is taking control.
Even if mistakes are made with the O-line calls, Franklin believes they can be mitigated if all five linemen are approaching the play from the same perspective.
The most important thing is we get everybody on the same page and make a decision, and so far we've done a good job of that, Franklin said.
Franklin would like to have a starting five nailed down by the end of spring ball, which would be another big difference from a year ago. At this time in 2014, Nelson was limited by a knee injury, Gaia was making the transition from defensive tackle and Mangiro was seeing significant reps at center for the first time. All of this in a new offense.
The quicker we can identify (a starting five) the better, Franklin said.