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Previewing the 2022 Penn State Football Offensive Line Unit

Across James Franklin’s eight-year tenure in Happy Valley, the head coach has helped produce 40 total NFL draft picks among every position group.

While Franklin has seemingly been able to churn out talented skill position players at a clip of regularity, the offensive line has visibly suffered from depth and talent deficiencies under his leadership.

Overall, just five of the 40 Nittany Lions drafted over the last eight cycles played for Franklin across the offensive trenches. But, according to the Big Ten East division’s longest-tenured head coach, this year’s group could boast a different narrative for the first time in almost a decade.

This season, Penn State is set to start five former four-star prospects on the offensive line for the first time in the modern recruiting era. With the addition of several high-profile signees and a proven transfer from Cornell on the offensive front, the Nittany Lions also hold an abundance of depth at their disposal.

Now, let’s take a look at the flurry of contributors who will carry increased roles within Phil Trautwein’s position room this fall.

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PROJECTED STARTERS....

LEFT TACKLE -- OLU FASHANU

Despite appearing in nine contests during his second year with the Nittany Lions in 2021, the rangy 6’6”, 321-pound tackle warranted just one start a season ago.

However, in his lone start against Arkansas in the Outback Bowl, the Maryland product performed serviceably in place of veteran left tackle Rasheed Walker, who was sidelined with a season-ending lower-body injury.

In the face of the Razorbacks’ stout defensive line, Fashanu allowed zero quarterback pressures over the span of 63 offensive snaps. The effort helped the redshirt freshman garner an impressive 87.5 pass protection grade courtesy of Pro Football Focus, which ranked the highest among offensive linemen who saw action in the New Year’s Day affair.

LEFT GUARD -- LANDON TENGWALL

Similarly to Fashanu, Tengwall burst onto the scene in late-season action for the first time in his young tenure donning the blue and white.

During his first campaign in Happy Valley, the versatile 332-pound product saw his first semblance of in-game reps when he took over for Caeden Wallace, who left midway through the first quarter against Rutgers with an injury.

Although Tengwall’s natural position resides at guard, the Maryland native’s versatility was on full display in his squad’s date with the Scarlet Knights. In protection of Christian Velliuex, the true freshman allowed zero pressure at the expense of the young gunslinger’s blindside.

After following up his impressive showing against Greg Schiano’s unit, Tengwall finished the campaign by helping the injury-riddled offensive line against Michigan State and Arkansas. Earlier this offseason, Tengwall was nabbed as the nation’s most-likely guard to break out in 2022 by Pro Football Focus, thanks to his year-ending efforts as a young contributor.

CENTER -- JUICE SCRUGGS

Scruggs, who currently stands as the veteran leader among Phil Trautwein’s cast, has been a part of James Franklin’s program since 2018. However, after being named the scout team offensive player of the year as a true freshman, Scruggs suffered from a stint of incomparable adversity.

The Ohio product failed to see any in-game action in 2019 after suffering a serious back injury from a brutal car accident, which led to a 17-month rehab process. Since embarking on a remarkable run of recovery, Scruggs has since played in 20 games for the Nittany Lions, highlighted by making 13 starts.

In 2021, Scruggs’ impressive campaign of dominance did not go unnoticed by postseason award voters. The fourth-year standout was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection by the coaches and media, while also earning the Dick Maginnis Memorial Award gifted to Penn State’s most outstanding offensive lineman.

During his fifth campaign within the confines of the Lasch Building, Scruggs will be thrust into a mentor role to aid the development of Fashanu, Tengwall, and other young members of the Nittany Lions’ stable of backup talent.

RIGHT GUARD -- SALEEM WORMLEY

After sitting through a season-ending injury for the duration of 2021, Wormley should be groomed to take a giant leap into his fourth season on campus, despite appearing in just three total matchups.

According to Franklin, Wormley was set to jump into the starting right guard slot in 2021, but his detrimental preseason hindrance ultimately created a two-way rotation between Anthony Whigan and Eric Wilson.

