Penn State position analysis: Offensive line

Ryan Bates
Penn State offensive lineman Ryan Bates (52) playing against Kent State last September.

Spotlight on: Ryan Bates

Bates (Archbishop Wood), a 6-foot-4, 310-pound redshirt sophomore, is the epitome of the offensive lineman that James Franklin wants to have on his team because of his versatility — “guys that can play multiple positions across the line to create flexibility,” he said. Bates was one of two offensive linemen who started all 14 games last season – 10 at left guard and four at left tackle – and was selected as a freshman all-American. He is especially adept at pulling from his position, as witnessed on Saquon Barkley’s 79-yard run in last year’s Rose Bowl. His presence solidifies an offensive line that should be the deepest and the best in Franklin’s four seasons.

Questions on veterans

The two most rock-solid offensive linemen recruited during Bill O’Brien’s time at Penn State are tackles Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson, who have combined for 56 career starts. However, both saw limited time last season. Mahon played in nine games but left after the third play of the Iowa game for an undisclosed reason and later wound up in Hershey Medical Center. Nelson started six games before suffering a reported torn anterior cruciate ligament against Maryland. Franklin said both players have been coming along in training camp, but added they haven’t had the same number of reps as the rest of the linemen, which leaves their starting status and playing time up in the air.

A starting five?

Bates is established, as is Connor McGovern, who played in 13 games at guard with nine starts last season as a true freshman and was shifted to center after the bowl game. Steven Gonzalez, a 340-pound redshirt sophomore guard who bench-pressed 225 pounds a record 38 times at last month’s Lift for Life fundraiser, and 358-pound redshirt junior tackle Chasz Wright, who was pressed into starting duty for the last five games because of injuries, are returning. Michal Menet bulked up to 301 pounds while redshirting last year and is a leading candidate to start at guard. Add in Mahon and Nelson, and there is plenty of competition.

And even more competition

True freshman Mike Miranda enrolled in January, made an impression in the spring and played in the Blue-White Game, so he might avoid getting caught in a numbers game and having to redshirt. Redshirt sophomore Sterling Jenkins was a 6-8, 326-pound backup tackle last year. Will Fries and Alex Gellerstedt are ready to go after sitting out their first years in 2016. Redshirt sophomore Zach Simpson lettered on special teams last year.