Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has had a lot to consider recently with team leader and right tackle Andrew Nelson possibly lost for the season.
Limegrover talked about the unit’s flexibility on a Thursday conference call, while also reliving the Oct. 1 overtime win over Minnesota and what it meant for the former Golden Gophers assistant.
Question: Could you discuss where the offensive line has made the most progress in the last few weeks?
Answer: “The biggest thing is we were able to solidify a group of five guys. The biggest thing with any offensive line is the chemistry and cohesion, and I think getting Connor McGovern at right guard, obviously Brian Gaia at center, and Ryan Bates has started every game at right guard. Andrew Nelson getting hurt disrupts that a little bit, but I felt like that continuity and communication was getting better. There’s so much that goes into it as far as getting a feel for how the other guys play the game, and I felt we were getting into a good place with that.”
Q: How do you make the decision between Brendan Mahon as a right or left tackle going into this week, and what does that mean for the other guys competing to fill Andrew’s position?
A: “A nice luxury that I have is Paris Palmer, who has started some big games here at Penn State, and he feels real comfortable at left tackle. So when Andrew went down (against Maryland), Brendan Mahon didn’t skip a beat. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, I can move over no problem.’ I love the kid because he loves the game of football. He understand it, he gets it. That transition (from left to right tackle) was a lot smoother than one would expect because of Brendan’s willingness to play the position and that he had played right tackle in the past. And then you have the amount of experience with Paris Palmer at left tackle.”
Q: Could you talk about the development of (freshman tackle) Will Fries and how far he’s come since he’s gotten here? Because it looks like there’s a chance, if some things happen, that he could play.
A: “There is that chance. Will did a phenomenal job of prior to getting here preparing himself — and not just with weight lifting and conditioning, but after his senior year and before coming here he worked with a gentleman in New Jersey that specializes in working with offensive and defensive linemen named Peter Kafaf (of The Lab Football Academy). I think Peter helped that transition quite a bit because Will was going against college guys who’d come back for the summer and work with Peter. That helped his initial development, so it wasn’t as big of a shock to his system. With that being said, there’s still a difference speed-wise and where your knowledge needs to be. Early on, it kind of caught Will a little bit. But we’ve been able to give him some quality reps to help that process along, so I feel a lot more comfortable with him than I would’ve Week 1. There’s still a long way to go, but him coming to work every day, putting his time in, and being an attentive student, he listens to everything the older guys say, and I think that’s been huge for him.”
Q: What have you seen so far on film as far as Ohio State and their front-seven, and with them losing a starting defensive tackle (Tracy Sprinkle) for the season, is that defensive line a weakness you think you guys can exploit?
A: “In all honesty, when you’re the No. 2 team in the country, ‘weakness’ is a relative term. They can trot out a lot of good football players. They lose a guy, and the next one comes in, and I don’t know if they’ve even lost a step. They do a great job putting their personnel in spots to succeed. You get into 3rd-and-long, they’re going take back-up defensive ends who are really good pass-rushers, move them inside, and create a lot of movement and disruption. They’ve got some big space-eaters in there on first and second down. It kind of gives you the feel of what pro teams try to do when they mold their line in terms of getting the guys on the field that really fit the situation. ...And then I don’t know if there’s a better linebacker in the country, in my opinion, than Raekwon McMillan. I don’t want to say I’ve had the pleasure; it’s been more of a personal nightmare. But this will be the third time I’ve seen him at Ohio State, and he’s one of the guys on defense that really gets them going. ...It’s a formidable challenge. I think they’re every bit as good as Michigan from a front-seven standpoint.”
Q: Taking it back a few weeks to the Minnesota win, players were saying that they wanted to win that game for you. What was that like personally?
A: “It was really a highlight for me, just personally and career-wise. I had the chance to share my story with the team, so guys had perspective of where I was coming from. It wasn’t anything bad. I wanted to let them know not as much what happened but how appreciative I felt to be at Penn State. For a lot of the guys, I think it struck a chord with them. It’s an amazing thing because you’re in that game, initially things weren’t going as we had hoped, but there was that constant, steady climb. Guys were coming up to me — and not just offensive linemen, it was secondary guys and wide receivers — they were saying, ‘Hey coach, we’re going to get this one for you.’ And it just made me feel good. It was something pretty special. And obviously the way we won, the guys gave me a game ball, it was one of those things. As far as a personal highlight, it definitely felt really, really good. In turn I felt great for the guys. We had to fight back, fight through adversity and continue to move forward.”