The Penn State Nittany Lions are certainly known for their outstanding linebacker play, but the offensive line has always quietly been a strength as well. No, the hog mollies up front don’t get the accolades or the press of the esteemed linebackers on the other side of the ball. But they’re no less important to the Nittany Lions record in terms of wins and losses.
Last year, the Lions quietly had another strong offensive line, one that got even better as the season went on. This year, the Lions will be bringing back four of the five starters from last years squad, and they should be even better. Attrition and inconsistency are the most dangerous plagues to an offensive line, and when both are avoided, glorious things can happen. In other words, an offensive line thrives when things stay the same, and very little will be changing from last years line to this years. Here’s a quick breakdown of how the line would look if the season started today…
Donovan Smith is arguably the most talented lineman on the roster, and will be starting at left tackle once again. Smith was a freshman last year and got valuable experience starting nine games for the Lions. He’ll only get better with each snap he takes.
Miles Dieffenbach is returning once again at left guard. The junior started 11 games at the position last year, and will continue providing leadership and consistency. Expect true freshman Brendan Mahon to fight for playing time here and at right guard. He’s a vicious mauler and will bring a nasty demeanor to the table.
Last year’s starting center, Matt Stankiewitch, was one of the best in the Big Ten, and he’ll be missed as he heads to the next level. Sophomore Angelo Mangiro should step in nicely though. Mangiro saw some time last year, and the continued snaps in spring ball with the first line should prepare him nicely.
John Urschel returns at right guard once again, and is the old man of the group. Urschel is a grizzled veteran, and started every game last year. His leadership is crucial to the line, and should play a valuable mentoring role for Mahon, who could be #2.
Adam Gress will be the starting right tackle going into spring ball. The senior made 3 starts last year, but could be beaten out. I’d expect a tight battle at this position with converted tight end Gary Gilliam, who recently made the position switch.
Gilliam was the tight end last year, but with a dearth of numbers (and ever increasing waist line to Gilliam, now up to 300lbs) coupled with the emergence of freshman Jesse James– led to an inevitable change. Expect Gilliam to battle for time at both tackle spots.
Obviously, an awful lot can change between now and August, but c’mon, it’s never too early to start gearing up for next football season. I expect the Lions to have a very good offensive line next season, and they might even be the best in the conference. The return of four linemen with extensive starting experience is a major plus, and will be crucial in helping the maturation of the next Penn State quarterback, whoever that may be.
Rick Stavig is a National Recruiting Columnist for RantSports.com. In addition to covering College Football, he also covers the NFL and NFL Draft. Follow him on Twitter @rickstavig or add him to your network on google.