Penn State Football Review and Preview: Offensive Line Edition
There were multiple areas of Penn State’s offense last season that can take some of the blame for its sluggish play, especially as the year went on.
But one spot that seemed to become an increasing issue as the season ran its course was with the offensive line.
There is no doubt that the Nittany Lion protection was poor in 2021 and that James Franklin, Phil Trautwein and the need to resolve this issue sooner rather than later.
With a large portion of the depth chart back as well as some players leaving and a few coming in, here is the outlook of Penn State up front.
All year long there was movement and reformations constantly being made to the Penn State offensive line.
The big hole to start the season was thought to be at left guard, where Lackawanna transfer Anthony Whigan would be starting against Wisconsin in Week 1 after some preseason competition with Harvard transfer Eric WIlson.
Before the game was even finished, that would end up changing as struggles from Whigan gave Wilson a chance to earn his spot, which he did, kinda.
Again, no consistent play at the position ever materialized and the left guard spot would end up becoming a revolving door as the season went on.
The left tackle spot was possibly the only job that Penn State felt really confident about coming into the season as Rasheed Walker passed on the 2020 NFL draft to return to Happy Valley for one more season.
While he is still expected to be at least a Day 2 draft pick, Walker had his own fair share of struggles in 2022 but still showed flashes and presented the right physical traits to become a sought after NFL prospect.
The other tackle position where Caedan Wallace resided was a bit more of an adventure.
In his first year as a full-time starter it is fair to say that Wallace’s play was a bit underwhelming.
There were many occasions where he seemed to be overpowered specifically on bull rushes by defensive ends and lacked the quick hands and feet to keep players in front.
When Mike Yurcich was asked prior to the Outback Bowl if the team would consider having Wallace move back to guard where he was recruited out of high school, he seemed to indicate that it was not an option they were exploring.
The center position was another spot that the coaching staff probably felt comfortable with before the season began as a veteran in Mike Miranda would be snapping the ball to Sean Clifford.
Miranda was a fifth-year senior but one that had been a guard primarily during his Penn State career, starting all nine games there in 2020.
The transition to center proved to be a difficult one as Miranda was yet another guy up front who struggled to change positions.
One of the few offensive linemen who was able to hit their stride in 2021 was right guard Juice Scruggs.
Scruggs was one of the top rated offensive lineman in the Big Ten according to Pro Football Focus and even made a move to center after Miranda went through some injury problems.
Turns out he was more than serviceable in that spot and turned out to become one of the few positive takeaways for Penn State in the second half of the season.
This allowed these players with more experience to get some much needed snaps where they can start building upon their strengths and weaknesses.
There are certainly going to be some changes regarding Penn State’s protection in 2022 and that starts with the personnel.
With Walker heading to the NFL and Wilson, Whigan and Miranda moving on as well, that leaves some open spots on the first team O-Line.
Scruggs is projected to stay at center where he finished last season in place of the injured Miranda.
The guards aside of him are projected to be two players who have yet to prove a lot at a high level.
Start with the previously mentioned Landon Tengwall who was the team’s top recruit in its 2021 class and will likely take over at left guard.
He showed some really positive signs in Penn State’s matchups against Rutgers and Arkansas which can definitely be viewed as important as he stares down a much larger role in his second college season.
To the right of Scruggs will likely be Sal Wormley, who missed the entire season with an injury this year after being in the mix for a starting spot prior to 2021.
Wormley is another player who has been highly touted by Franklin, Trautwein and the rest of the coaching staff but has yet to have the opportunity to prove that he can play a pivotal role on a Big Ten offensive line.
A couple of months ago when Yurcich was asked about Caedan Wallace at tackle he was adamant about keeping him at that spot.
Now on the flip side look for Olu Fashanu to play some significant snaps after he filled in for Rasheed Walker during the Nittany Lions’ loss to Arkansas In the Outback Bowl.
Fashanu impressed many that watched the bowl game as he held his own against SEC talent across the line.
He presents some pretty impressive measurables at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds and there is no doubt he has the physical tools to become a reliable blind side blocker for Sean Clifford.
Now In terms of notable newcomers, the program landed highly coveted Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad. He comes in after starting 20 consecutive games at right tackle for the Big Red, a span that saw their rushing game flourish and give up the least amount of sacks in the Ivy League last year.
Now despite Nourzad playing mostly tackle at Cornell, he is expected to play along the interior for the Nittany Lions. He should definitely compete for one of the guard spots and have an opportunity to start from the jump.
Of the incoming high school offensive linemen recruits coming in, the player to watch will be Drew Shelton, a 4-star offensive tackle from Downingtown West, Pennsylvania who is the No. 3 overall recruit in the state according to Rivals.