Looking ahead: Offensive line
January, 9, 2013
By Josh Moyer | ESPN.com
In the next week, NittanyNation will be taking a glance at different positions and their outlook for next season.
AP Photo/Kevin TanakaOffensive tackle Donovan Smith was expected to be a breakout star, but he didn't quite live up to his potential this season.
- Who: A healthy Donovan Smith could be the star on this line for the next few years, but offensive guards John Urschel -- a first-team All-Big Ten selection -- and Miles Dieffenbach are also solid returning starters. There's a lot of depth here, with three returning backups who saw a lot of time on the field last season. Angelo Mangiro, Ty Howle and Adam Gress will likely compete for the openings left with the graduations of Matt Stankiewitch and Mike Farrell. Gress filled in when Smith was injured, but that right tackle position is probably the biggest question mark right now.
- Strengths: There's a lot of options on the offensive line, and this remains one of the deeper positions for the Nittany Lions. Incoming freshmen Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson will add further quality depth, and the interior was definitely a strong point last season. Tailback Zach Zwinak often ran through holes paved by the guards, and that figures to be a big plan of the offensive attack again next season. Zwinak was almost never tackled in the backfield.
- Weaknesses: This line has to get better when it comes to picking up the blitz. Ohio State really took advantage and often brought an extra rusher to completely disrupt Penn State's offensive rhythm. PSU was relatively average in pass protection -- finishing No. 51 in the nation in sacks allowed (1.75 per game) -- and filling the hole left by Stankiewitch will be a tall task.
- Player to watch: Gress. There's more depth on the interior, and that makes RT Gress all the more important. He was penciled in as the spring starter last year but lost his starting job to Farrell and struggled at times. When Smith was injured, it was pretty evident the line wasn't the same -- and Gress' offseason should be closely watched to see what strides he can make.
- Overall: Thanks to an improved strength-and-conditioning program, Penn State's offensive line appears to be on its way to becoming a stronger unit -- literally. Mangiro and Howle are more than competent enough to take over at center, but Stankiewitch was one of the best players in the nation at his position. The departures of Farrell and Stankiewitch could definitely lead to a few early growing pains on this offensive line, but Smith is primed for a breakout season. It'll be interesting to see what another year training with Craig Fitzgerald will do for this unit.