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Penn State National signing day: Follow along live with updates

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

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Penn State goes JUCO route to add another DT

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -— There are exceptions to every rule and when it comes to laying the foundation of a program James Franklin isn’t in favor of going the junior college route to add players.

The Lions’ head coach said so several times, even adding last November that while there are such things as quick fixes he doesn’t want to build that way. 

“That first year we could have went out and signed 15 junior college players. This year could have went out and signed 15 junior college players. But I don't think myself or the administration or our fans really want to do it that way,” Franklin said Nov. 24. “We want to do it for the long haul. Once you start doing that, then it's almost you have to commit to continuing to do that because your turnover happens every year or two.

“And like I've said from Day 1, we want to build this thing the right way for the long haul, and when you do that, it takes some time.”

Franklin made an exception to his rule Tuesday when the Lions picked up a verbal pledge from Nassau Community College defensive tackle Tyrell Chavis who will have an opportunity to add much needed depth along the Lions’ depleted defensive line. Penn State is working to replace starting tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson along with reserve Tarow Barney who was also a former JUCO product. The Lions enter spring ball with Parker Cothren, Antoine White and Robert Windsor as scholarship defensive tackles and could make some position switches to other players to help build depth. 

The Lions’ 2016 class, which will be finalized on Wednesday once letters of intent are faxed in, has verbal commitments from defensive tackles Ellison Jordan and Antonio Shelton. Shelton picked Penn State on Sunday, giving the class depth after Michael Dwumfour flipped from Penn State to Michigan and the class saw the departures of former verbal pledges Christian Colon and Karamo Dioubate.

Penn State will need help right away upfront and Chavis, at 6-4, 320 pounds won’t have to make as much of a transition in the weight room as the incoming freshman, thus helping fill one of the team’s biggest positions of need. Penn State went the junior college route in the 2015 recruiting class too with the addition of left tackle Paris Palmer who played at Lackawanna College before enrolling at Penn State last winter. 

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter @audsnyder4


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How is Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class shaping up?

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 6 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State addressed two needs within the last day as the Lions added a verbal pledge from defensive tackle Antonio Shelton on Sunday and flipped wide receiver Dae’lun Darien from Temple to Penn State Monday morning. 

The Lions’ 2016 class is up to 19 members, including offensive lineman Connor McGovern, quarterback Jake Zembiec, tight end Danny Dalton and offensive tackle Alex Gellerstedt who enrolled in January. Coming in at No. 19 according to Rivals, Penn State’s class is still is in the mix for some high-end talents with some of the prospects not announcing their college decision until Wednesday afternoon. 

Who announces when?

-CB Damar Hamlin, Monday night

-LB Brendan Ferns, Wed. 7 am on twitter 

-CB Lavert Hill, Wed., TBA 

-CB K.J. Sails, Wed. 3:15 pm

-DE Rashad Weaver, Wed. 3 pm

While it’s important to see whether Penn State lands any of these players, it’s also key to see where they choose if it isn’t Penn State. Hamlin could end up at Pitt or Ohio State while Hill, once a Penn State verbal pledge, could play at Michigan or Michigan State.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary to see if Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines land him, thus making life harder on the Nittany Lions down the road, or if he goes elsewhere out of the conference. Gary will announce on Wednesday. 

Updated heights and weights

Penn State added the four early enrollees to the roster on Monday and here’s what they checked in at:

-QB Jake Zembiec: 6-3, 205

-TE Danny Dalton: 6-4, 240

-OT Alex Gellerstedt: 6-6, 275

-OL Connor McGovern: 6-5, 310 

McGovern physically is in a better spot than most offensive linemen when they arrive and while James Franklin likes to point to the third year as one where the linemen are physically and mentally ready to play we could see McGovern contribute earlier, maybe even in year two.  

Why so negative? 

James Franklin mentioned Penn State having to deal with negative recruiting when he addressed the media for his season ending teleconference. He said that’s not how his staff does business and vowed to take the high road. 

Interestingly enough when Penn State flipped former Temple verbal pledge Dae’lun Darien Monday morning the Owls’ receivers coach wasted no time mentioning negative recruiting. In a tweet that has since been deleted, here was the take from Temple’s receivers coach:

Now, in the crazy world that is college football recruiting I don’t see what the big deal is with negative recruiting. Surely it’s happening at quite a few schools these days (maybe even all of them), but where Temple does have some leverage now that they didn’t in the past is with that season opening win over the Nittany Lions.

