Best Offensive Line Under James Franklin? How Penn State Football Turned Weakness into Strength
When head coach James Franklin took over the Penn State Football program in 2014, only one year removed from some of the harshest sanctions in the history of the NCAA, no position was hit harder by the sanctions than the offensive line.
With the Nittany Lions‘ football scholarships initially being “reduced from 25 to 15 per year for a period of four years”, and the NCAA’s blanket transfer allowance for any player on Penn State’s roster to transfer out of the program without sitting out a year, offensive line depth was at an all-time low when Franklin arrived.
As York Daily Record’s Frank Bodani put it, “NCAA sanctions and handcuffed recruiting decimated a position group that takes years to build.”
In the initial Franklin years, Penn State Football couldn’t recruit the depth needed to have a dominant offensive line, regardless of the talent that was brought in. Even during the Saquon Barkley/Miles Sanders era, when Penn State thrived running the football, the Lions were able to run and produce despite the offensive line play, not because of it.
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In 2020 and 2021, offensive line coach Phil Trautwein came under fire from fans after what seemed like talented offensive lines did not produce the on the field results that fans expected, especially in the running game. Instead of cutting Trautwein loose and starting over, Franklin trusted his process and it paid dividends for Penn State Football.
In 2022, Penn State’s offensive line finally broke through and became a strength.
Penn State’s offensive line helped a backfield led by two true freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen to rush for 2569 yards on 489 attempts, an average of 4.8 yards per attempt, Penn State’s best clip since 2019.
The Nittany Lions’ offensive line also only allowed 21 sacks on the season, tied for 44th best among 131 programs and the lowest total in any season under Franklin’s tenure. Penn State’s offensive line was able to help in both of these categories despite losing three starters throughout the year to injury, left tackle Olu Fashanu, left guard Landon Tengwall, and right tackle Caedan Wallace.
In 2023, Penn State brings back an offensive line that includes six players that started at least five games on the offensive line for the Nittany Lions in 2022.
With a healthy, veteran offensive line, Penn State will look to take another step into turning the offensive line into a major strength in 2023.
Here is a look at some of the names in the Penn State Football offensive line room for 2023
Left Tackle Olu Fashanu
Olu Fashanu got plenty of hype during the season as he rocketed up mock drafts before sustaining what ended up being a season ending injury in October. According to ESPN’s Pete Thamel, one scout told ESPN, “I think he would have been the top tackle in this draft and a top-10 pick.”
Fashanu will have a ton of hype entering the season and should make a push for an All American season that ends with him being a first round pick next April.
Left Guard Landon Tengwall
Landon Tengwall’s 2021 season ended in a disappointing way, as he sustained a season ending injury after starting the first five games of the season. Coming off the injury, Tengwall projects to be healthy for spring ball and work back into his starting position at left guard to start next season. ESPN’s RJ Young projects the redshirt sophomore to get back to form and lists him among his “Way Too Early 2023 All American Offense”
Center Hunter Nourzad
Hunter Nourzad was a pleasant surprise for Penn State Football, using his COVID 6th year of eligibility to return to Happy Valley for 2023.
For his final collegiate season, Nourzad will move inside to replace Juice Scruggs, who is off to the NFL draft. While Nourzad only started at guard last season for Penn State, he saw practice time at center and has all of spring practice to make the move to center. Nourzad will look to create chemistry with first time starting quarterback Drew Allar.
Right Guard Sal Wormley
Redshirt Senior Sal Wormley returns to his starting right guard position that he held last season, where he earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and media. After missing the entire 2021 season with an undisclosed injury, Wormley was entrenched at right guard, starting all 13 games this season.
Right Tackle Caedan Wallace
Caedan Wallace was another member of the 2022 offensive line that missed significant time due to injury in 2022.
Wallace started seven games at tackle for Penn State this season after starting 13 games at tackle in 2021 and seven games in 2020. Wallace will look to bounce back off of the injury that kept him out five games last season and trying to hold off stud freshman Drew Shelton. His experience over 27 starts should keep him on the field as he looks to continue to build his NFL draft resume.
Swing Tackle Drew Shelton
Penn State, and college football teams in general, do not like to burn redshirts on offensive linemen. Drew Shelton however made it impossible not to burn his redshirt last year, due to his work ethic and injuries to other offensive linemen. In 2022, Shelton made 4 starts at tackle in relief of Olu Fashanu and Caedan Wallace.
With both Fashanu and Wallace returning next season, Shelton has his work cut out for him to try to crack the starting lineup. However, even if he does not win a starting position, Shelton will see plenty of action as the offensive line’s sixth man. S
helton should continue to get better and better with experience and could be one of Penn State’s best offensive linemen in the years to come.
Freshmen studs Jven Williams and Alex Birchmeier
Both highly regarded signees Jven Williams and Alex Birchmeier will start their Penn State careers off at the tackle position. Barring injury, neither Williams nor Birchmeier will burn their redshirts, which is rare for a freshman offensive lineman to do in the Big Ten.
Penn State finally has the depth and talent to make the offensive line a major strength in 2023. Phil Trautwein’s plans for the Penn State offensive line room have come together in a big way and the big men up front will look to build on a stellar season to help Penn State make a special run in 2023 and beyond.