One of the biggest questions for Penn State in 2014 is how it will replace key players on the offensive line.
The Nittany Lions lost five offensive linemen to graduation at the end of this season. Right guard John Urschel and center Ty Howle were regular starters, while Garry Gilliam and Adam Gress split time at right tackle. Eric Shrive was primarily a reserve.
They'll need to replenish their stock in the trenches. So far, that replenishment hasn't come through recruiting.
This week, Penn State lost out on its top offensive line targets. Junior college offensive tackle Kareem Are signed with Florida State, while Pennsylvania product Alex Bookser verbally committed to Pittsburgh.
Penn State is fortunate enough to return both members on the left side of the line next year. Tackle Donovan Smith and guard Miles Dieffenbach will protect Christian Hackenberg's blindside.
Yet there's still an entire right side to fill. Here's a look at who might round out the offensive line in 2014.
Center and Right Guard
The two positions are coupled because the situation appears to have a cause-and-effect relationship.
Last month, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien said there would be a competition in 2014 for the starting center spot. It would be between redshirt sophomore Angelo Mangiro and redshirt freshman Wendy Laurent:
OB: There will be a competition at center when Howle leaves. Mangiro is a G/C, Wendy Laurent is a center. Both have improved.— Lions247 (@Lions247) November 26, 2013
According to Penn State's official roster, Mangiro and Laurent are the only two players (sans Howle, who hasn't yet been removed) listed as centers. O'Brien may say there's going to be a competition, but the decision on who starts may ultimately come down to depth and experience.
Mangiro was recruited out of high school as an offensive guard, Laurent as a center. With Penn State thin at players familiar with the center position, it would make sense for Laurent to play there and Mangiro to stay at guard.
Having Laurent as the center makes sense when looked at from a size perspective. At 6'2" and 284 pounds, he's a bit undersized to play guard. That's not the case for Mangiro (6'3", 304 lbs), who is almost physically identical to Urschel (6'3", 301 lbs), the guy he'd be replacing at right guard.
If for some reason Mangiro were to get the center job, redshirt sophomore Anthony Alosi could takes reps at right guard. A pair of 2013 recruits—redshirt freshmen Brendan Mahon and Tanner Hartman—would be options as well.
Do you think the offensive line should be the primary focus when recruiting for 2015?
Standing at 6'6" and weighing 320 pounds, Kareem Are would've been a welcome addition to a scarce crop of Penn State linemen. Already the size of the prototypical NFL tackle, he at the very least would have competed for the job.
But because Are spurned the Nittany Lions, it appears as though the right tackle spot is now redshirt freshman Andrew Nelson's to lose.
When the 6'5" Nelson committed to Penn State, he weighed only 260 pounds. He's since bulked up to 297 pounds—adding the necessary size to accompany his skill set.
In an article from Greg Pickel of PennLive, he details how impressed offensive line coach Mac McWhorter was with Nelson this past fall:
Whether Nelson will suit up for the Lions this fall is being decided on a week-by-week basis, McWhorter said. The hope is to develop him as if he was going to play, but ideally, he wouldn't, preparing this season to be ready to jump in head first next fall.
"I am really excited about Andrew Nelson. He is a guy that we are, almost on weekly basis, talking about, 'well, do we need to play him or do we not?'" McWhorter said.
After Nelson, the depth chart is wide open.
Alosi—who plays both guard and tackle—will likely be the primary backup to both Nelson and left tackle Donovan Smith. After that, the Nittany Lions are thin at the position, save for a few "run-ons".
Penn State does have a commitment from 2014 prospect Noah Beh. Unless they can pick up a pledge from a junior college tackle before National Signing Day, O'Brien probably won't be able to redshirt him.
With a cupboard this bare, it's safe to say Penn State will look to stock up on offensive linemen in its 2015 recruiting class.