KEY QUESTION: Right or Left?

Which offensive tackle spot should Penn State sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell play this season? We break down the options.

THE QUESTION: RIGHT OR LEFT?

Penn State tackle DeOn'tae Pannell played left tackle in 2008, serving as the primary backup to starter Gerald Cadogan. It was an impressive ascent up the depth chart for a true freshman. Fortunately, the rookie was never pressed into serious action, as he logged 89 snaps on the year, all of them in mop-up duty.

With Cadogan gone, Pannell moved up to first team left tackle in the spring. But when he missed a few practices with a minor injury, the staff switched veteran right tackle Dennis Landolt to the left side of the line.

“They liked the way it looked with him on the left and me on the right, and it just kind of stuck,” Pannell said.

Now a sophomore, Pannell has been running with the first team at right tackle in the preseason. But should he stay there? Or would a move back to the left be the … uh … right move?


THE CASE FOR RIGHT

Pannell has never started a game. Considering right-handed first-team quarterback Daryll Clark is the only passer on the roster who has ever taken a college snap, do you really want a newbie protecting his blind (left) side?

Pannell has the build of a prototype left tackle, with a huge frame (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) and long arms. He also has quick feet. But, like many young linemen, he excels at run blocking but is still getting a grasp of the complexities of pass-blocking at the college level, particularly his footwork and balance.

In the meantime, Landolt has started every game the past two seasons. And it is not like left tackle is new to him. He was the primary backup behind All-American Levi Brown in 2006.

Playing right tackle will allow Pannell to learn on the fly while not necessarily facing a team's best pass-rusher on every snap. After a year refining his game, he can slide back to the left side of the center.


THE CASE FOR LEFT

Pannell spent an entire season and most of the spring playing left tackle. He may not have registered many snaps in 2008, but he did see plenty of practice time and received direct instruction from the position coaches (a luxury not afforded players who redshirt).

If he is the long-term answer at left tackle -- and everyone seems to think he is -- why not keep him at the position he spent a season-plus learning?

That worked for Levi Brown when he was a redshirt freshman in 2003, as he started all 12 games at left tackle during his second season in the program. And Brown spent his redshirt year playing defensive tackle on the scout team, so he faced an even greater learning curve in becoming a starting offensive lineman.

This would also allow Landolt to remain at the position where he is most comfortable. With Stefen Wisniewski moving from right guard to center, there figure to be new faces starting at four of the five offensive line positions. A permanent move of Landolt to left tackle will mean there are new faces starting at all five spots, and that is never good news in a power conference like the Big Ten.


HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?

Barring an injury, we expect Pannell to start the season at right tackle and Landolt at left tackle. No surprise there.

But how will the line hold up with that tackle arrangement?

Well, the nonconference schedule should allow the Lions to work out the kinks in terms of pass protections. The first three games are against three teams -- Akron, Syracuse and Temple -- that had 12, 16 and 18 sacks, respectively, last season. Then comes the Big Ten opener, at home, against Iowa. The Hawkeyes only had 18 sacks last fall.

But THEN comes a road trip to Illinois, the Big Ten leader in sacks in 2008 with 2.67 per game, and not long after a home game vs. Minnesota, which tied for second in the league with Penn State in sacks per game at 2.54.

Unfortunately, we doubt there is any way of knowing how successful the tackle arrangement is until the Nittany Lions face those two tests in October.


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