It figures that Penn State’s players are eager to get on with a football season that was supposed to start six weeks ago, but tackle Des Holmes just can’t wait, especially when he sees the depth of the talent he’ll be playing with on the offensive line.
“The sky’s the limit,” said Holmes, a Norristown resident and redshirt junior who starred at Cardinal O’Hara High School. “I’m really happy, I’m really excited. We’ve got a lot of veterans in this room, guys that have played a lot of ball. Just being able to play next to these guys, it’s just amazing.”
The Nittany Lions figure to have their best offensive line group of the James Franklin era, which is in its seventh season. They return five starters, two of whom split the starts at right guard, from 2019. They are led by a pair of honorable-mention All-Big Ten selections in center Michal Menet and tackle Will Fries, both fifth-year seniors.
Although he did not start last season, Holmes played in all 13 games as the first tackle off the bench filling in for Fries or Rasheed Walker at either side. The playing time bolstered his confidence and his consistency impressed the coaches, including Phil Trautwein, who is in his first season as coach of the offensive line.
“Des is one of those guys that believes in the football IQ part, understanding the game of football,” Trautwein said in an April interview. “The workouts that I saw, he was working really hard. He’s driven. He was a sixth guy last year, but I feel like you need 10 guys that go into a game that are ready to play at all positions.”
Trautwein, a Voorhees native who graduated from Eastern High and Florida and played for four seasons in the NFL, said he believes Holmes could play four positions on the offensive line.
Holmes has liked working with Trautwein, particularly how focused he is on “the small stuff.”
“At the end of the day, football is a game of inches, especially on the offensive line,” he said. “You have five men that have to work together. If one person doesn’t do the job, the whole play can get messed up. So I just love how he’s very stout on the little details, just every little thing. He just tries to make sure that we’re doing it right.”
Holmes was home in Norristown during quarantine and said he appreciated that his parents and his brother made sure they were staying responsible to keep everyone safe. He worked out every day with his trainer and outdoors with football players from Norristown High School.
He returned to Happy Valley in June for voluntary workouts and kept working even after the Big Ten said in August it would not have a season, a decision that was reversed 36 days later.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “This is a year of years, 2020 is crazy. That was just finally a blessing straight from the Lord, so I’m really appreciative for that.”
Holmes said he has worked in training camp being consistent and as technically sound as possible. He has made an impression on his teammates.
“Des has been awesome,” Fries said. “He’s got the strongest hands I think I’ve ever seen. His punch is lethal. He’s worked so hard at practice every single day. He really brings it. He’s a guy that you can count on. Seeing him flying off the ball and get better has been really exciting, and I’m excited to see what he does this year.”
In addition to Menet, Fries, and Walker, the Lions return their two right guards, Mike Miranda and C.J. Thorpe. Miranda, who made eight of the 13 starts in 2019, is moving to left guard. The team has untested but talented depth in reserve with tackle Caeden Wallace, guards Anthony Whigan and Sal Wormley, and center Juice Scruggs.
Holmes said he has become more vocal with his leadership to help the backups "know they should have confidence and we have confidence in them.
“I always try to encourage the younger guys, always try to give them some type of advice, or if I’ve got to pull somebody to the side and tell him something,” he said. “I just always try to lead by example and do anything I can do to help out somebody in the room.”