Potential there for OL this season

By Cory Giger

cgiger@altoonamirror.com

Center Connor McGovern made a bold prediction about the offensive line that should come as great news to Penn State fans.

“We’re going to be one of the strong points this year on the team,” McGovern said. “We’re going to be a lot more physical.”

If that is indeed the case about the O-line, the Nittany Lion offense very well could be unstoppable this fall. The group will get a chance to show what it can do in today’s Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State’s offense was terrific a year ago, even though the line was really just average at best. Still, being average was a major, major improvement from the previous two years, when the line was abysmal.

By all indications — and if everyone stays healthy — the O-line should be much better this year. McGovern figures to play a big role in that as he moves from guard, where he played as a freshman, to center, where he played in high school.

McGovern takes over for Brian Gaia, who had a solid 2016 season at center for the Lions, and the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder appears poised for a stellar career helping anchor PSU’s line.

“Last year I was just getting thrown around everywhere,” McGovern said. “I didn’t really have a spot to play, so it was like, wherever they needed someone, I was getting thrown out there. So it definitely feels better this year focusing on just one spot and working on my craft every day.”

McGovern had a long conversation with offensive line coach Matt Limegrover, who asked if the youngster would be comfortable moving back to center.

“I just feel really comfortable at center,” McGovern said. “I’m fine with any position, but I feel most comfortable there, probably because I’ve played it most of my life.”

It’s no surprise, given his experience at the spot, that McGovern has made a smooth transition back to center.

“One of the guys that’s really standing out is Connor McGovern at center, moving him over,” Limegrover told gopsusports.com. “That’s always a challenge, having a guy that’s going from guard to center, especially a younger guy. He’s really taken a hold of that and is really becoming a leader out there.”

One of the challenges McGovern will face in Joe Moorhead’s offense is being able to perfectly handle the shotgun snap on every play. That sort of thing can be taken for granted, but there were several instances last year when Gaia made a poor snap to quarterback Trace McSorley, with some resulting in turnovers or big losses.

“It’s pretty different,” McGovern said. “Back in high school we never did shotgun or anything, so that was like a big change.”

Another big change on the line this season, McGovern said, will be playing more physical. He pointed out the linemen were physical “at some points last year,” but the goal moving forward is to be better and more consistent.

“We want to finish blocks, get guys on the ground, make the holes bigger, give Trace and Saquon (Barkley) bigger holes and easier reads, just blowing guys off the ball,” McGovern said.

Hollidaysburg Area High School product Zach Simpson appears to be in line to be the backup center, so he could see action if something happens to McGovern.

Returning on PSU’s line are Ryan Bates, Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson and Chasz Wright, all of whom started at times last season. The coaching staff has some options with all of those guys, and the younger players in the program have a lot of potential, as well.

So compared to the past few years, the Lions now have much more depth on the line.

“The last couple offensive line recruiting classes have really gotten our staff excited and have our team excited, and they will all be available now,” coach James Franklin said.

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