STATE COLLEGE — Following a turnaround that included a Big Ten championship in James Franklin’s third season, Penn State remains young, especially in the trenches.
Growing pains on defense were noticeable early when experienced linebackers were hurt. Meanwhile, a new offensive scheme and mobile quarterback Trace McSorley helped mask deficiencies of a youthful front five.
“We don’t want them to be gentle and nice to people on the field,” coach James Franklin said in a press conference Wednesday evening. “We want them to be gentlemen off the field and for them to have a nastiness and a toughness that really sets the tone for our offense and our whole organization.”
After losing starting center Brian Gaia and top defensive end Garrett Sickels, who left early for the NFL Draft, the Nittany Lions inked four offensive linemen and four defensive linemen on signing day to bolster their corps.
“Obviously the Big Ten Championship didn’t hurt,” Franklin said. “This is the first time since the game that I have not had the ball in my possession. I’ve taken it into every high school. I sleep with it. My wife rolled over the other night and almost broke her elbow on it. That obviously helps. That success on the field helps, as well, because the type of kids that we’re recruiting, they want it all.”
Other things to know
Top 25 Class: Yes
Best in class: Lamont Wade, CB, Clairton, Pennsylvania. Analysts consider Wade the fifth best cornerback recruit in the country. Penn State coaches like his versatility — he excelled in coverage at Clairton HS and his 5-foot-9 frame didn’t limit him in run support, where he was often a physical menace.
“Lamont is a guy that had been going through this recruiting process for a long time and wanted to see it all,” Franklin said when asked about nabbing players after the Big Ten Championship.
Best of the rest: CJ Thorpe, OG, Pittsburgh.
Late addition: Ellis Brooks, LB, Richmond, Virginia.
One that got away: Dylan Rivers. The Virginia linebacker flipped his commitment to Virginia Tech just 10 days before signing day.
How they’ll fit in: With most of its starters returning, Penn State will likely take a stash-and-develop approach this class. Watch the front seven, however. Penn State likes to use a deep rotation and considering the Nittany Lions are thin at DT and LB, a few new defenders could earn early playing time.