As Penn State preps to play both Temple and Pitt this season look for the stakes both on the field and on the recruiting trail to heighten as the winner of each game will surely be using that as part of their recruiting pitch to in-state kids in the 2017 cycle. 

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter @audsnyder4 


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Penn State adds DT as National signing day nears

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 week ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Defensive tackle was once a position of strength in Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class, but as the official end to the recruiting cycle nears on Feb. 3 the Lions found themselves scrambling for future depth along the defensive line. 

Penn State picked up a verbal pledge from Rivals three-star defensive tackle Antonio Shelton on Sunday, helping fill a need in a class where Rivals three-star Ellison Jordan is the team’s only other tackle pledge. Shelton, once an Illinois verbal pledge who decided to open up his recruitment last week, visited Penn State this weekend for an official visit.

Penn State lost defensive tackle pledge Michael Dwumfour last week when he flipped to Michigan and previous Nittany Lion verbal pledge Karamo Dioubate, a four-star defensive tackle prospect, decommitted earlier in January. Defensive tackle Christian Colon reopened his recruitment in October after giving the Lions a verbal pledge in June. 

Building depth along the defensive line will be a top priority immediately and this season the Lions will be tasked with replacing three of their starting front four, two of whom were defensive tackles. This spring expect Penn State’s three scholarship defensive tackles, Parker Cothren, Antoine White and Robert Windsor try and acclimate to larger roles. Penn State could work through some position changes this offseason too to try and help address the team’s need at defensive tackle. 

Kevin Givens, who signed with the Lions last February, could be an option to move inside from defensive end and Penn State could flip guard Brian Gaia back to defensive tackle if the staff thinks he can make more of an impact there. Gaia flipped to the offensive line two seasons ago and has been a work in progress while the Lions wait for some of their younger offensive linemen to develop. 

As for the push to national signing day, cornerback Damar Hamlin is set to announce Monday evening and cornerback Lavert Hill, who also has Penn State among his list of finalists, will announce Wednesday. Defensive back K.J. Sails, who picked up a Penn State offer last week also has yet to decide on a school. 

Linebacker Brendan Ferns, a Rivals 4-star prospect who has Penn State among his finalists, will announce his college decision on Wednesday at 7 a.m.

Here are Shelton’s highlights from his senior season: 

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter @audsnyder4


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5 takeaways from James Franklin's season ending news conference

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 weeks ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – James Franklin said he wasn’t surprised by a handful of player transfers, but yes, there was one that caught him off guard.

Troy [Reeder] was probably the one that was a surprise,” Franklin said of the redshirt freshman linebacker who was thrust into a starting role this season, but opted to transfer to Delaware.

The Nittany Lions’ head coach was aware that at some point some of his assistants would move on for other jobs. What about when defensive coordinator Bob Shoop left for Tennessee a couple weeks ago?

“You’re always a little surprised, you’re always a little hurt because we spent a lot of time together as families and as people,” Franklin said Saturday during his season ending news conference that was forced to the phone line after a heavy snowfall. It was the first time Franklin addressed the numerous personnel changes that occurred since the season ended on Jan. 2. “Every year these guys get approached, every year these guys have to make decisions.”

Franklin even used to read everything that was written about his program, scouring articles and Twitter mentions, but even that too has changed since the beginning of January.

“I changed my philosophy this year [laughs],” he said. “I really just spent my time focused on things in our program, the players, how they’re doing academically and football-wise as well and game planning and recruiting.”

What were my impressions from Franklin’s Saturday teleconference?

If you rebuild it they will come

Franklin said time and time again during his 36-minute availability that he wants to “build this thing the right way.” Now, this isn’t new since we’ve heard that phrase time and time again as he previously said that’s one reason why he doesn’t like to dip into the JUCO ranks to fill needs, but Saturday he said that maybe some of the Lions’ special teams woes will go away when some of these players who redshirted this season are able to contribute next year.

Remember that world tour special teams coordinator Charles Huff went on last summer when he visited NFL coaching staffs looking for new ideas to help a special teams unit that needed a transformation? Huff could be going on another one this summer as the Lions must make improvements (and equally important need to maintain verbal pledges from a kicker and a punter in their 2016 recruiting class).

“I think your point is fair,” Franklin said of the special teams criticism. “Myself and Charles as well as the rest of the staff are going to sit down and find a way to make this a strength moving forward for us.”

