Nittany Notes: Power Line

Get a comprehensive update on the offensive line through the early goings of preseason practice. Who is rock-solid? What is the coaching staff's primary concern? What are the specific areas of strength and needed improvement for the different athletes? And which freshmen are looking good? Get the answers right here.

NOTE FROM THE FOS STAFF: In the past few weeks, we have added hundreds of new subscribers. With that in mind, we'd like to begin this report with a brief explanation of our popular Nittany Notes series.

As you probably know, the vast majority of Penn State football practices are closed. So we depend on a team of knowledgeable, reliable and well-placed "observers" within the program to relay information to us. We withhold their names so they can speak their mind without fear of retribution.

We trust what these "observers" say to be accurate or we would not pass on that information to you. Having said that, though, please keep in mind that we do use a variety of sources and that they are not always in complete agreement with one another.

Thank you, and now on to the report.

THE SCENE: Tuesday was another single-session practice with the team in shirts, shorts and helmets. Wearing light gear turned out to be a blessing, as the threat of showers "chased us into the Heat Box," according to one observer. That meant the practice was held in Holuba Hall, the air-conditioning-challenged indoor facility that is stifling now that the Centre Region is in the clutches of a heat wave. The practice lasted about two hours.

THE TOPIC: Offensive Line.
Penn State must replace first-round NFL Draft pick Levi Brown at left tackle. Overall, however, there is a solid nucleus to form a starting unit.

One observer summed up the status of the offensive line at the open of preseason practice in the following manner: "I think we're going to be fine at left tackle; actually, the starters should all do well. But depth on the entire line is a concern." Coming out of spring practice the No. 1 offensive line was set at:

RT: Dennis Landolt
RG: John Shaw
C: A.Q. Shipley
LG: Rich Ohrnberger
LT: Gerald Cadogan

Not surprisingly, this same set was in place as the first-team unit at the outset of preseason practice. However, both guard spots are expected to see strong competition once assignment drills begin and pads come on later this week.

For most of the preseason, the guard positions will likely see a rotation between Ohrnberger, Shaw and redshirt freshman Lou Eliades. "Right now you have three guys with different skill sets for two spots," one practice observer explained. "John Shaw and Rich Ohrnberger have the experience advantage — between the two they had 19 starts last season. That's pretty impressive. But Shaw's experience is at right tackle, so this will be interesting.

"He's at a better natural position at guard. Here he doesn't need foot speed, he needs power, which he has. I could get [beat up] for this, but the guards don't have to think as much as the tackles — just surge. However, he has limited experience at guard."

Shaw sustained an ankle injury which sidelined him against Temple and Michigan State late in 2006 but he played in the bowl game. His strength, power and overall line experience "may carry him" early on, but Ohrnberger and Eliades "have assets that may ultimately give them an edge at the interior of the line."

Ohrnberger is the true veteran of the trio. With nine consecutive starts, Ohrnberger has shown he is a formidable player — as long as he copes with his periodic mental lapses in games (false starts, missed assignments, etc.)

"Rich struggled early on [in his career] but he's improved. He has the snap count more consistently and is better on rolls and shifts in the line," according to one observer. "His forte is his ability to come out of his stance cleanly and knock a guy back. He does it with good technique and attitude. He's a guy who tends to mix it up with the D-linemen in practice."

As for Lou Elides, "What Lou lacks in experience he makes up for in intensity and an eye for detail with his play," one observer said. "He's meticulous with his fundamentals — he's too good not to be in the mix. If I were John [Shaw] or Rich [Ohrnberger], I'd be busting my tail to keep my job. The guy plays [darn] scary."

Physically impressive, Eliades "plays nuts" and tends to talk a lot to psyche himself up in drills.

Clearly the motivator and senior veteran of the line, Shipley has made a point to work out with the young players on the two-deep and is even motivating Austin Scott in preseason drills, saying things like, "this is it," and "last chance." Though Shipley is only a redshirt junior, Scott is in his fifth and final season.

Shipley has "refined his technique" with his stance and extension off the snap and continues to show solid endurance early on. "He doesn't miss a beat [in drills]," according to one observer,

As one observer opined, referring to Shipley and the aforementioned trio of guards, "We'll be stronger in the middle of the line than we've been in years."

At tackle, Cadogan and Landolt have shown good general footwork in agility drills, although the staff has Landolt working on getting his center lower on shuffles. "He needs to explode off and defend the corner — he gets up on his toes, but he needs to keep those feet pumping."

Cadogan "is more comfortable in his stance and looks more nimble. The key will be how he uses his hands and body to direct his opponent."

Here are some other notes regarding the offensive line:

  • Described as "massive," juco transfer Nerraw McCormack has "good mobility" despite his "impressive size." As one observer said, "He has work to do understanding his role, particularly on a pull or roll. He's physically there and can impact the line with some technique adjustments and a grasp of the playbook. Left tackle is a tough, vital job, so we'll see." Two separate observers said they think McCormack has the physical ability to make a push for the second-team LT spot, but they are waiting to see him in assignment drills (vs. defensive ends) before predicting that will happen.

  • Ako Poti needs to continue to focus on his footwork, a focal point since the juco transfer arrived on campus in January. "He tends to play flat-footed at times and doesn't always bounce with his step — they have him working his legs to carry his frame more easily."

  • Tackle Johnnie Troutman, a grayshirt, "uses his feet well" and "sets a good base." He "needs to improve the power from his shoulders and back, but is showing promise."

  • Two true freshman who are receiving consistent praise are Stefen Wisniewski and Josh Marks. "Josh has shown good control over his body — he needs to keep his hands up, but he draws a lot of power from his thighs and back and gets his center-point down low." Another observer assessed Wisniewski saying, "His endurance is impressive, he is keeping up in drills and hasn't dogged any yet. He's put together well — has a solid build. He has to avoid the tendency to get upright, but he's off to a good start."

    Stay tuned to FightOnState.com for more exclusive news and notes from Penn State's preseason practice.

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