Penn State lost three first-team All-Big Ten offensive linemen after this past season. Today, we continue our position by position breakdown, leading up to this weekend's Blue White Game.
The offensive line is probably the toughest position to evaluate, even for the professional scouts. There are no stats in the box score, nothing to go by. But that doesn't mean we can't look at which guys should contend for the starting slots this season, and what they need to do on Saturday.
For those of you wondering where the defensive line analysis is, I'll try to have it done by the end of today. If not, then it will be up first thing in the morning. I had to break this day up into two posts, mainly because there are 19 offensive linemen on the spring roster, and 15 defensive linemen.
Too much for one post, unless you wanted to wait until midnight for one big post. Keep in mind that not all of the offensive linemen stay in one position, especially the very young ones.
So, for logistical reasons, I'm only discussing those who are in real competition for starting or backup spots. Also to note, the assignments I'm using are reflective of those used during Penn State's full scrimmage from last weekend.
• No. 50, DeOn'tae Pannell. Sophomore. Starter LT.
What we already know: Pannell played in eight games last season, primarily as a reserve left tackle. Going into this spring practice session, it was a dead head between Pannell and fifth-year senior Nerraw McCormack.
But then McCormack injured his knee, giving Pannell the green light. Pannell is a prototype left tackle, with great height (6'5") and very good weight (315).
What to expect
There were plenty of reports circulating that the offensive line was struggling to find its cohesion, even though that's to be expected with so many new guys. But now Pannell is becoming more comfortable at his position, and will be assigned the tough task of protecting Daryll Clark's blind side this weekend.
If Pannell can go the whole game against guys like Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Abe Koroma, and not give up a sack, call it a great, if not fantastic Saturday.
• No. 73, Dennis Landolt. Redshirt Senior. Starter RT
What we already know: Landolt was named honorable mention All-Big Ten right tackle last season, and is the most experienced returning offensive lineman in 2009. He's started 25 of the last 26 games.
There has not been a whole lot of buzz around Landolt, and that's a good thing. He has a great attitude about the team and the game. Look for him to crack the second or first team All-Big Ten this year.
What to expect
I want to see him be a senior leader on the line. Cohesion starts with the more experienced players helping out the young bucks, and Landolt has seen plenty of action to help the rest of the line adapt. I already know he can do his job well enough, so he won't be one of my main focuses this weekend.
• No. 79, Ako Poti. Fifth-year Senior. Backup RT
What we already know: Poti was one of those rare transfers to Penn State, coming to Happy Valley in 2007 from San Fransisco Community College. He's played well as a regular backup for Dennis Landolt the past two seasons. Poti has good size (6'3") and has a lean build (305).
What to expect: Poti will most likely duke it out with redshirt frosh Mike Farrell the remainder of this off-season. If he wants to get in as much playing time as possible this year, he'll have to come out and finish off spring practice with a bang. The mental mistakes usually committed by backups will have to be set aside this Saturday.
• No. 78, Mike Farrell. Redshirt Freshman. Backup RT
What we already know: While he's not mammoth by any means (279 lbs.), Farrell has the towering height (6'6") to keep the defensive linemen in front of him. His lean build gives him the opportunity to add weight as time goes on, which is great at Penn State, where the coaches like to mold players from the ground up.
What to expect: As much as I have a soft spot for seniors like Poti, Farrell's potential can't be ignored. I would love to see him have a breakout game this weekend, specifically going up against the first-team defensive front.
• No. 70, Andrew Radakovich. Redshirt Freshman. Backup LT
What we already know: Radakovich is a little taller (6'5"), but leaner (296) than Eliades, so it should be an interesting battle to see who prevails this off-season. Although he's a freshman, Radakovich has garnered enough attention from the coaches and the media to warrant consideration for the backup left tackle spot.
What to expect: Sometimes the young guys fight harder when it means the difference between getting on the field in the third quarter, or the last 20 seconds. If Radakovich is as talented as they're saying he is, he should have no reason not to push ahead of the pack for the backup position. He and Eliades could split time this Saturday.
