In the first five games of the 2021 season, Penn State looked about as good as any other team in the country.
That is, with a big fight: offensive production.
There is a balance for everything in life, and Nittany Lion’s offense last season was as unbalanced as it could have been.
The passing game finished No. 4 in the Big Ten while the ground game was good for No. 13 and second to bottom. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with the lack of offensive line production that made Penn State the most dismissed offense of the conference.
For offensive line coach Phil Trautwein, his group’s struggles are in the hands of inconsistency.
“We had some plays where you were like ‘man’ and then some plays just not [there]’ Trautwein said last week. “But that’s just part of growing and getting better.”
With the conference’s worst stat offensive line in 2021 and one of the worst running back groups right behind it, Penn State is likely to improve in those areas this fall, especially with the rise of some new faces.
Centre-back Sal Wormley was due to start as a right guard last season before an injury ended his year before it began.
Wormley will be back this fall and is expected to retain the right guard starting spot, or at least be a finalist.
“He played a lot in the spring. He did a lot of repetitions and did a great job,” said Trautwein. “He’s fighting for the right sentry post and accepts this challenge. He gets taken every day and works his ass off.”
While Wormley’s starting spot seems locked in having already earned it before last season, the second guard’s position is a bit more unclear.
On one side there’s former top recruit of 2021 Landon Tengwall. On the other side is former FCS All-American and Cornell star Hunter Nourzad, who only moved to campus in May.
Tengwall only played three games during his season as a true freshman last fall, but was one of Trautwein’s regulars off the touchline due to his versatility on offense.
For the Outback Bowl, Tengwall played both right and left guards but was also the assist on right and left tackle.
“For the 15 [bowl game] Exercises…he ended up playing every single position every day,” Trautwein said. “It’s great for his mental development as a footballer to understand the game.”
As for Nourzad, a college-graduate senior looking for a final season of eligibility to get him into the NFL, the experience is there and it will likely be difficult for Trautwein and James Franklin not to start him.
“He’s a big, strong, powerful, fat guy. He tested really well and arrived on campus with his athleticism,” Franklin said. “He’s learning the playbook well, that was very impressive from our staff.”
As of now, Caedan Wallace and Olu Fashanu are likely to have locked starting positions right and left, while Juice Scruggs will take over the command center.
Wormley, Tengwall, Nourzad, Golden Israel-Achumba and junior college transfer JB Nelson are all battling for the two guard spots.
It’s only June, and Penn State’s offensive line is looking a lot better than it did at this point last summer.
Ditto for the running backs, who have joined in Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, two highly touted freshman ball carriers who have been on campus all spring.
“They’re really good,” Trautwein said. “Just because of their step out and their first step and the way they hit the holes and watched them both after the contact. Your vision is really great.”
Singleton, a former 5-star recruit, has particularly impressed Trautwein in the few months he’s seen him up close.
“Nick is really fast,” said Trautwein. “He can reach his top speed after three or four steps. He can get to a hole and break through it.”
With the ground game needing major improvements by the fall, the fact that Singleton and Allen “don’t look like freshmen” to Trautwein bodes well for the future, not just this season but others to come.
How confident is Trautwein about Penn State’s running game resurgence in 2022?
“100 percent,” said Trautwein. “I know how to run the ball.”
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