STATE COLLEGE – Over the last three seasons Penn State has had a running back taken in both the first and second rounds of the NFL draft.
After having Saquon Barkley selected in 2018 and Miles Sanders picked in 2019, Penn State did not have a running back selected early in the draft this year, but Nittany Lions rushers finished the 2019 season ranked fourth in the Big Ten behind 190.6 yards per game.
Part of the Nittany Lions' recent success at the position can be attributed to solid, consistent play at the offensive line. While Penn State replaces former offensive line coach Matt Limegrover — now an analyst at Michigan — the position group is loaded with experience.
Phil Trautwein was hired to replace Limegrover in January after coaching Boston College’s offensive line for two seasons.
“This was a dream for me when I was hoping to play here,” Trautwein said. “But now, I have an opportunity to coach here. I’m from South Jersey. Penn State — growing up — was Penn State. Everyone talked about it like it was the school to go to. To coach here, it’s a dream for me.”
Senior Michal Menet (center), redshirt sophomore Rasheed Walker (left tackle) and senior Will Fries (right tackle) played their respective positions in 2019 and will again do so in 2020. Menet has logged playing time in 37 contests during his Penn State career.
“(Menet) and Fries are the two leaders in the o-line room just because they have the experience and guys look up to them because they’ve played for a long time,” Trautwein said.
Although Walker is the youngest of the trio, Trautwein said he’s impressed by what he’s seen on film from the 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman.
“He’s athletic; he has great feet; he’s strong; he has a great punch when he uses it,” Trautwein said of Walker. “You can tell he’s nasty, and he tries to finish his blocks. For a young talent, I’m excited to get him when he’s young and mold him into what he feels like he’s going to be.”
Last season, Penn State shuffled seven offensive linemen on to the field. The platoon helped the Nittany Lions at right guard last year with the contributions of redshirt juniors C.J. Thorpe and Mike Miranda. Thorpe is listed at Penn State’s 2020 starter at right guard, while Miranda earned the nod at left guard.
“The good thing about this offensive line is that you have experience,” Trautwein said. “You have a lot of guys that have played, and a lot of guys that have played some big-time football.”
Depth at the position will be provided by redshirt junior Des Holmes (left tackle), redshirt freshman Caedan Wallace (right tackle), redshirt sophomore Juice Scruggs (center). The Nittany Lions signed five offensive linemen as part of its 2020 recruiting class in offensive tackles Jimmy Christ, Olu Fashanu and Ibrahim Traore, and offensive guards Nick Dawkins and Golden Israel-Achumba.
While experience will define this year’s offensive line, Menet — one of the seasoned leaders — said another quality it possesses that will benefit the unit.
“I think one of the biggest values that our team has right now is the amount of accountability there is team-wide from the top to the bottom,” Menet said. “I think that’s kind of been the main driving force. As far as individual units and certain rooms, I think all the leaders in those rooms have been really looking after their guys.”