• No. 77, Lou Eliades. Redshirt Junior. Backup LT (also starter at RG, see later entry)
What's his deal: Eliades has played in 19 games over two years, including all 13 last season. His main position will be at right guard, but he's also had extensive work at the left tackle spot.
If Pannell goes down, and Radakovich isn't quite ready for prime time, then Eliades will shift over.
• No. 74, Johnnie Troutman. Redshirt Sophomore. Possible starter LG.
What we already know: Troutman played in six games last season, including the first four. Like Eliades and co-left guard Matt Stankiewitch, Troutman is a bigger guard (6'4" 315), which reinforces the idea behind Penn State's new emphasis on size on the offensive line, compared to decades of "small and quick."
With guys like Troutman, it's now "big and still quick."
What to expect:
He has a very difficult job this weekend, along with the other two interior linemen, going up against some of the best interior defensive linemen in college football.
It might be a real war inside, and I'm very interested to see how Troutman, Eliades and Stefen Wisniewski work together on pass plays. On the flip side, Troutman will probably do some pulling on runs, so keep an eye out for that.
• No. 54, Matt Stankiewitch. Redshirt Freshman. Possible starter LG, backup RG.
What we already know: Stankiewitch has really impressed the coaches, but hasn't been assigned a permanent spot on the interior of the line. Since he is only a redshirt freshman, it won't be an issue later on. Right now, his progress is about gaining experience. He could overtake Troutman at left guard, but so far, nothing has changed.
What to expect:
Stankiewitch has gotten some attention since coming to Penn State last year. He has the talent to perform well as a member of the second team this weekend, but he will have to face the first team defensive line. It could be Stankiewitch's time to shine.
• No. 77, Lou Eliades. Redshirt Junior. Starter RG (also backup at LT, see earlier entry).
What we already know: He's an experienced player, as we already covered, and should be a real force on the inside this year.
What to expect:
You'll probably hear me say this a lot, but I'm really looking forward to seeing this new interior offensive line in action. Eliades should be able to use his size and strength to hold up against the defensive line, but don't be surprised if he becomes a little winded later in the game.
• No. 61, Stefen Wisniewski. Junior. Starter
What we already know: Wisniewski came to Penn State with a legacy older than he was. His father was one of the Lions' all-time great linemen, and young Wisniewski had a lot to live up to. So far, he has.
Wisniewski's redshirt year was left by the wayside, as he made his first start in 2007, eventually earning the position over a senior. Wisniewski started every game last year at guard. This year, he's moved over to center to replace Rimington Trophy winner AQ Shipley.
What to expect:
All news so far has been good news about Wisniewski's switch to center. No matter what, he's the new leader of this offensive line. Luckily, I think he has everything it takes to be that leader.
This weekend, I'm really looking forward to see how he handles his new role. I wouldn't be surprised, either, if the defensive coaches send some tricky looks Wiz's way, just to test him.
• No. 67, Quinn Barham. Redshirt Sophomore. Backup.
What we already know: Barham appeared in six games last year, after suffering from an ankle injury his redshirt season. He originally played guard, but after backup center Doug Klopacz sustained another injury, Barham was moved to backup Wisniewski for 2009.
What to expect:
As the leader of the second team line, I'm hoping Barham shows some promise. We haven't heard too much about him, although that could be a good thing. There is so much more to learn at center, particularly calling the blocking schemes, but I'm confident in Barham.
• Out with injuries: No. 65, J.B. Walton. Redshirt Sophomore. He was the leading candidate for a starting guard spot, until suffering a leg injury. He should be fine for the season.
Later today... (might be delayed until tomorrow morning)
The Defensive Line
Monday: Quarterbacks and Running Backs
Tuesday: Receivers and Tight Ends
Thursday: Linebackers and Defensive Backs.
Friday: Special Teams. Last minute updates.
Saturday night: Report from the game, photos, etc.