If you look at the numbers from last season, it was plain and simple why Penn State’s offense was woefully inconsistent in 2014.
It was last in the Big Ten in rushing yardage, gaining just 2.9 yards per game and quarterback Christian Hackenberg was sacked 44 times. Injuries and a lack of experience in the offensive line hindered Penn State’s chances to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten.
Last season, the Nittany Lions started five different combinations of linemen with just six or seven players in the rotation.
How good Penn State will be in 2015 is dependent upon their offensive line. If they can establish cohesion and consistency, they can be a factor in the Big Ten.
During Big Ten Media Day earlier this month, Penn State head coach James Franklin said his offensive line has a bit of a chip on their collective shoulders because of last year’s bad performance. He said his lineman has taken ownership of their responsibilities to open holes and protect the quarterback.
“Their approach this off season has been taking ownership of their position and their responsibility and their role, taking ownership of the success of the offense and having a chip on their shoulder,” Franklin said.
Coming into the 2015 season, the Nittany Lions will return six offensive lineman who played in games last season along with a pair of players who saw limited action last season. They will also have junior college transfer Paris Palmer (6-7, 297) and fifth-year senior and Stanford transfer Kevin Reihner (6-3, 313).
One of Penn State’s returning lineman is senior center Angelo Mangiro (6-3, 315). He might be the Nittany Lions best lineman. He was recently named to the preseason watch list of the Rimington Award, which is given to the most outstanding center in Div. I football. He started every game in 2014 and played several positions mainly due to injuries.
Mangiro made 10 starts at center lasts season, two at right tackle and one at right guard. He is the projected starter at the center position for the Nittany Lions, but he will be pushed at that spot by junior Wendy Laurent (6-2, 288), who will also compete for other spots along the interior line.
Last season, Laurent appeared in seven games and made three starts at center when Mangiro was moved to fill the void at the other spots on the Penn State offensive line. Franklin is confident Laurent can play any of the guard spots and is competing against Brendan Mahon and Brian Gaia at the guard spot. Reihner, who is listed as both a guard and center is also in that mix of interior linemen.
Both Gaia (6-3, 298) and Mahon (6-4, 318) both played more than 10 games at the guard position last season and have a year of experience under their belts and that can only help. The Nittany Lions will return right tackle redshirt sophomore Andrew Nelson, who also played in a few games at left tackle last season.
Nelson made a couple of all-freshman teams including Scout.com and BTN.com last season and appears to be a solid choice at the right tackle position.
The Nittany Lions are projecting Palmer to play at the left tackle to protect Hackenberg’s blind-side. Franklin said Palmer is stronger and confident, but is looking for him to be a bit more aggressive from what he’s seen in practice thus far. Redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell (6-5, 287) is also competing for that left tackle spot as well.
The one thing that the Penn State offensive line has to strive for in 2015 is consistency and more importantly continuity. Whoever the starting five is on the offensive line, they have to develop chemistry and they need to have guys in the right place.
One of the things that bothered Franklin last season with the constant adjusting of his line was players not playing the position they play best.
“I think one of our issues that was compounded last year is that we weren’t able to [leave players at their natural position],” Frank said. “ You guys have heard me say this before, I think it was the Ohio State game; we lose our left tackle, Donovan [Smith].
”So our right tackle goes to left tackle. Our center goes to right tackle, and the backup center comes in. It’s a lot of moving parts for guys that are still trying to get comfortable.”