James Franklin believes his offensive line is performing well enough to win games — but one spot has presented an unexpected challenge.
“I think the biggest thing is we have not had consistency at the one position, at the right tackle,” Franklin said at his Tuesday press conference. “We’ve played three different guys there for a number of reasons, and the reality is, whether it’s all five playing really well together or whether it’s four guys playing well or three guys playing well, you need all five. All five have to be playing at a high level or people would say the O-line is not doing as well as they should.”
For the most part, the rest of the offensive line has been solid. Ryan Bates is holding down the fort at left tackle, Steven Gonzalez and Brendan Mahon are working the guard spots well, and Connor McGovern is adjusting nicely to center.
But the right tackle situation has been less than ideal through five games.
Franklin said he and his staff went into the season thinking Chasz Wright, Will Fries and Andrew Nelson would “help create depth” at the position. But, instead of one starter with two solid backups, they’ve all started at some point this year. Wright was the No. 1 guy through the first three games before picking up an apparent ankle injury, Nelson started but struggled at Iowa, and Fries was the choice on Saturday against Indiana.
After missing the game at Kinnick Stadium, Wright returned against the Hoosiers and rotated in at right tackle frequently. However, Fries played the final five drives as Wright watched. When asked why Wright wasn’t in the rotation toward the end of the game, Franklin said, “Those things go into the category of things I don’t necessarily talk about with you guys. So you can figure that one out on your own.”
Earlier in the press conference, Franklin noted that getting Wright “consistently back” and “available for an entire game and available at 100 percent” would be important. “He played down the stretch last year and played really well,” the coach added. “Well enough to win the Big Ten Championship and go to the Rose Bowl.”
Meanwhile, Franklin is pleased with Fries but said having a redshirt freshman playing so much is “not ideal.” As for Nelson, the graduate senior didn’t participate against Indiana.
While the other four spots along the offensive line are set in stone, the fluidity at right tackle has been a bit of a headache so far this season. It was a problem at Iowa, and if not resolved that could be the same against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan.
When Wright returns at 100 percent health — which may be this weekend at Northwestern — the situation will be cleaner and clearer.
But for the time being, Penn State’s right tackle status is still a bit murky.