In June, Trautwein alluded to Wormley’s unique “maturity” to the media, while also relaying his excitement for the Delaware native to find the field on a regular basis this fall.

RIGHT TACKLE -- CAEDAN WALLACE

The most experienced of Penn State’s offensive lineman crew, Wallace is entering his fourth campaign at Penn State with 26 games of experience under his belt.

Last season, the New Jersey-bred protector started all 13 matchups for the Nittany Lions, while guiding the offense to nearly 380 total yards per contest.

According to Wallace’s NFL Draft profile, the 324-pound edge setter allowed just four quarterback hits in 849 snaps played in 2021. This season, Wallace is expected to become an All-Big Ten caliber piece, while potentially morphing into a projectable day one or two draft prospect.

PROJECTED SECOND TEAM ROTATION....

LEFT TACKLE -- JIMMY CHRIST  

Christ came to Happy Valley ranked as the fifth-best overall recruit in Virginia, and for good reason. The rangy 6’7” tackle possesses tremendous upside and should be relied on for backup snaps in protection of Sean Clifford and company this fall.

Through two campaigns with the Nittany Lions, Christ has appeared in just one contest. Despite his lack of in-game reps, the agile tackle did warrant an Academic All-Big Ten nod in 2021.

LEFT GUARD -- JB NELSON  

After earning three-time letterman status at Mount Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh, Nelson opted for the junior college route by heading to Lackawanna Community College.

Nelson spent two years with Mark Duda’s program in Scranton, helping the Pennsylvania native morph into a top-10 junior college product after starting all 10 matchups during his second season with the Eagles.

Ultimately, Nelson picked the Nittany Lions over the likes of Ole Miss, Maryland, and West Virginia to further continue Penn State’s well-documented Lackawanna pipeline.

CENTER -- NICK DAWKINS  

Dawkins arrived at State College in 2020 and has since carved out a role on special teams. Last season, the son of NBA great Darryl Dawkins appeared in 11 games, but didn’t amass any statistical output.

Since his freshman campaign, Dawkins has bulked up by 10 pounds and now stands at the 315 mark. His study frame might be needed behind Scruggs steady command at center this fall.

RIGHT GUARD -- HUNTER NOURZAD

Between each of the Nittany Lions’ solid assortment of options upfront, it would be tough to find an asset as battle-tested as Nourzad.

The Cornell transfer entered Franklin’s program this summer after ending his Ivy League career with 20-straight starts at right tackle.

Moreover, the Georgia native was awarded second-team All-American honors from the AFCA, while also being nabbed as Phil Steele’s Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2021.

The versatile centerpiece helped the Big Red finish fifth nationally with just 0.9 sacks allowed per game at right tackle, despite his natural position being inside. Although it appears that Wormley currently has the upper hand in the early stages of competition, Nourzad should push the veteran for instant playing time this fall.

RIGHT TACKLE -- BRYCE EFFNER  

Entering his fifth campaign with the blue and white, Effner holds the second-most in-game action behind only Caeden Wallace on the offensive front.

However, in 23 games played, the 6’5” tackle has made just two career starts. In 2021, Effner played a big role in the Nittany Lions’ late-season rotation upfront in relief of Rasheed Walker at left tackle.

While Effner has shown flashes of impressive play, the undersized tackle weighs just 287-pounds, giving him a distinct disadvantage on the outside. It will be hard for Effner to edge out the talented Fashanu and Wallace’s veteran presence for consistent run at tackle this go-around.

REMAINING PIECES....  

The Nittany Lions have five other scholarship offensive linemen on their roster, consisting of Drew Shelton, Golden Israel-Achumba, Vega Ioane, and Ibrahim Traore.

While 14 scholarship options across the offensive front mark the most Penn State has had since before the sanctions were imposed in 2012, the five pieces above likely won’t see any meaningful minutes barring any unforeseen circumstances.

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