Penn State: Line takes on new look, leadership

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's offensive line, missing three starters who made a combined 105 career starts, will look dramatically different this season.

"We lost three guys who were first-team all-Big Ten Conference players," junior Stefen Wisniewski from Central Catholic High School said. "That's definitely some big shoes to fill."

Center A.Q. Shipley (Steelers), left guard Rich Ohrnberger (New England Patriots) and left tackle Gerald Cadogan (Carolina Panthers) are all in NFL camps.

Shipley, a graduate of Moon who earned the Rimington Trophy as the country's top center last season, and Ohrnberger were three-year starters for the Nittany Lions. Cadogan started for two years.

The two starters returning from last season are both at new positions.

Fifth-year senior Dennis Landolt, a two-year starter at right tackle, has moved to left tackle to protect quarterback Daryll Clark's blind side. And Wisniewski has shifted from right guard, where he started last year, to center.

Competing for the other three spots are sophomore right tackle DeOn'tae Pannell, a backup at left tackle last season; redshirt junior right guard Lou Eliades, No. 2 behind Landolt at right tackle in 2008; and redshirt freshman left guard Matt Stankiewitch, who has a slight edge over redshirt sophomore Johnnie Troutman.

"We know each other and have played with each other, but the offensive line's been shuffled around a little bit," Troutman said. "It's just different getting to know the habits of some of the guys. That happens over time. Hopefully we'll get that together and be on point once the season comes around."

Landolt, who has made 26 starts at right tackle the past two years, is the most experienced offensive lineman. He and Wisniewski, who made 12 starts last year and one in 2007, helped pave the way for Penn State to rank No. 17 nationally in rushing last year (205.8 yards per game), 14th in total offense (448.9 ypg) and 11th in scoring (38.9 points per game). The Lions also ranked fourth in fewest sacks allowed (13).

In addition to adapting to new positions, Landolt and Wisniewski are being counted on to provide stability and leadership for the newcomers on the line.

"We moved Landolt to the left side, which with a right-handed quarterback probably is a little tougher than the right tackle," coach Joe Paterno said. "He and Wisniewski both have played some football, and Pannell has played some football, so we moved Pannell to the right tackle. Other than that, it's up for grabs."

Wisniewski (6 feet 3, 302 pounds) worked at his new position all spring, while Landolt (6-4, 303) experimented at left tackle. He played a team-high 893 snaps on the right side last season but did back up All-American left tackle Levi Brown in 2006.

"I played [left tackle] in the spring game," Landolt said. "I had all my experience at right tackle, so I didn't see [the switch] coming. But I feel comfortable on either side. I don't think it matters so much because a lot of the O-line techniques are pretty much the same across the board."

Pannell (6-5, 313) was one of only four true freshmen to earn playing time last season, appearing in eight games. Eliades (6-4, 305) played in 13 games a year ago while backing up Landolt at right tackle. Eliades had a season-high 31 snaps in the Rose Bowl against Southern California after Landolt sprained his knee. Eliades saw action in six games in 2007 before sustaining a stress fracture in his left foot that required season-ending surgery.

Stankiewitch (6-3, 290) redshirted as a freshman last year, while Troutman (6-4, 322) appeared in six games while backing up Ohrnberger at left guard.

"If we can get five guys who can do what they did in the sense of staying healthy and having some pride in the offensive line, some leadership on that offensive line, then we'll be OK and have some depth," Paterno said.

Wisniewski knows in order for Clark and tailback Evan Royster to excel and produce touchdowns, the guys up front have to do their jobs.

"The guys that are stepping up [on the line] are talented guys," he said. "I think as they get more experience, they're going to keep getting better and better."




Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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