Penn State's OL thrives due to depth

Penn State running back Journey Brown runs with the football as offensive linemen Rasheed Walker (53) and Steven Gonzalez (74) block against Michigan in 2019. Walker is one of the top returning lineman for the Nittany Lions.

STATE COLLEGE — The lack of a spring practice period impacted all phases of Penn State football last season, including an offensive line unit that started anew with first-year positon coach Phil Trautwein.

Despite the depth at the position, the Nittany Lions struggled with protection early, allowing a Big Ten-leading 13 sacks through the first three games. As the season progressed, so did the offensive line, and it ended up yielding 15 sacks through the last six games (2.5 per contest).

“Last year, I felt like we really didn’t have a spring, so basically, we just went into fall camp (and) that was the first time we really got to run plays together,” Penn State offensive lineman Rasheed Walker said. “It took a little bit of time. We had to make a few adjustments, but I really feel like Week 6 was the week that we all were just on the same page.”

Penn State will lose starters in Michal Menet (center) and Will Fries (right guard) to graduation, and part-time starter CJ Thorpe transferred earlier this year. However, key members return to what the Nittany Lions hope to be a position of strength.

Walker (left tackle), Mike Miranda (left guard) and Caedan Wallace (right tackle) started in Penn State’s regular-season finale against Illinois last December.

Last season marked Wallace’s first as a starter. His efforts and potential garnered praise from Walker.

“Caedan’s going to be a very good offensive lineman,” Walker said. “The growth that he’s had from when he first got here to now is like is crazy. He’s very confident. He’s very strong. His technique is getting better every single day.”

Penn State signed 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman Landon Tengwall. The four-star prospected enrolled early and has already made a strong impression on his teammates.

“He came in very, very sharp,” Walker said of Tengwall. “You can tell that he had some type of extra training before he even got to college. He knew his plays, he was very athletic, he had a good set. His footwork was good. I feel like he’s going to be a good offensive lineman at Penn State.”

Walker said Tengwall still learning to play within his body, but he’s caught on quickly to the new level of play.

“I can see him being a starter his second year playing,” Walker said. “He might even play this year because he’s doing very well. I can say he came in ahead of everybody in his class.”

Walker also pointed to offensive lineman Juice Scruggs as being a bright spot on the line this spring. Scruggs was injured in a car crash in 2019 in which he fractured his L3 vertebrae. Scruggs returned to the playing field last November.

“If someone just came in and didn’t know anything about him, no one would have thought that he was even in that situation, just by the way he approaches every day, every workout,” Walker said of Scruggs. “He’s my roommate, so we’re accountability partners. We’re always pushing and driving each other to go get extra work… He’s actually starting at right guard, so he’s going to have a heck of a season.”

Penn State’s offensive line is already off to a better start than last year, as it opened spring practice last month. Although the annual Blue-White scrimmage – that was canceled last year – will consist as a final spring practice, the group welcomes any opportunity it has to get better.

“This offseason, (Coach Trautwein) has really been just working with us on all the little things like trying to perfect everyone’s set, punch, getting us to plant our legs,” Walker said. “Just having us do a bunch of extra stuff that’s going to give us the edge on everybody else.”

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