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Rudel: New Penn State O-line coach was in the works

It turns out James Franklin was as busy shuffling his coaching staff as he was preparing for the Cotton Bowl.

On Dec. 9, Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne was named Old Dominion’s head coach, and on Dec. 26, Kirk Ciarrocca was named to succeed him.

Then on New Year’s Eve, just three days removed from the Lions’ ground-and-pound win over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl, Franklin thanked offensive line coach Matt Limegrover for his services.

(It wasn’t quite the grenade launched on New Year’s Eve six years ago when Bill O’Brien’s confirmation that he was leaving for the NFL beat the ball dropping by an hour but made PSU writers scramble nonetheless.)

Just two days after Limegrover’s departure, Franklin had his man – Boston College line coach and ex-NFL lineman Phil Trautwein — which means he likely had him buttoned down Dec. 1.

Trautwein has an excellent pedigree. In addition to his professional experience, he’s a New Jersey native and a former Florida team captain who helped the Gators (along with Tim Tebow) win a pair of national championships.

So approaching a 2020 season in which the Nittany Lions have big dreams, they’ll be breaking in two new offensive coaches in very key spots.

Limegrover’s dismissal was a bit of a surprise in that the Lions did finish 11-2, but you also never got the sense that their line was dominant.

Firing assistant coaches almost never happened under Joe Paterno — obviously, history has shown us that was a grave error — but O’Brien fired two in two years (Ron Vanderlinden, Charlie Fisher) and this makes at least three under Franklin (Limegrover, David Corley, John Donovan). Special teams coach Phil Galiano, probably nudged, was given a chance to land softly with the New Orleans Saints.

That’s the college football world that now exists.

With all the experience coming back next year — led by center Michal Menet — Trautwein inherits a line that should be one of the team strengths and certainly one counted upon to anchor an offense that will be searching for reliable receivers.

Menet, guards C.J. Thorpe and Mike Miranda, tackles Rasheed Walker, Des Holmes and anticipated redshirt freshman Caeden Wallace give Trautwein a solid nucleus.

What to do with Will Fries will be a priority question. He hasn’t proven yet, despite 33 starts, that he can be a reliable tackle. And the idea that he could handle Chase Young without help may have led to Limegrover’s dismissal.

It’s been too long since Penn State has had a great offensive line, and the Nittany Lions’ best teams almost always had one.

How quickly Trautwein can mold one will go a long way toward Penn State determining whether the Lions can reach the College Football Playoff.

SUBHD: Hamler to NFL

KJ Hamler has been injured each of the past two seasons, which makes his ability to adjust to the next level questionable.

It also makes his decision to go to the NFL now, when he’s projected as a second- or third-round draft pick, understandable as his financial clock is ticking.

There’s no question he has the speed. He’ll have to improve his ball skills, prove he can catch the ball in traffic and stay healthy.

Hamler was Sean Clifford’s favorite target and will leave a void.

SUBHD: CFP final

While many Penn State fans didn’t mind seeing Ohio State lose to Clemson in the CFP semifinals, I, for one, would like to have seen the Buckeyes play LSU.

Maybe it’s a familiarity with their stars — Young, Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins, K.J. Hill and a member of the all-time name team, Tuf Borland — but it would have been good for the Big Ten and provide yet another measuring stick for Penn State.

SUBHD: Highlights-lowlights

A few quick hitters while drawing the curtain on Penn State’s 2019 season:

Best game: Penn State 28, Michigan 21

Best win: At Iowa, 17-12

Worst loss: At Minnesota, 31-26

Worst win: Rutgers, 27-6

Offensive MVP: Pat Freiermuth

Defensive MVP: Micah Parsons

Best running back: Journey Brown

Best offensive lineman: Michal Menet

Best defensive lineman: Robert Windsor

Best defensive back: Garrett Taylor

Best three individual efforts: 1) Parsons vs. Memphis; 2) Will Levis at Ohio State; 3) Windsor vs. Iowa.

Best interviews: Parsons, Sean Clifford

Best leaders: Cam Brown, Blake Gillikin

Three unsung heroes: Jordan Stout, Nick Bowers, Jonathan Sutherland

Underclassmen ready for bigger roles in 2020: Noah Cain, Marquis Wilson, Brandon Smith

2020 Blue White Game: Saturday, April 18

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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