Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover joined reporters Thursday for a weekly conference call, where he broke down his starters and backups alike.
He talked about one player’s struggles, in addition to the positive signs he’s seen from young backups like Rasheed Walker and experienced vets like Ryan Bates. Clearly, though, the coach had a lot to be happy about. The Nittany Lions are currently only allowing 5.13 stops in the backfield per game, which ranks No. 31 nationally, better than the likes of Michigan and Notre Dame.
Here’s what Limegrover had to say about each of his starters, and his depth:
LT Ryan Bates
“Each and every week, he’s answered the bell. And, of course, you’re going to have mistakes; you’re playing 70 plays. I wish all five of them did everything right every play. I’d have less gray hair and be 60 pounds lighter for sure. But I do believe the consistency is one of the big things with Ryan. And, a lot like Steven Gonzalez, Ryan — for the last couple years — was getting dinged up and things were affecting him and how he was able to practice, and he’s just gone out there and been a warrior.
“He goes out there every day, takes every rep in camps, works on his craft, he’s watching more film than he ever has, asking more specific questions about the people he’s going against and why we’re doing the things we’re doing as far as gameplan-wise and what he can do better. I think that just shows his maturity, which has been great. And I think that’s helped his consistency.”
LG Steven Gonzalez
“For the first time, probably since he’s been here, Steven Gonzalez has been healthy. So he’s been able to take a lot of reps in practice and really at high speed; there were times last year he was dinged up and he kind of had to be careful and had to limit his reps. And this year he’s been able to cut it loose.
“And what’s nice about it with Steven is he’s been growing each week. If you put it on a chart or what have you, he’s definitely trending upward as far as not only kind of the basic things of the offense but the little things. He’s finishing better, he’s utilizing his physical gifts and he’s our strongest offensive lineman — probably our most powerful — and he’s putting that into practice.
“He’s growing into the position and becoming a wily veteran, and I think that really helps him. With Steve, it’s just a matter of consistency, staying in it whether things are going your way or poorly or in the middle. It’s being in the moment for 60 minutes. And that’s something he and I talk a lot about because, if you can do it, he can represent himself well with anyone in this conference.”
C Michal Menet
“I got the feeling that there were a lot of raised eyebrows when we went into fall camp with having Michal at center and moving Connor McGovern over to guard. And I think it was an opportunity to allow us to really utilize the guys’ skills the best we can.
“I mean, you look at Michal Menet and how he moves and the things he does. To me, he was made to be a center in this conference. I’ve been fortunate enough to be coaching in the conference going on pretty close to 10 years and seen a lot of good offensive linemen … and he’s a guy that I just felt like, right now, he fits that mold. He’s intelligent, he loves the game, he attacks the mental part of it, he has tremendous physical skills, and he just kind of screamed that it was a good move.
“And I think he shows in each and every game there’s constant and steady improvement. I’d say probably one of the best compliments I can give him is that he doesn’t jump out for any of the wrong reasons. He’s not getting beat a lot. He’s not a penalty machine. Knock on wood, or whatever kind of wood this desk is that I’m sitting at, his snaps have been on the money for a first-year guy going against some of the best players in college football lining up against him from his nose. So I think he’s done a remarkable job, and I think the exciting thing is — and I remind him all the time — there’s still a lot more in the tank, as far as taking the game to the next level.
“But everything I’ve asked him to do, he’s done with a smile on his face and he’s done well. If he continues that trajectory, I think the sky’s the limit with him at that position.”
RG Connor McGovern
“The great thing about it with Connor is that Connor is a really good football player, and Connor’s having fun playing the game right now. And I think last year he had gotten injured about halfway through the year, and he took a lot of responsibility at the center position and knew what was expected of him and took that to heart. And I think getting him over to guard has allowed him to take a deep breath and go out and play and play fast, to the point he’s almost being reckless, which you want as an offensive lineman.
“He’s upped his physicality level and his finish level. … He’s been through a lot in his career already, and I think he’s able to draw on that now and also kind of calm himself and know, if things aren’t going right, ‘Hey, I’ve been successful and I know what needs to be done and getting back to that.’”
RT Will Fries/Chasz Wright
“Right tackle, it’s interesting. We’ve got two guys over there that, between the two of them when they started, we won a lot of football games over the last three years. Will struggled at times this year; he’s got some mechanical things we’re working on. And I give Chasz Wright credit.
“Chasz Wright wasn’t playing a lot earlier in the season. Will had beat him out coming out of camp. But Chasz never lost it, he never went away, he never pouted, and that’s the honest-to-goodness truth. He came out and actually worked harder when he wasn’t playing, which I think is tremendous for a fifth-year senior. He worked harder.
“And when it was his opportunity again a couple weeks ago, to get back in and help us win a few ball games, he was ready to do it and he’s been in a good place mentally.”
“I’m really excited we were fortunate enough — and it was a big-time group effort — that the last couple recruiting classes, we had borne some pretty good fruit, so to speak. Mike Miranda is a guy that’s doing some things, special teams for us, but he’s our top guard now when CJ (Thorpe) bumped over to defense. And, to be honest, I’m going to continue to bang the drum and pound the table to get CJ back because I think he’s a guy that can really be a difference-maker on our side of the ball as well. Anybody who can bounce over and can be able to contribute on some tough situations like he has on the other side of the ball, you know he’s a guy you want.
“A couple of the young guys: Rasheed Walker, who’s been working with us quite a bit at tackle, really, really has some high upside and being able to get a lot of these practice reps in our offense is going to help him.
“And then the other guy that really jumps to mind — I hear about him weekly from our defensive coaches — is Juice Scruggs at center. He’s a guy that I don’t know if he’ll stay at center. I love him at center, but he may be a guy that can be in the mix pretty quickly at guard next year or maybe even at tackle. A good offseason will definitely help him in the weight room and put on some weight, but he’s got a ton of physical upside. So I feel like that pipeline’s starting to get filled up a little bit.”