TYM: O-Line Breakdown

Brennan and Harrington tackle the key issues on Penn State's offensive line as spring practice nears.

Welcome to the latest installment of Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan tackle issues related to the Penn State football program. From now until the first week or so of spring practice in late March, they will be breaking down each position on the team. In this installment they address the offensive line.


Brennan: It took a while. But by the end of the 2009 season, the Penn State coaching staff had finally settled on an effective starting offensive line. Now the team's top three offensive tackles must be replaced, including three-year starter Dennis Landolt as well as former juco transfers Ako Poti and Nerraw McCormack. How will the Lions fill those gaps? They can do it be relying on any number of talented-but-untested underclassmen, shuffling things around to get at least one of the experienced guards on the edge and/or importing help from defense.

Harrington: Filling the gaps is a question that has to be answered in short order given that Penn State is fielding an inexperienced quarterback. A major question is how the rebuilt offensive line is able to gel with the quarterback -- namely to read his tendencies and provide adequate protection for his style of play. The line is going to have to give solid protection to help give the signal-caller time to develop and allow for their own confidence to be built up quickly.


Harrington: The stage is set for serious action at the tackles. DeOn'tae Pannell should be back in the mix after struggling in a starting role early last season before moving to guard. He is the only returning tackle with significant experience. But that's not to say the area is lacking in talent. With Eric Shrive, Adam Gress, Nate Cadogan, Chima Okoli and Mike Farrell in the mix (all 6-foot-4 or taller and over 270 pounds), the staff has some size to work with. I think many fans are particularly interested to see what the redshirt freshmen Shrive and Gress bring to the table after a year on the scout team.

Brennan: Since you picked the primary area of competition, I'll go with guard Johnnie Troutman vs. himself. Troutman began the 2009 season on the bench due to weight issues, but worked his way into the starting lineup at left guard by week No. 3. He improved throughout the year before sustaining a strained calf that limited him in the final two regular-season games. He did not start in the bowl but split time with Pannell and did well. Troutman has all the tools to be an NFL guard -- size, strength, footwork. But before worrying about that, he has to prove he can be a consistent, dependable contributor at Penn State. A good start will be by keeping his weight in check in the spring, summer and preseason.


Brennan: Shrive may not start in 2010. But in the spring, he is sure to receive significant reps. That's important because I think he is one of the long-term answers at tackle.

Harrington: Cadogan spent this past season working on adding strength and size to his frame and now tips the scale at 285-plus pounds and is listed at 6-5. He's shown an aggressive demeanor off the snap and an ability to pick up a heavy rush. The coaches are hoping that he'll eventually be able to manage the left side, like his older brother Gerald did as a two-year starter.


Harrington: Center Doug Klopacz has received mentions as a center option for the line, but has never been able to break into getting meaningful snaps. He saw early action in five games last season. He's added size, but with Stefen Wisniewski manning the helm and redshirt freshman Ty Howle ready to fight for playing time, it could be a tall order for Klopacz to stick on the two-deep.

Brennan: Okoli had trouble earning playing time on Penn State's deep defensive line, so now he is being given a look at offensive tackle. I like the move. He has a big frame and long arms. Whether he has the footwork to get the job done on the O-line remains to be seen. So this is a big spring for him. This is the best -- and possibly last -- great opportunity for the affable redshirt junior to carve out playing time.


Brennan: I'll be surprised if the coaching staff messes with the solid core that emerged here last season -- namely, Wisniewski at center, Lou Eliades at right guard and Troutman at left guard. From this angle, it will be easier to build around that nucleus than to do a complete breakdown and rebuild of the line. So the primary focus this spring ought to be on narrowing the field for the starting tackle jobs and settling on reliable backups at center and guard.

Harrington: I am not completely convinced Wisniewski should be at center. But I agree that, with the coaches having to rebuild 40 percent of the line, it would be surprising to see any major changes to the established core (barring injuries, of course). I'm most anxious to see who emerges to protect the quarterbacks from the edge rush — particularly their blind sides.

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