Penn State's offense received a boost last winter when left tackle Rasheed Walker decided to return. Walker said that fans can thank offensive line coach Phil Trautwein for that.
Trautwein, Penn State's second-year line coach, was among the primary reasons Walker decided to return for his third season as a starter. The opportunity to work with Trautwein, a highly regarded line coach who spent time with four NFL teams, convinced Walker that another season at Penn State would enhance his 2022 draft prospects.
"As I trusted him and kept on working on his techniques, I felt myself getting better and felt more confident as an offensive lineman," Walker said. "I looked at it as, I have time. It's only my third year. I can leave but I also can come back and invest more in myself by being coached by coach Trautwein for another year to give myself a better shot at the next level."
Walker, technically a redshirt sophomore, could have left Penn State after last season, his second as the team's starting left tackle. He was named third-team All-Big Ten for an offense that ranked No. 2 in the conference in total yards per game (430.3).
But Walker still had goals in college. He wants to be first-team All-Big Ten and an All-American. He wants to help Penn State win a title this season after last year's 4-5 aberration. Further, he wants to absorb as much as he can from Trautwein.
Their relationship was truncated last year by the pandemic. Trautwein spent some time with the linemen during winter workouts, but then the group didn't see each other in person for three months. Still, the more he worked with Trautwein, the more Walker gained from it.
"The guy knows what he's talking about," Walker said on a media call with reporters. "Him being a former NFL tackle, he sees things that not everyone sees. When I first started working with him, I thought I was pretty good. But as I was working with him more, he started to point out a bunch of things that I had to work on to be better."
With a productive season, Walker could be one of the top-ranked linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft. The scouting site NFL Draft Bible already ranks Walker as the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle beyond 2021. Coach James Franklin said Walker returned with a newfound focus.
"He's practicing the way he needs to practice to be the type of player that he wants to be," Franklin said. "I've seen a real change in him."
For Walker, that means more time perfecting his footwork, establishing his punch and sharpening his football IQ. Trautwein is a stickler for the first two; former teammates Will Fries and Michal Menet encouraged Walker to focus on the third.
With that comes high expectations, for himself and the line.
"We're all going to be technicians, we're all going to be very disciplined, we're all going to finish and we're all going to play nasty, hard-nosed football," Walker said. "Because that's how we've been practicing and training, so it has to translate. And I'm really confident when I say that."