Penn football was buzzing on media day Monday, based largely on the offense's stockpile of playmakers. With the emergence of a mobile quarterback in junior Keiffer Garton and the return of a potent three-headed monster in the backfield, the Quakers think they have what it takes to run themselves back into the league's top spot.
But despite a loaded backfield, the Quakers' ground game will struggle unless it addresses coach Al Bagnoli's greatest concern on offense - the big guys up front.
While the O-Line is fairly set on the interior, the tackle positions hold the most uncertainty. Last season Chris Kovalcik and Drew Luongo each started all 10 games at tackle, but Kovalcik graduated and Luongo will redshirt after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Now the projected starting tackles are sophomore Greg Van Roten and junior Jared Mollenbeck, though sophomore Alec Smith and junior Joe McKendry will compete for the spots.
Bagnoli was very impressed with Van Roten during spring football and called him
"a very, very talented kid who really has the ability to be one of the best linemen we've ever had."
Injuries have derailed the preseason progress of Mollenbeck (knee) and McKendry (ankle), forcing offensive coordinator Jon McLaughlin to rotate players at all the positions.
But, "creating some shuffle creates flexibility in the kids," said McLaughlin, who was the offensive line coach for the last four years and will continue in that capacity this year.
"We're trying to build good offensive linemen, not just good guards, good centers, and good tackles. If they're good offensive linemen they can play any one of the positions."
Senior Eric Jett is a perfect example of the versatility McLaughlin preaches to his linemen. Jett is primarily a guard, but during spring practices he occasionally played center with the younger players so he could help them learn the blocking schemes.
"I've played literally everywhere on the offensive line," he said.
The emphasis on versatility also gives the linemen the mentality that they can earn a starting spot at any position as long as they work hard.
"The only way we're going to be a great offensive line is if we have more than five guys think they're starters and act like they're starters and carry themselves like they're starters and ultimately earn the right to start," McLaughlin said.
"Hopefully we'll have four or five guys that can vie for that starting spot, and who it ends up being will be based on productivity."
Currently seniors Matt Schaefer and Joe Krissel - who started 10 and six games last year, respectively - are projected as the starting guards. Junior Luis Ruffolo started six games last year at center before an injury pushed junior Joe D'Orazio into the starting job. Now the two are battling for this year's spot.
Meanwhile, all the linemen are excited about Penn's increased focus on the running game.
"For the most part we prefer running the ball because it's a chance to go out and knock the crap out of someone," Jett said. "That's what we as offensive linemen like to do."
"It's always good to be able to attack people rather than sit back and let people attack you," Krissel added.Comments powered by Disqus
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