Penn State recruiting mailbag: Offensive line development; expectations for Micah Parsons
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It might be too much to put the “dominant” label on the vast majority of offensive lines in college football, but Penn State’s unit appears primed to make strides. Michael, who proposed this question during our weekly Facebook Live show (8 p.m. Wednesdays here), is among dozens of Penn State fans who’ve brought up this topic in recent weeks.
Last time we witnessed the Nittany Lions offensive front go to work, Penn State pounded a highly respected Washington Huskies defensive front for 203 rushing yards. Quarterback Trace McSorley was sacked once during a 35-28 victory in the Fiesta Bowl.
James Franklin identified offensive line development as a point of emphasis last season, and the mantra moving toward spring camp seems to be increasing physicality and competition in the trenches.
He described Rasheed Walker — a top-10 tackle recruit who capped off Penn State’s class on National Signing Day — as a lineman who “plays with a nasty streak” and “has a finisher’s mentality.” These are traits Franklin aims to see across the offensive front.
“I would love to see a little bit more of that nastiness that I’ve been talking about for a couple of years,” he explained during a news conference in November. “I think you guys have talked to me about it, and I met with some of the young linemen the other day about it, that they were brought in and told that, and they understood that. They need to bring that, bring that in practice, bring that into games.”
Earlier this week, we broke down a projected Penn State depth chart on offense. While the Nittany Lions must replace record-setting performers at receiver, running back and tight end, things are a bit more stable up front.
Penn State returns five offensive linemen who logged substantial starts in 2017, losing only right guard Brendan Mahan from the regular rotation. Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern each have more than 20 starts under their belts, while Steven Gonzalez and Chasz Wright aren’t far behind.
It remains to be seen whether Bates will resume duties at tackle or return to guard, where he lined up in 2016. Gonzalez and McGovern should continue to be mainstays at guard and center, respectively.
Will Fries impressed at tackle as a redshirt freshman, called into action on both sides of the line due to Bates’ midseason injury. Other young linemen, who Franklin alluded to above, may be ready to compete for similar leaps on the depth chart.
Guards Michal Menet, C.J. Thorpe and Mike Miranda are candidates to crack the starting lineup with strong offseason efforts. Things seem solid at tackle with Bates, Fries and Wright providing experience, but it’s difficult to ignore the addition of two top-10 prospects at the position in Walker and Nana Asiedu.
Aside from Wright, who is a senior, each of the linemen mentioned here could remain on the roster in 2019. Stability is a beautiful thing for any coaching staff.
The trajectory of this offensive line is trending upward thanks to an influx of talent via recent recruiting cycles. Linemen who may have hit the field as freshmen in 2014 now face a far more competitive path to playing time. That’s a positive step for Franklin’s desire to establish increased attitude in the offensive trenches.
Let’s switch our focus to Nittany Lions defensive concerns…
The future of Micah Parsons continues to be a popular topic among Penn State fans, though the discussion evolved from his recruiting process to his on-field progress this winter. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Harrisburg (Pa.) product arrived on campus last month as an early enrollee.
If anyone anticipated that the hype surrounding an all-time great Pennsylvania prospect would simmer down following his commitment announcement on Dec. 20, they’ve been proven wrong. After it was revealed Parsons will wear No. 11 at Penn State, legendary Nittany Lions linebacker LaVar Arrington added more fuel to the fire.
“This young man will grow into a fine man and lead this team,” Arrington wrote on Instagram. “What better number as a LB at LBU? …It must be two 1s. So here’s my bold proclamation… Micah will be the best that ever put 11 on. LBU is alive and well.”
The best ever…
Just a reminder that Arrington, while wearing No. 11, was a two-time All-Big Ten selection, an All-American, and a recipient of the Bednarik Award, Butkus Award and Lambert Award. He also was a No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft.
More praise came from Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry on Thursday morning after a winter workout session. Parsons didn’t hesitate to respond, proclaiming his aspirations to earn a starting role at middle linebacker.
— BLESSEDMVP (@Micah_parsons23) February 15, 2018
Beyond returning starter Koa Farmer, Penn State’s linebacker unit is a relatively unknown commodity at this stage. Middle linebacker and team captain Jason Cabinda was a senior in 2017, while former starter Manny Bowen is no longer with the program.
Parsons is one of three early enrollees at linebacker, and fellow freshman Jesse Luketa is another compelling candidate at middle linebacker. Veterans such as Jake Cooper and Cam Brown, along with rising redshirt freshmen such as Ellis Brooks and Brailyn Franklin are among others competing to fill spots at the second level of Penn State’s defense.
Among the Nittany Lions newcomers on defense this season, I’d have a hard time not picking Parsons as the player who makes a major impact. Franklin addressed his decision to implement Parsons at linebacker in December.
“There is no doubt in my mind he could play defensive end. We have a challenge that we need to solve some linebacker depth issues,” he said. “We think with him graduating early, he’s got a chance to kind of learn it and have a chance to truly compete for the job come the fall.”
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