Penn State’s offensive line has been a troubling concern for much of the season, so news out of practice on Wednesday evening should come as some encouragement for Penn State fans. Left tackle Donovan Smith is reportedly back at practice at his normal spot on the line. It looks optimistic Smith will be available this weekend when Penn State hosts Temple in non-conference play.
Smith had missed Penn State’s last two games due to an unspecified injury that took place during Penn State’s home loss to Ohio State. Smith did not make the trip with the team to Bloomington, Indiana for last weekend’s game against the Hoosiers. Head coach James Franklin has not discussed the injury publicly.
Last week Penn State’s young offensive line welcome back Miles Dieffenbach, who had not played all season. Dieffenbach played in a limited capacity in his season debut. If Penn State can somehow get Dieffenbach and Smith back on the same line, then the entire offensive line should show some improvement.
The winner of Saturday’s Penn State-Temple game will become eligible to play in a postseason bowl game. Penn State’s defense should be fine against the Owls offense. If Penn State cannot plug some holes on the offensive line, then Temple’s defense is fully capable of doing what most teams have been able to do in bringing pressure on Christian Hackenberg and taking away the Penn State running game.
Penn State’s inability to get the running game going this season and provide adequate protection for quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been a result of a young and inexperienced offensive line, without much depth behind it. Not having one of its most experienced options on the line this season has hurt, but the return of offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach could be coming any time now.
Dieffenbach injured his knee in the spring and the rehab has kept him a spectator and cheerleader from the Penn State sideline this season. The fifth-year senior is hoping to be cleared by doctors to resume football activity before the season ends, but doctors have yet to provide the clearance needed to send Dieffenbach back on the field. With Penn State days away from hosting new Big Ten member Maryland, Dieffenbach’s availability remains in question for head coach James Franklin.
“It’s not just the physical aspects of it, it’s the muscle memory of technique and footwork he hasn’t done in six months and it’s also the confidence,” Franklin said this week. ”He’s practicing to a degree the last couple of weeks and hopefully he’ll have a bigger role this week and that will allow us to play him in the game a little bit.”
Penn State’s offensive line performed better against Ohio State than most games this season. A second bye week in three weeks may have helped the line find some identity in preparation for the Buckeyes, but there is no doubt having a fifth-year senior as experienced as Dieffenbach would give the entire line a boost.
Penn State hosts Maryland this Saturday at 12 p.m. eastern.