How well the true freshman plays in Saturday's opener against Youngstown State in Beaver Stadium will depend heavily on the crew who will line up in front of him every play. And that would have been the case no matter who won the starting job.
We just need to keep people away from the quarterback, senior guard Stefen Wisniewski said. Whoever it may be, we don't need to change too much of what we do as a line.
Change: that has been the operative word for Penn State's offensive line this offseason. Only one member of the line who started the team's Capital One Bowl victory will man the same position in the opener.
Right tackle will be occupied by senior Lou Eliades, who despite sitting out practice with a calf injury Tuesday will make his first start at the position after playing right guard all of last season.
Next to him will be the anchor of the Penn State offensive line, senior Stefen Wisniewski, a preseason favorite for All-America honors. Wisniewski began his college career at right guard, but made the move to center last season where he still managed to excel. Now, with the line in flux again, Wisniewski returns to his natural position.
I sure would have liked to have been a captain, but (Brackett and Ogbu) are great guys, a gracious Wisniewski said. Just because I'm not a captain doesn't mean I'm not going to be a leader. I'm still going to do everything I can to lead.
Assuming Wisniewski's role at center will be senior Doug Klopacz. After shuffling positions on the line and struggling to secure a starting role for three years, Klopacz will finally have his opportunity to shine.
To his left will likely be junior guard DeOn'tae Pannell. Although he was thought to be the ideal tackle coming out of high school, Pannell's size and speed did not translate to success on the field. He began last season as State's starting left tackle but was eventually replace. He re-emerged as the starting right guard late in the season.
If Pannell struggles early, expect to see junior Johnnie Troutman take over the job. Troutman is a legitimate talent who has been his own worst enemy at Penn State. He has had trouble keeping his weight in check, and that has prevented him from ever taking firm hold of a starting job.
Perhaps the most interesting player on the line is left tackle Quinn Barham. Entering his junior year, Barham lacks the size of a prototypical left tackle, but his speed and improved technique have convinced Penn State coaches he is the man for the job. Although fans are skeptical of the selection, primarily because Barham has not played left tackle since his days at high school in North Carolina, he believes he and his teammates will silence the critics.
The offensive line has come along great because of all the communication we've had with changing positions in camp, Barham said. I realize how important (left tackle) is to the team, the offense and the quarterback. I'm ready to protect and serve.