Monday, March 16, 2009

Nittany Lions in the Pros - Guards

It's Monday and that means that it is time for my weekly installment of Nittany Lions in the Pros. This week's focus remains on the offensive line, shifting from center to guard. Of all the o-lineman, guards are widely believed to have the easiest job. They rarely make the blocking decisions - though do make line calls - and have a player buffer to either side of them. But guards are an integral part to the unit, usually securing hole for runs up the gut or pulling to provide additional blocking for a toss play.

How have former Nittany Lions performed in the NFL? Who was the standout? What can we expect from Rich Ohrnberger, this year's only Penn State OG headed for the NFL? Find out below. First up is a list of former Nittany Lion guards and their performance in the NFL.

Click to enlarge statistics.

Nittany Lion OGs seem to hang around the league longer than a few other positions. They average Penn State guard will suit up on an NFL squad for about seven seasons, starting for four of them. Of the 24 Nittany Lion guards since 1966, three of them - Mike Munchak (twice), Dave Szott, Steve Wisniewski (twice) - have combined for five appearances on the All Pro 1st Team. Munchak and Wisniewski make up 17 of the 20 Pro Bowl selections. Like all positions we have a mixed bag of one-year wonders and Pro Bowl, long-term studs.

This clearly comes down to two players - Mike Munchak and Steve Wisniewski. As I previously stated, they make up 85% of Penn State alums in the Pro Bowl at the guard position. But who is the best? I am leaning towards Wisniewski. There's a reason I used him in my Nittany Lions in the Pros graphic. Though he has fallen short in the Hall of Fame voting, Wisniewski is a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team. And you can't discount two Pro Bowl and First Team All Pro selections. Wisniewski also was a starter for all 13 years he was a Raider (though he does lose points for being a member of that team ... just kidding ... sort of). Wisniewski is my choice for Nittany Lion Standout at guard.

2009 DRAFT
Rich Ohrnberger is the only guard with a shot at being drafted, though the odds are against him. He is a very physical lineman but in the NFL he'll be a bit undersized and weak. He needs to add 10-15 pounds, mostly muscle. Guards routinely top the 300 lb. mark and Ohrnberger is a leaner 297. He also has an uphill battle because he was not invited to the combine. He must impress scouts on Wednesday - Penn State's Pro Day - to be considered a late round (6th-7th) pick. Right now, I think he'll go undrafted but will definitely be brought in by some team as an UDFA.

Ohrnberger had a successful run at Penn State. As a member of the team from 2004 through 2008 he was a part of 44 wins and 18 losses, most of which came during his redshirt season in 2004. Rich was a reserve in 2005, seeing action in three early season games as a special teams performer and in mop up duty. Ohrnberger would become a starter by the fifth game of the 2006 season, taking over the RG sport from Robert Price who shifted to LG and bumped Gerald Cadogan to a backup capacity. He started all 13 games in 2007, 12 at RG and the Iowa game at LG. This one-game swap would happen again - only in reverse - in 2008, much to the dismay of Penn State fans. Rich started 12 of 13 games at LG for the 2008 Big Ten Champions. He started at RG during the Iowa loss. Coincidence? Probably, but it is one of the many reasons angry fans pointed to for the loss to the Hawkeyes. He, like Shipley, paved the way for Tony Hunt, Rodney Kinlaw, and Evan Royster to have great seasons in 2006, 2007, and 2008 respectively.

Ohrnberger certainly isn't a household name but he has the right skill set and mental capacity to grow and learn in the NFL. If a team takes him in the 7th round or signs him as a free agent and gives him a year or two to gain strength and learn their scheme they could have a hidden gem... or at least a solid backup. He just needs some time.

Next week I'll finish the offensive line by looking at former Penn State OTs and this years prospect, Gerald Cadogan.

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