Amidst offensive line injuries, Drew Shelton, JB Nelson star in Penn State’s victory over Indiana
Penn State’s 2022 recruiting class has played a vital role in leading the team to a 7-2 record this campaign.
Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton have helped revitalize a running game that failed to produce a 100-yard rusher in 2021, while Drew Allar has gotten valuable reps as the backup quarterback.
On the defensive side of the ball, Abdul Carter has been all over the gridiron with 37 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
However, on Saturday against Indiana, it was a different freshman who stepped up when needed most.
The Nittany Lions have dealt with several injuries on the offensive line as James Franklin announced on Tuesday that left guard Landon Tengwall is out for the remainder of the season.
Along with Tengwall, left tackle Olu Fashanu suffered an injury against Ohio State, and Caedan Wallace has missed the past few weeks.
With Fashanu out against Indiana, Franklin turned to Drew Shelton to make his first career start.
“He’s a guy [that] there’s been talk for a long time about five years of eligibility, and he’s a guy that, if we weren’t trying to save his redshirt, would have played a bunch already this year,” Franklin said.
Shelton came to Happy Valley, rated as the No. 122 player in the nation, the 12th-best tackle and the highest-rated offensive lineman in the blue and white’s class.
The Downington, Pennsylvania, native recruiting process was extremely unique as it was during COVID and Franklin mentioned the first tape the program received from him was him blocking his sister in the backyard.
Franklin jokingly added that his sister won a couple of reps, but coaching staff Shelton had a great deal of talent. Since arriving at Penn State, Shelton has added 15-20 pounds of muscle and is very physically gifted.
Franklin talked about saving Shelton’s redshirt, but with Fashanu going down with an injury, he was called upon to start.
“I thought Drew Shelton has really prepared all season,” Franklin said. “He's another one of those freshmen in this class that I've talked to you guys about that has been very intentional about how he's worked, been very mature, and really from a very early point when he arrived on campus, we thought he had a chance to be pretty good.”
Shelton played every snap in the 45-14 blowout over the Hoosiers, as he allowed zero quarterback hits or sacks, and he finished with a 95 percent pass-blocking efficiency rate over 42 pass-block opportunities.
The true freshman received a 68.1 pass-blocking grade by PFF, which ranked third amongst linemen who played over 25 snaps on Saturday.
Hunter Nourzad was one of the players who also stepped up due to Tengwall’s injury, and the redshirt senior was impressed by Shelton’s play.
“Drew is an impressive player and person, and especially for a freshman, the things he does and the way he acts is uncharacteristic for most freshmen,” Nourzad said. “He's extremely mature. He prepares just as hard as the veterans do, and physically he has the resources to be able to succeed.”
Shelton wasn’t the only offensive lineman in the 2022 class to see significant playing time on Saturday, with JB Nelson filling in as Nourzad and Sal Wormley suffered injuries.
Nelson’s performance went unnoticed as Shelton garnered most of the attention, but he had an 80.1 pass-blocking grade, which was higher than everyone except Nourzad, who was in for 28 snaps compared to Nelson’s 77.
The Lackawanna College product played just 10 fewer snaps than Shelton and had just one pressure.
Nelson had played late in prior victories, but Saturday was the first time he received significant playing time, and his play caught the eye of Nourzad.
“JB is extremely strong, and he can do things like when you watch film or you watch him play that seem physically impossible to be honest, and he has great vision,” Nourzad said. I'm super impressed with JB as well as Drew, and it's definitely a bright future because of those two young guys and all the young guys, but they're all impressive.”
With Tengwall out for the rest of the season, Franklin might turn to Nelson to start at left guard in the final games of the season.
While Fashanu’s status for the remainder of the season is uncertain, Franklin wants Shelton to continue to get reps.
“We'll see how it all plays out, but he's just a guy that checks a lot of boxes in terms of intelligence and maturity and athleticism and body type,” Franklin said. “His high school at Downingtown here in Pennsylvania did a great job with him. He spent some time at IMG. They did a nice job with him, as well. He's been a guy that's really been kind of “Steady Eddy” and consistent the entire time.”
“I think he's got a really high ceiling and a high floor, to be honest with you.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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