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Penn State: Who Could Step up at Left Guard?

Penn State coach James Franklin
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

Penn State suffered a big blow Wednesday when projected starting left guard Landon Tengwall announced that he has to medically retire from football.

Without Tengwall, Penn State will have to shuffle its depth chart.

Here’s what that could look like.


Nelson is now Penn State’s projected starting left guard. 

A week before the news broke about Tengwall’s retirment, coach James Franklin spoke highly of the 6-foot-5, 334-pounder.

“We went into this year feeling like JB was going to factor in either as a starter or having starter-like reps,” Franklin said. “That’s how I would have viewed him coming into the season, and he’s built on that. His habits are a lot better in terms of how he practices and approaches meetings and everything else.”

Franklin went on to say that Nelson is possibly Penn State’s most physical offensive lineman.

“I know talking to our defensive linemen, they’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Franklin said. “So we expected him to play a significant role this year.”


Ioane, a 6-foot-4, 348-pounder, has wowed Penn State’s program with his size and strength. 

He redshirted last season, but did play in four games, helping Nick Singleton break a 30-yard touchdown against Minnesota under White Out conditions. 

Ioane might not start any games this season, but he could well find himself some playing time at guard, whether its on the left or right side. 


Tengwall’s abscene could well mean that the 6-foot-5, 323-pound freshman from Aldie, Virginia will play more often than expected.

Donkoh’s big frame already made him a decent candidate to get some playing time as a true freshman, and as much potential as Nelson has, he likely won’t be on the field for every single snap in every game. 

When the time comes for Nelson to get a breather, Donkoh seems like a good bet to step in, and Franklin said Wednesday that Donkoh is “probably further ahead than we anticipated.”

Donkoh isn’t the only ’23 OL from Virginia who could factor into the left guard equation.


Franklin said in his post-signing day 2022 presser that OL signees Donkoh, Birchemier and five-star Williams (Wyomissing, Pennsylvania) could be capable of playing anywhere on the line.

“I think you look at [Alex] Birchmeier, J’ven [Williams], maybe [Anthony] Donkoh, I think they can play all five positions in terms of the length to play tackle, the girth to play guard and the intelligence to play center,’ Franklin said. “We’ll see how that plays out.”

We will see, but a lot of people are excited about Birchmeier and Williams.  

Birchmeier comes to Penn State as a high-end four-star recruit who’s the school’s highest-rated commit behind Williams.

At Virginia’s Broad Run High School, Birchmeier started the first varsity game of his freshman year at right guard and never looked back. Before the end of his freshman season, a point when many football players his age are still cutting their teeth Saturday mornings, Birchmeier already had offers from the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh.

As a sophomore, he became a force.

His performance as an underclassman earned him a scholarship to Penn State, where he committed in July 2021.

Williams has all the makings of becoming a fan favorite.

The 6-foot-5, 313-pounder played at Wyomissing High School near Reading, which is in Penn State country. 

It’s roughly two-and-a-half hours away from State College. When Ty Smith, Williams’ throwing coach for Wyomissing’s track team and a 1991 graduate of Wyomissing, was in high school, Wyomissing’s football uniforms were a copy of Penn State’s.

Blue and White. No names. Black Shoes. 

“The whole nine yards,” Smith told Nittany Sports Now in May 2022, soon after Williams broke the state shot-put record.

That’s what Penn State football means in Wyomissing and the Reading area. 

“Everyone loves Penn State,” Williams told NSN around the same time. 

But geography isn’t the only reason Williams could become a beloved figure by the time he leaves Penn State; he’s pretty darn good at football, too, hence the five-star rating. 

Williams played a lot of guard at Wyomissing– at one point, he was the top-rated interior offensive lineman in the country by 247Sports– but has been working at tackle over Penn State’s spring and fall camps. 

Olu Fashanu, already established at left tackle, has seen him develop.

“I thought he had a great camp,” Fashanu told reporters via Zoom Tuesday. “He had the opportunity to get a lot of reps and I think that’s really important for a freshman, for his development. Just getting his reps against other college football players, with him being less than a year removed out high school. So I think that’s been great for his development, and I’m extremely excited for him.”

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