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Training Camp Breakdown: Offensive Line

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week three of training camp is winding down, with Penn State capping off the weekend holding its annual team photo day Sunday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
 

Ahead of the official start of the 2017 season, continue checking in at each position for a closer look at who's back and who's new to the Nittany Lion roster. 

Who's Back:
- Andrew Nelson (GS/Sr.)                  - Zach Simpson (Jr./So.)
- Steven Gonzalez (Jr./So.)               - Brendan Mahon (RS-Sr./Sr.)
- Charlie Shuman (Sr./Sr.)                  - Connor McGovern (So./So.)
- Sterling Jenkins (Jr./So.)                  - Hunter Kelly (So./Fr.)
- Chasz Wright (Sr./Jr.)                      - Alex Gellerstedt (So./Fr.)
- Michal Menet (So./Fr.)                      - Will Fries (So./Fr.)
- Ryan Bates (Jr./So.) 

Additions:
- Crae McCracken (Fr./Fr., 6-2/301, Williamsport, Pa./Loyalsock Township), Mike Miranda (Fr./Fr., 6-3/291, Stow, Ohio/Stow-Munroe), C.J. Thorpe (Fr./Fr., 6-3/314, Glenshaw, Pa./Central Catholic), Des Holmes (Fr./Fr., 6-5/325, Norristown, Pa./Cardinal O'Hara), Robbie Martin (Fr./Fr., 6-4/280, Sparta, N.J./Saint Joseph Regional). 

Subtractions:
- Brian Gaia, Wendy Laurent, Tom Devenney, Adam De Boef, Noah Beh, Brendan Brosnan, Paris Palmer. 

What To Watch For:
It's no surprise that Penn State's offensive line is trending upward and much improved, shaped by the leadership of second-year offensive line coach Matt Limegrover with an added boost from a full complement of scholarships available to the Nittany Lions.

"Two things that stand out to me with the offensive line is the physicality," defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry said on media day. "We've got pretty good front guys that are lining up toe to toe daily with those guys. Even going back to spring, just the movement and size and power and working together, it's hard to find a weakness."

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Even with steady improvement, there's still much to settle in training camp, with Penn State putting out seven different starting combinations in 2016. The common denominator amongst the group was of course veteran center Brian Gaia, who the Nittany Lions lost to graduation. 

By spring ball though, head coach James Franklin noted that among a bunch of changes, Penn State would move sophomore Connor McGovern to center. One of five true freshmen to start in 2016, McGovern made nine starts on the offensive line at right guard, before moving to center, where he'll have the entire offseason to continue building not only physical experience, but mental experience too with added leadership responsibilities coming with the position.

Among the veteran leaders in the room, Penn State has maturity and experience in Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson at left and right tackle. With 29 career starts, Mahon has the most experience, but was sidelined with an injury, along with Nelson, who missed eight games but has 27 career starts for the Nittany Lions. Working back to 100 percent, Franklin mentioned on media day that he was pleased with their progress.

"They've looked good," Franklin said. "I think when you've got seniors - redshirt seniors - that have played a lot of football, they've got a lot of maturity, so if you're going to have a guy that maybe is a little limited in terms of - they're not limited anywhere physically - their reps, they're probably guys who could handle that situation the best, and they've done a good job with it."

Like any position, injuries to the offensive line last year will only pay dividends this season, with depth now an option even as redshirt Nittany Lions join the mix. 

"Last year they were the unsung heroes of what we did," special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff said on media day. "Building on that, they have a lot more confidence. Some of those guys are back. They're challenging the younger guys. The younger guys that redshirted last year are taking bigger roles. We've probably seen a lot of growth from those redshirt guys that are really impressive."


In his redshirt freshman season, Ryan Bates joined Gaia as the only two offensive linemen to start every game last year, even making the move from left guard to tackle late in the season. With versatility to play guard, tackle or center, Bates was among Limegrover's top performers from spring ball.

With Bates' move to tackle, Steven Gonzalez made three starts at left guard, playing in 11 games during his redshirt freshman season. Chasz Wright also started all 14 games of his sophomore season last year, starting the final five games of the season at right tackle.

Adding into the mix for the offensive line rotation this year is redshirt Will Fries and Sterling Jenkins, both who Limegrover noted in spring ball as a pair making strides. 

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Among the newcomers, both Limegrover and Franklin were pleased with early enrollee Mike Miranda, who also made significant strides in the weight room as noted by Assistant Athletics Director for Performance Enhancement, Dwight Galt at Penn State's annual Lift for Life event. Taking reps with the ones in spring ball per Franklin, Miranda was also a pleasant surprise for Limegrover. At six-foot-three and 291 pounds, the Stow, Ohio native helped Stow-Munroe Falls to a 10-2 record and a state playoff appearance as a senior, ranked as high as the No. 6 player in Ohio by Scout.

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