Brian Gaia doesn’t know who will make up Penn State’s starting offensive line yet.
Neither do his teammates.
Neither does head coach James Franklin.
“No one really knows,” Gaia said at Penn State’s media day Thursday. “It could change tomorrow. Someone might get hurt, or someone might have a good day at practice and move up the depth chart, so it all depends. It’s not going to be set until a week out from Kent State.”
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Franklin noted this group does have depth and experience, listing 11 players who will be fighting for time this season. Six of those players started at least five games last season, part of a unit that allowed 39 sacks one year after giving up 44.
The Nittany Lions are searching for answers along the offensive line with the season opener against Kent State looming on Sept. 3.
“We’re still at a point where we have to try to figure out where those best five are going to be,” Franklin said.
The offensive line will be led by coach Matt Limegrover, who served as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach the past five seasons. He was hired by Penn State after former line coach Herb Hand took the same job at Auburn in January.
Limegrover worked under former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill for 16 years at four schools.
“He’s just a regular guy,” Franklin said. “He’s really humble. He’s really down to earth. You’d never know that he had been a coordinator in the Big Ten for the last five years or a coordinator for the last 16 years. All those experiences are important.”
Limegrover has worked to build relationships with his players off the field since arriving, earning their trust heading into their first season together.
The players have had to adjust to some changes with a new position coach.
“There’s a learning curve because there’s a little new terminology,” said Derek Dowrey, who is competing for a guard spot.
Dowrey, Gaia, Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson, Paris Palmer and Wendy Laurent are the returning linemen who started games in 2015.
Gaia started all 13 games last season.
After the departure of starting center Angelo Mangiro, Gaia made the switch from guard to center in the spring. He called the position change a challenge at first, saying he had to get used to snapping the ball and blocking.
“Halfway through spring, it became second nature,” Gaia said. “And I think I just need to work on honing the snap a little more.”
Nelson will provide experience at tackle after starting 21 games the last two seasons.
Franklin said Nelson will start camp at right tackle after finishing the spring at left tackle.
“There’s a number of reasons why we’re going to do that which I will not go into at this time,” Franklin said. “But we still need to figure out who are going to be those tackles, who is going to be the best left tackle, who is going to be the best right tackle and then the guys behind them.”
Franklin mentioned redshirt sophomore tackle Noah Beh, redshirt sophomore guard/center Chasz Wright, redshirt freshman guard/center Ryan Bates, redshirt freshman guard/center Steven Gonzalez and redshirt freshman tackle Sterling Jenkins as players in the mix to earn time.
Gaia felt the unit had a productive summer.
“I think we had our best summer yet,” Gaia said. “Everyone was in for extra work almost twice a week for whether it was skill stuff or maybe a little extra lift.”
And now they’ll compete for starting jobs heading into the season opener.
“We’ll see how things shake out through camp,” Dowrey said. “Nobody really has a job locked up or anything. That’s the cliche answer, but it’s true.”