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Why Penn State Expects to Field a Dominant Offensive Line This Season

Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein sees a potentially dominating group, especially with his veterans.

Phil Trautwein, Penn State's second-year offensive line coach, spent last season trying to read his players through a camera lens. Everyone tried their best, but Trautwein acknowledged the system's limitations.

He's a tactile technician, the kind of coach who studies his players' facial expressions and body language for context clues. For instance, once the pandemic restrictions eased, Trautwein took left tackle Rasheed Walker fishing.

Walker had never been and raved about the experience. And Trautwein got to know his protege in ways he hadn't before.

"That's what I really love to do," Trautwein said in a spring interview. "I know what drives them, I know what pushes them, and I know when they're down. Literally, I can look at Rasheed and say, 'What's wrong?' He says, 'How'd you know?' Because I know you.

"Last year I couldn't see their body language or how they were truly feeling or what it's all about. To get through those days is how you get them to become better people and also better football players."

Head coach James Franklin and Trautwein enter the 2021 season sounding confident that their offensive line will deliver marked improvement. The Lions return four players with starting experience, including both tackles and their new center who is among the team's most veteran players.

Trautwein sees a faster, strong, more athletic group that is taking to the essentials of coordinator Mike Yurcich's offense, which will ask them to play faster and with more punch. 

For Trautwein, getting these personalities to coalesce into a complete line is among the most compelling jobs of his coaching career. The Lions have a strong group of skill-position players, including a third-year starting quarterback in Sean Clifford, but need their line to bring the group together.

To that end, here's what Trautwein had to say about his top returning linemen.

Rasheed Walker

The line's elder, with 22 career starts, Walker returned to Penn State to win a championship and to make himself into a first-round pick. Trautwein said that Walker has approached this offseason with those goals squarely in mind.

"Rasheed's growing up," Trautwein said. "He's only going into his fourth year. He's played great for us and now he's talking about being one of the best tackles in the country. So the first thing I had to do was build a relationship with him. Now, I can talk to him. And because he trusts me, he knows that I can get him to where he needs to get to.

"... It's his habits of studying film, writing notes, sitting up in the meeting rooms. All those things are what I tell my guys to do, and I harp on it. And he truly believes it. His goal is to be a very high draft pick. To do that, you can't just go through the motions. You can't just go out today and work out and say, 'I'm already there.' You're not there yet. He gets that."

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Caedan Wallace

The second-year starter gives Penn State a complementary pair of athletic tackles on its line. Trautwein sees a hugely bright future for Wallace.

"Caedan, in my mind, maybe can be the best offensive lineman to play here in a long time," Trautwein said. "But that's potential. That's my job to get it out of him. I don't think he's even close to having arrived.

"Next year you should be talking about Caeden as a very, very high draft pick. He looks 305 [pounds] but is 325. He has the feet, he has the athleticism, he has the bend, everything that you look for in a tackle. He's still working on his technique, and is still a little raw in that aspect, but he has the most potential I have seen in a long time."

Juice Scruggs

Scruggs returned to the field in November 2020 for the first time in nearly two years, delivering probably the best moment of Penn State's 35-19 loss to Maryland.

Scruggs now is healthy and leading to start at right guard, ready to begin the career he envisioned three years ago. Trautwein can't wait to watch.

"I love where Juice comes from," the coach said. "Because when I got here, I didn't really know. I just heard about what happened [with Scruggs' 2019 car accident], and that he faced a long road. Every day was a little bit more and a little bit more, but when I found out that Juice wants to do everything, he wants to compete every day, he doesn't want to take reps off, that was great.

"He saw the game almost get taken away, and I use him as an example a lot. He's a leader in this room. Juice is lucky enough to be able to do what he's doing right now because he's healthy. And you know what? He grew and got better and better. He lost football for two years, but he's always getting better."

Mike Miranda

After starting 18 games at guard over the past three years, Miranda made the shift inside to center, just as Michal Menet did before him.

Trautwein said that Miranda's transition was natural, given his experience at multiple positions, and that Miranda has the leadership chops to take over at center. Miranda is out to prove his coach right.

"Even though I haven't been playing center for the last three years, I've been working at it on the side," Miranda said. "So it's something that I can really take pride in: I know I can step up anywhere on the inside of the line. That's how I sort of saw myself coming in [to Penn State]."

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