If you also consider that we recently uncovered (Nittany Notes: Defensive Line) that Elijah Robinson may be shifting back to defense with the sidelining injury to Tom McEowen and the opinion that "he is better suited for defense," the depth of the line gets even thinner.
Look at the depth chart we posted heading into spring practice a year ago in 2006:
2006 Spring Initial Depth Chart
LT: Levi Brown, Mark Farris, Wyatt Bowman/Matt Lowry
LG: Gerald Cadogen, Rich Ohrenberger, Austin Hinton
C: A.Q. Shipley, Patrick Weber, Ross Muir
RG: Robert Price, Greg Harrison, Dennis Landolt
RT: Chris Auletta, John Shaw, Joe Toriello
Seven of the 16 players (44 percent) listed back then are gone, with four (57 percent) of those as premature (eligibility remaining) departures from he squad.
This is precisely why the staff went the JUCO route and brought in Ako Poti as an early enrollee and Nerraw McCormack. Realize that it is early and lots of things can and will change, but in terms of early two-deep projections from observers, they currently see the line looking like the following heading into spring sessions:
On a positive note the unit "has some impressive experience returning" to it. A.Q. Shipley started all 13 games in 2006 and "provides an essential foundation for the line. Communication is so vital, yet often overlooked, and Shipley's experience provides a major advantage," an observer shared.
Described as "a lineman who will punch anyone in the mouth," Shipley is intimidating and has an impressive motor. He has continued to refine his communication on shifts, pulls, rolls and the overall zone blocking scheme. He has also improved on "channeling his aggression, maintaining his balance and getting his snap mechanics consistent."
In terms of the depth of the unit the line has Patrick Weber, who saw action in all 13 contests last season and Ross Muir who saw reps on two games last year. "I'd say center is probably of least concern for the O line," another observer shared.
The two players who have received the most praise early this winter have been Rich Ohrnberger and Lou Eliades. Ohrnberger has "great physique and agility - he gets off the line quick." As we pointed out last off-season, Ohrnberger's issues have been mental, which became apparent to most fans this season.
"He has the physical abilities - he needs to nail down the little things. He tends to get anxious with change - be it the [snap] count, his assignment, whatever," one observer said. Ohrnberger was shifted from left guard to right guard last pre-season, in August. As one observer explained, "If I had to guess I would think he will stay on the right side, but who knows?"
Observers have been high on Eliades since last pre-season. They praise his "footwork, surge and intensity — the guy doesn't quit." The debate swirling around Eliades is where he should end up. "He's built like a guard, but moves like a tackle," one observer shared. Some observers feel his size and strength solidify the interior of the line, others feel whether or not he shifts outside to tackle dependson how Dennis Landolt comes along this spring.
In terms of competition at the guard positions the two players who are getting mentioned are Gerald Cadogan and Austin Hinton. Cadogan defintely has the edge on experience, starting five games and seeing action in all 13 last year. "Ger is big, but he doesn't get off the line like Rich [Ohrnberger] or Lou [Eliades]," one observer explained. Chances are Cadogan will get the starting left guard role heading into spring, but observers feel that Eliades could emerge the victor by the Blue-White game.
Hinton seems to be the likely candidate to back up Ohrnberger. "Austin uses his feet well, but he is a tad smaller and not as quick. He doesn't have the mean streak [A]Q [Shipley], Rich [Ohrnberger] or Lou [Eliades] display."
At right tackle, John Shaw is the odd-ons favorite for the starting job heading into spring practice, given that he started 10 games last season before suffering an MCL tear. He did manage to see some action in the Outback Bowl in January. "John appears to be fine, but the staff wants to see how he handles contact and two-a-days. The guy has always been a wieghtroom warrior, so his rehab was went very well," according on one observer.
On the left side the early favorite appears to be Dennis Landolt. Landolt saw some first team reps during the bowl practices and he saw action in five games last season. Landolt has been consistently praised for his endurance, drawing comparisons to Anthony Adams' style of play. As one observer said of Landolt, "The guy is all out on every whistle."
If Landolt can grasp the left tackle position, "that would allow for Eliades to shift inside." As one observer said, "Landolt and Eliades both have mean streaks - we need that on the line, so it would be huge to get them both in a state where they could make an impact on the line."
The depth of both tackle positions has observers concerned however. Currently, the depth is very thin with Doug Klopacz, Joe Toriello and Ako Poti as prosepective backups. "Poti is massive. I am not sure on where he'll end up, but if it's based on need, the tackle position is the likely spot," one observer said.
Poti has received praise on his ability to "quickly engage a defender" and "direct his assignment." As one observer said, "He's got the size, but he's built well — he's solid. He's not one of those soft linemen."
Klopacz has also seen reps at center this past season, so where he ends up on a consisten basis remains to be seen.
Even with the addition with Poti, the depth is still questionable. "In its current depth state, the health of the unit will be essential," another observer explained. "McCormack and J.B. Walton better be ready to contribute."
Tight end is probably the least curious position right now. Andrew Quarless "had a stellar rookie year." However, the depth of the unit will be interesting to watch. With Kevin Darling and Patrick Hall lost to graduation, the backup role will be between several candidates: Jordan Lyons, Brennan Coakley and Francis Claude.
Lyons has been consistent with his hands throughout his PSU career. "He can pull in some tough balls," one observer explained. "He needs to button up his blocking. He has a tough time engaging and holding his block. Receiving is important, but blocking is first and foremost with the coaches."
Coakley was sidelined during the 2005 season with a knee injury, and has been a mystery ever since. Described as a "man-child" and a "truck" Coakley is still only 19 years old. Observers have had strong praise for his blocking and receiving skills, which makes it even more curious as to why he was a non-factor in 2006.
As one observer opined, "Brennan is a good all-around tight end. He isn't the best blocker, he isn't the best receiver, but he can do both. The issue last year was that Quarless stormed onto the scene and showed he could catch anything 10 yards around him. Toss in upperclassmen [Patrick] Hall and [Kevin] Darling into the lineup, who were both better blockers, and there were not a lot of free game reps to get."
As another observer said, "The DBs better go slow once the pads go on, cause when [Coakley] catches one and turns upfield he could level them — he's built like a truck." So, by the practice reports he should be in the mix at tight end, but we'll have to see how things turn out this spring.
Claude has apparently had issues with his endurance and fundamentals throughout his PSU career. "He needs to commit himself if he wants to be an impact player - in the weight room and on the field." His scheme of play is described as "inconsistent" in which he will "have one solid practice and then a follow-up session where he seems to have forgotten how to play the position."
Other winter workout reports: