As another observer said, "You can't discount what the center does for the entire offense. The ability to move the ball through the air or on the ground rests in large part with the line. The current line really is a veteran unit and really made significant progress through [last] season."
The offensive line saw departures of centers Ross Muir and Patrick Weber, and guard John Shaw to graduation. The unit has also seen some injuries. Lou Eliades has been recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot which required surgery. His availability or spring practice (which starts March 24) is questionable at this point.
Quinn Barham suffered a severe ankle injury which has sidelined him since it was sustained in early November before the Temple game. As one observer said, "It was nasty; his ankle was practically at a right angle." The injury occurred during a pile up. Defensive tackle Chris Baker landed on Barham, causing the injury. "It sucks, but it happens. One guy rolls on another wrong and you're out," an observer said.
Through the winter drills the first-team unit has been the same from the close of last season:
That starting lineup has five seniors and a junior in Landolt. "It's the most experienced line, top to bottom, the team has had in quite a while," another observer explained.
Cadogan has improved his hands and footwork and "has gotten a lot more comfortable on the end." Whether Pat Devlin or Daryll Clark end up as at the helm, Cadogan will still have the task of protecting the blind side of either right-handed quarterback.
The backup position to Cadogan looks to have a few candidates vying for the slot. Johnnie Troutman "uses his feet well" and "sets a good base" off the snap. Last season he focused on using his hands more effectively and "keeping his shoulders square to his [assignment]," as one observer explained. Generally he has shown consistent technique, although he has had to work on keeping his center down. Troutman has worked to pull together his strength and technique, but has made progress. He still needs to "get off the snap to pick up the end."
Nerraw McCormack is another possibility to play behind Cadogan on the left side. A junior college newcomer to the team last season, McCormack used the campaign to "pick up the zone blocking," and "refine his technique." Described as "mobile and massive." He not only "looks the part," but gets "out of the blocks quickly" and "gets that low bend in his knees." The major challenge for McCormack is "his footwork," "he moves well for his size, he's not as agile with the lateral shifts that you generally see with good tackles."
There has also been speculation of a possible position shift, although no decision has been made about this. "You could see Andrew Szczerba or Devon Still possibly moving over, but it's all speculation at this point," one observer explained.
Szczerba is a tight end. We saw him at Penn State's THON tours of Lasch Building in February, and he did not appear to be heavy enough to make a move to tackle in the spring. The suspension of Andrew Quarless will likely preclude the move from happening, as well.
Rich Ohrnberger "seems to really have his game together — he's quick, strong, he understands his role and works well with Shipley and Cadogan." Several observers we spoke with feel that Ohrnberger's on-field relationship with Shipley provide a key strength for the line. "Those two really help to pick up the interior pressure and allow for the pocket to set."
The backup situation at left guard has some questions to answer. With Eliades sidelined with his injury, redshirt freshman Josh Marks could get nod; "Josh has shown good control over his body — he needs to keep his hands up," one observer explained. Marks gets his center point down and "sits in a solid stance." Observers would like to see him focus on his footwork and boost his aggression in the spring, but he has a "great foundation" to build upon.
J.B. Walton could also be a player in the mix to bolster inside depth. Last season in practice, he was consistent with his ability to get downfield and open up lanes on the run. In this respect he was "able to get a good push off the line," which is impressive considering he had been going against the first and second teams in practice. He has worked on his pass blocking and the effectiveness of his hands to maintain his blocks in passing situations.
With Shipley in the middle the line could have a captain in its midst. "Q is vocal, intense and fanatical about technique and discipline. The guys, on and off the line, really respect him." As another observer said, "He's consistent on communication and ensures that the line is sharp on pulls, shifts and rolls."
With Weber and Muir gone the question becomes who will backup Shipley. With Doug Klopacz expected to be in the two-deep mix, some observers also feel that sophomore Stefen Wisniewski could also shift, too. "Doug and Stefen are pretty much similar sizes — Wiz has maybe 10 pounds on him — but Wiz seems to be in the mold of Q. He's sharp on the calls and they've walked him through the call responsibilities of the [center] position, so we'll see. Plus, he seems to be one of those natural leader-types who can really help in building and stabilizing a line."
One of the most pleasant surprises of the 2007 offensive line was Mike Lucian. Lucian spent the early part of his career shifting around between positions like tight end and defensive end. "He really latched on at the guard spot — it plays to his strengths well and really provides a lot to that interior core," one observer shared. Lucian has been focused on enhancing his run blocking fundamentals and "getting to the second level of defense and setting blocks in open space."
If Wisniewski doesn't make an eventual shift to the middle watch for him to stay at right guard and provide depth to the position or even start. If he does make a move to center, that could mean Walton or Marks could shift over to the right side of the line to fill out the two-deep.
Dennis Landolt has developed a "comfort" at the right tackle position according to most observers. As they indicate, Landolt's most valuable asset is his "motor," as one observer said, "The guy is all out on every whistle." At 6-foot-4 and now more than 300 pounds, Landolt "has the size and aggression to be a dependable mainstay [at the position]." This winter Landolt continues to work his feet and hands and "has really made progress with his base and stance."
In terms of the depth at right guard the likely candidates at this stage are Ako Poti and one of the two backups from the left side. Poti has good size for the position (6-3, 305). He continues to work on his footwork because it was "a challenge for him to consistently pick up the speed rush from an end. He needs to get up on his toes and will fall back on his heels and get knocked back in 1v1 drills."
See our other recent winter progress reports: