Penn State Football

McGovern practicing provides boost to patch-work offensive line

Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern blocks during a play at practice on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 in Holuba Hall.
Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern blocks during a play at practice on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 in Holuba Hall.

It looks like the Nittany Lions might have an injured offensive lineman ready for Saturday’s game at Rutgers.

Freshman guard Connor McGovern, who’s started the last six games and was absent for Penn State’s final scoring drive at Indiana due to an unspecified injury, was seen practicing with the first-team offense at Wednesday’s practice.

Penn State head coach James Franklin said Tuesday it was too early to tell whether or not McGovern would play against the Scarlet Knights, but the guard was listed as the starting guard on this week’s depth chart and looked mobile in the media’s allotted time at practice.

McGovern’s side-by-side teammate, center Brian Gaia, also sounded optimistic.

“I think he’s going to bounce back from whatever happened,” Gaia said Wednesday. “He’s out there getting the reps and getting ready mentally.”

Still, the offensive line situation is by no means ideal for the Nittany Lions. With Paris Palmer officially joining Andrew Nelson as out for the season and Brendan Mahon’s return date unknown, the first-team offensive line at practice was Gaia in the middle, McGovern and redshirt freshman Steven Gonzalez at guard, and Chasz Wright and Ryan Bates at tackle.

Franklin said Wednesday that while it helps having an experienced center like Gaia barking out orders, subjecting a young, patchwork offensive line to a loud environment, like a night game at High Point Solutions Stadium, isn’t optimal.

“That’ll be a factor with the moving parts on the offensive line,” Franklin said. “It’s always a concern when you’re making changes with those five guys … It’s a challenge.”

The head coach said offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has spoken with the offense about finding a way to produce despite the current offensive line situation.

The Nittany Lions are going to embrace overcoming the obstacle.

They have to.

“It’s where we’re at right now,” Franklin added. “It is what it is.”

As for offensive line reinforcements, Franklin said nothing has changed in regards to freshmen Will Fries and Michal Menet keeping their redshirts this season.

Meanwhile, redshirt freshman tackle Sterling Jenkins is a name on many fans’ lips as a possible fill-in should Bates or Wright incur an injury. Jenkins, a highly-touted recruit out of Pittsburgh, has the size necessary to compete. The Baldwin graduate is 6-foot-8, 328 pounds.

However, Franklin has some reservations and said other players, like redshirt sophomore Brendan Brosnan, would be ahead in the pecking order should another lineman go down.

“Sterling is a skilled player, but there are still some things where the light needs to go on for him,” Franklin said. “I’d make the argument that he’s in the one percent, including the NFL, in terms of body type, athleticism, strength. He’s got a lot of things you’re looking for, but he just needs the game to slow down for him.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9