STATE COLLEGE – Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford takes comfort in knowing he has the protection of an experienced, battle-tested offensive line every time he drops back in the pocket.
That fact, Clifford said, gives him one less thing to worry about when the football is snapped, and the field becomes a flurry of activity.
“It gives you confidence as a quarterback; it truly does,” Clifford said. “When you can sit back there, and you can know that you have five guys in front of you who are going to A, give their all for you, and B, they have the talent to do so.”
Fifth-year senior Michal Menet (center), redshirt junior C.J. Thorpe (right guard), redshirt junior Mike Miranda (left guard), senior Will Fries (right tackle) and redshirt sophomore Rasheed Walker (left tackle) headline an experienced Nittany Lions’ offensive front in 2020.
Menet, Fries, Walker and Miranda return as starters from 2019.
Although the chemistry shared between Penn State’s returners on the offensive line has been cemented over the years, the unit in January welcomed a new member in offensive line coach Phil Trautwein.
Trautwein replaced former Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover after Limegrover’s contract was not renewed at the end of the year.
Trautwein, a New Jersey native who grew up as a Penn State fan, spent the last two seasons at Boston College as the Eagles’ offensive line coach. He was a member of the 2006 Florida Gators national championship team and played four seasons in the NFL.
“I’ve been excited about Coach Traut since the day we hired him,” Menet said. “Just the experience he brings from playing in the NFL to seeing people do all the stuff he’s teaching us live against the best players in the world. He’s a high-energy guy. Very positive, but he’ll rip into you if he needs to. He demands a lot out of us, and I think everybody across the board has gotten a ton better so far.”
Trautwein being just 34 years old resonates with the members of the line.
“He’s definitely able to relate with us more, especially with him being a little bit on the younger side,” Thorpe said. “He’s not that far removed from where we’re at; he understands where we’re at. He’s really able to put himself in our shoes to be able to teach us.”
Although Penn State’s offensive lineman will play for a new position coach in 2020, Menet said instructing the position is based on a core set principles that largely remain unchanged. That said, Trautwein still has his points of emphasis that he uses to define his position group.
“When it comes down to it, playing o-line kind of revolves around the same kind of technique things,” Menet said. “But each coach has their own twist to it. … I think probably the biggest thing for him is (to) get off the ball really quickly in the run game and just playing in your legs. All the way around, playing in your legs and having a really good base is probably his biggest key to the run game and the pass game.”
Penn State’s offensive line last season finished 11th in the Big Ten in sacks against with 32 in 13 games (2.5 per game). It excelled, however, in Penn State’s run game as Nittany Lions’ running backs ended the year ranked fourth in the conference with 2,478 yards rushing (190.6 yards per game). Penn State gained 396 yards rushing in its Cotton Bowl win against Memphis on Dec. 28.
“At the end of the day, if you can run the ball effectively, it’s going to open up a lot of other aspects of your offense and help things click a lot better,” Menet said. “So if you can really get out there and just kind of ground and pound and keep running the ball, it’s going to open up a lot of things, and I think it’s also gives the o-line a sense of pride when you get back to the locker room after a game and you have a couple hundred rushing yards.”
Penn State this season boasts one of the nation’s most talented running back rooms and a second-year starter at quarterback in Clifford. While Penn State’s tight ends and running backs have received well-deserved praise entering the 2020 season, Clifford said the Nittany Lions’ offensive line is more than worthy of national attention.
“I think one of the most exciting parts of our team is the experience and the talent of our offensive line,” Clifford said. “I’m not going to speak on offensive lines in the past, but the one that we have currently, I think is one of the best in the country.”
ELTON HAYES covers Penn State sports for CNHI. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.