The last thank you

QB Christian Hackenberg thanked everyone but James Franklin when the former Nittany Lion declared for the NFL Draft. Even fired offensive coordinator John Donovan got a shout out from No. 14. 

While the relationship between Bill O’Brien’s prized recruit and Franklin may never be fully understood, Hackenberg did call Franklin to say thanks.

“Christian called me the day after announcing and we had a great conversation, he was very appreciative, thanked me and the staff for everything that we’ve done,” Franklin said.  “We had a great conversation on the phone. I think Christian is going to go on and do wonderful things. … I was glad Christian picked up the phone and called me the next day.”

Looking ahead to LBs this spring

With the departures of Troy Reeder and reserve Gary Wooten Jr. Penn State should be thin at linebacker this spring. Add in Nyeem Wartman-White, who likely will be limited this spring while coming back from a knee injury, and the Lions (with Wartman-White) have six returning scholarship linebackers this spring.

Help is on the way this summer and we’ll see how Penn State closes out the 2016 recruiting class, but it’ll be worth keeping an eye on. Penn State played two true freshmen linebackers this season (mostly on special teams) and Jason Cabinda did the same two years ago as a freshman too. Needing young linebackers to step in right away, espeically with a group that’s dealt with a lot of injuries the last few seasons, will likely continue.

“That’s a position that we are a little bit thin because that one was a little bit unexpected, but we’re going to have some young players that we’re really excited about,” he said. “We also have the ability to do some things with our safeties in terms of nickel and dime that we’ve done in the past in our STAR package and things like that. The issue for us is really spring ball and not really the fall.”

Those hybrid safeties-outside linebackers were a large part of Bob Shoop’s scheme, but the good news for Penn State is that nobody knows the linebacker personnel better than the new defensive coordinator since Brent Pry will continue coaching his position group too.

Let the coaches coach

How much of the offense’s problems last year were James Franklin’s doing and how much was John Donovan’s? That too is a question that went largely unanswered as the two gave conflicting responses during the season and Franklin continued flipping a play sheet and looked to be doing more than just making suggestions while the offense faltered.

Will new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead have full control of the offense, one where Franklin said every starting position, including quarterback, is up for grabs this spring and summer?

“One of the reasons you go out and hire and bring new people in is to get their ideas, to get their experience, all those things have to blend with the overall mission, the overall philosophy of the organization,” he said. “That’s why you hired them because you felt like their views, their philosophies, their schemes whatever it may be they aligned with what you want to do as well.”

Now, I could be wrong on this but my interpretation is that Moorhead, who also is coaching the quarterbacks, will have much more control of what’s going on with this offense than Donovan did after the unit struggled. Franklin said since his arrival that he’s a “control freak” but maybe he needs to just trust that Moorhead can make this offense work? We’ll see.

“It’s not like you go out and hire people and they’re going to be the same person or in the same role as the person that left,” Franklin said. “That’s why you’re going out and you’re trying to acquire as much talent and as much experience as you can.”

It’s not all positive on the recruiting trail

James Franklin likes to think the glass is always half full, but on the recruiting trail the head coach said he’s aware that Penn State is receiving some negative recruiting from other schools.

With the crunch to Feb. 3 on, and several prospects on campus this weekend for official visits, including uncommitted standouts Damar Hamlin and Khaleke Hudson,  the Lions’ turnover on the coaching staff is an easy way for other programs to sell prospects on why they shouldn’t head to Happy Valley.

While Franklin didn’t mention it I think it’s also worth remembering that Facebook post Geno Lewis’ dad wrote when Geno elected to transfer, one where the dad bashed Franklin and receivers coach Josh Gattis (before it went viral and the dad then backtracked and apologized).  Coaches will spin that however they want in recruiting and once it’s out there even with the dad’s apology there’s no taking it back.

“I don't think there's any doubt that we've been getting a lot of negative recruiting. It's kind of really been that way since we arrived, about Penn State, about some of the challenges that we've been through,” Franklin said.

Quickly getting new hires in place has helped Penn State keep the majority of this 2016 class together. Aiming to take the high road and not fire back with any negative recruiting of their own is Franklin’s mission on the recruiting trail, at least that’s what he says.

“All I ask is if you are getting negative things and you're hearing negative things, just share them with us,” he said. “Just let us know what you're hearing and what people are saying to allow us to be able to explain, and what we're always going to do is we're going to be transparent. We're going to tell you the truth and allow you to make an educated decision. That's myself, that's our coaches, that's our players.”

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter @audsnyder4


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