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Looking forward: Offensive line

With the 2012 season in the books, Lions247 will take a look at each of Penn State's position groupings, breaking down both how the Nittany Lions fared at that position this past season and what the future holds. Our series continues today with an examination of the offensive line.

Donovan Smith had a solid rookie season despite battling foot and hand injuries.

2012 roundup: When most of the talk about an offense concerns the quarterback, receivers and running backs, it means the offensive line is probably doing its job. When a team puts up 437 yards per game in Big Ten play, it means that line is definitely doing its job. That was the case this season for a Penn State offensive line that returned only one full-time starter, center Matt Stankiewitch. A couple of key position switches in the spring and some serious work the big guys did with Craig Fitzgerald got the line off to a solid start and new position coach Mac McWhorter, mixing and match an eight- or nine-man rotation throughout the year, helped the group jell as the season went on. Left tackle Donovan Smith was more than solid in his first year of action while senior Mike Farrell held down the other side nicely and was solid on the left side as well. Former center Miles Dieffenbach was a pleasant surprise at left guard while Angelo Mangiro and Ty Howle showed some promise at the position as well. Right guard John Urschel, the squad's top student, joined Stankiewitch on the coaches' all-Big Ten first team. Tackle Adam Gress and guard/tackle Eric Shrive had up-and-down seasons but got valuable experience.

Departures: Stankiewitch, Farrell

Both were smart, savvy players who were leaders for the line and strong representatives for Penn State on and off the field. They were two of just eight Nittany Lions who started all 12 games this season.

Returnees: Urschel, Smith, Dieffenbach, Mangiro, Gress, Shrive, Howle, Gerald Cadogan, Anthony Alosi, Kevin Blanchard, Bryan Davie, Wendy Laurent*, Anthony Stanko*

*-redshirted

Newcomers: Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson, Tanner Hartman

Nelson is destined for tackle, a position that won't have much proven depth this spring. Mahon should wind up at guard, and Hartman might play either position. The Nittany Lions likely won't need major contributions from this group on the field next season, barring injury, but how they develop on the scout team and especially under Fitzgerald could be huge.

Skinny: Look for Howle and Mangiro to battle it out for the center position in 2013, and whoever wins will need to establish himself as an effective communicator, both for the line and for what will be a new starting quarterback. The loser could push Dieffenbach at left guard. Smith and Urschel should once again be entrenched at left tackle and right guard, respectively. The question mark will be the right tackle spot, where seniors Gress and Shrive will do battle. The former did a nice job of adding size and strength during the offseason but the 2012 campaign proved he still has strides to make with his footwork and technique. Depth, as it could be at many positions during the sanction years, is a bit of a concern but less of one than it might have been given McWhorter's willingness to rotate his players throughout the game this past season. If he can mix an Alosi or a Laurent in next season the way he used Mangiro, Gress and Howle in this one, it will help keep the starters fresh late in games and help the line build for the future. The line proved a lot of doubters wrong in 2012. The bar should be higher in 2013, and there's no reason this group can't reach it if it stays healthy.

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