O line could be key, but questions remain

Posted by on March 28, 2013

Over the years, guys like Keith Dorney, Jeff Hartings, Sean Farrell, and Mike Munchak anchored solid offensive lines at Penn State, lines that paved the way for Franco Harris, John Cappiletti, Curt Warner, Ki-Jana Carter, and others.  In most of the Paterno years, the Lions were run first, run second, and throw when you have to. 

Still, the lines generally provided at least adequate pass protection. 

The game was changing, though, and for the past decade at least, Penn State’s offensive lines have more often than not struggled to be big enough, strong enough, quick enough, athletic enough, and have the right schemes to matriculate the ball down the field.

Bill O’Brien’s new offense worked pretty well last season, and the line generally did its part, perhaps better than expected.  Yet, with at least one key loss, questions hover over this unit, which more than any other, may hold the key to how good Penn State’s offense is in 2013.

All-Big Ten center Matt Stankiewitch is gone, as is starting right tackle Mike Farrell.  It looks like fifth-year senior Adam Gress, who was the third tackle last year, will move into Farrell’s slot, with returning starter Donovan Smith on the left side.  John Urschel was decent at guard, and returns along with other guard starter Miles Dieffenbach.  This pair may not win many awards, but appears to be at least adequate.

That leaves center.  It looks at this point as if Ty Howle is leading the competition.  He’s a bit of a fire plug at 6-0, and right around 300.  Whether that height is a negative or helps him get leverage is debatable.  But, Urschel and Gress this week told reporters they think Howle is the guy for the job.

While acknowledging the loss of Stankiewitch will be felt, Urschel said he thinks Howle is underrated and can get the job done.  As a fifth-year guy, he knows the other guys on the line, and has the benefit of this being the second year in O’Brien’s system. 

None of Penn State’s projected O line starters is listed at above 310 pounds, and a couple may even be a bit under 300.  Smallish compared to the Wisconsin behemoths that populate the Big Ten.  But, if O’Brien wants to rely on varied sets and quickness, then smaller may be the way to go.

Seeing what O’Brien coaxed out of Matt McGloin last season, you have to believe he’ll find a way to make a six-foot, sub-300 pound center work if that’s what he has available.

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