So this James Franklin fellow did alright for himself, huh?
The war room board is full of new Nittany Lions. The 2014 class is complete... pic.twitter.com/c81itVCuv0— Tony Mancuso (@GoPSUTony) February 5, 2014
While the majority of this class was assembled under the leadership of Bill O'Brien, James Franklin did his part as well, adding Saeed Blacknall, Koa Farmer, Trace McSorley, Grant Haley, Amani Oruwariye, Brendan Brosnan, Chance Sorrell, Christian Campbell, and Torrence Brown. So basically, this class is just as much Franklin's, as it is O'Brien's. Especially when you take into account that Franklin had to sell most of the holdover commits on himself when he came on board.
Something that Franklin did that Penn State fans are not quite used to seeing, was flip commits. And boy, did he flip. Saeed Blacknall was committed to Rutgers. Torrence Brown was committed to Southern Miss. McSorley, Haley, Oruwariye, Brosnan, and Sorrell were all committed to Vanderbilt. Although the guys coming from Vandy don't really count in this scenario, Franklin shows in the very short time that he was recruiting for the 2014 class. This is something that Penn State fans should get used to, as Franklin does not seem scared to go after what he wants. Dominate the state does not seem like an optional objective at this point, rather a requirement.
The 2014 Recruiting Class ended up consisting of 25 players (5 as early enrollees). So rather than do one big, confusing, hard to follow roundup, I'm going to break it down position by position. You'll notice that each name is linked under the positions. Clicking on the names will bring you to their Signing Day posts, so I encourage you to do so. Here we go.
The current Penn State roster is in a very interesting position, as far as quarterbacks. Christian Hackenberg is obviously number one on the depth chart, but everything after him is a question mark. Now that Tyler Ferguson is officially transferring to Louisville, there is an extreme lack of experience behind Hack. The three run ons, Jack Seymour, DJ Crook, and Austin Whipple, are still there, but none is truly a solid backup (yet). Seymour brings his two star pedigree that made him such a popular player to watch (McGloin factor potential, and all). Whipple is apparently a film room rat. Crook reportedly was the standout performer among the three last year. All three have potential to be suitable backups for Hackenberg, but clearly there was some unrest among the staff.
Michael O'Connor should ease that unrest, and then some. O'Connor comes to Penn State with a ton of upside that the staff will be eager to cash in on. He moves well in the pocket, has great accuracy both on set throws and throws on the run, and shows confidence on the field. He has a big frame (6'5" 223 lbs) that he will continue to fill out as he progresses in Coach Galt's strength and conditioning program. O'Connor will likely take a redshirt this year, but could find himself starting for one or two years as a junior and senior (depending on when Hack decides to jump to the NFL).
Trace McSorley comes to Penn State as an athlete, initially listed as a quarterback. As O'Connor establishes himself along with one or two of the three run ons, I believe McSorley will move to safety. He is a good tackler, and knows how to get to the ball in a hurry. If he does stick at quarterback though, he will be a dynamic threat at the position. Trace moves very well and has a solid arm.
After the 2014 football season, Akeel Lynch will be the only Penn State running back with game experience left on the roster. The thunder and lightning duo of Zwinak and Belton will have moved on, and there will be a noticeable lack of depth at the halfback position. Luckily for Penn State fans, the trio of Allen, Scott, and Thomas is a trio to be reckoned with. Each plays with a different style, and each could have a role for the Lions in the future.
Mark Allen is a smaller back (5'7" 185 lbs), who can use that size to his advantage. Just as Darren Sproles or Danny Woodhead get an extra step on the defense when they take the handoff due to their ability to hide behind the offensive linemen, Allen should be able to gain a few extra seconds to find the hole and make the quick cut.
Nick Scott does not have the breakaway speed of a Bill Belton, but is able to make up for that fact with his patience and elusiveness. The other thing that Scott does better than anyone else out of these three is catch the football. He is an ideal third down back as he can split out from the backfield and make a quick catch, or do damage with a screen pass.
Johnathan Thomas is the bruiser of the three. He won't dance around behind the line waiting for a hole to open up, rather he will make one himself. He is very strong, and will make anyone pay who tries to tackle him with a half-hearted effort. Thomas will wear a defense out very quickly, and has the type of style that some defenders tend to just avoid towards the end of a hard-fought game. I expect two of these three to redshirt for a season, but the staff may choose to get them each as much time as possible this year, to help prepare them to take the reins in 2015.
This is the group I am most excited about. All four of these guys have the potential to be gamebreakers at the college level, and all four could very easily find themselves in the NFL four or five years from now. The current Penn State receivers have the potential to form a fast and exciting offense, with Geno Lewis, DaeSean Hamilton, Richy Anderson, and Matt Zanellato, but there is a lack of true starpower from them. The 2014 commits on the other hand, are oozing with the potential to be one of the more dominant units in the Big Ten.
Saeed Blacknall is a beast of a receiver, and a future number one at Penn State. He is big (6'3" 205 lbs) and knows how to get to the ball at its highest point. He has the strength to rip the ball away from a defender, and the power to break a tackle. He has the speed to outrun people, and the elusiveness to split defenders. Simply put, he is an animal, and will be a true threat on the outside, especially if he is paired with our next subject.
Chris Godwin is an ideal number two receiver. Just like Blacknall, he has great size (6'2" 203 lbs), and knows how to time a jump. Godwin doesn't possess as much speed at Blacknall does (at least not until he has some space to get going), but he does have plenty of strength. Godwin will not be asked to outrun defenders on deep balls, rather he'll play an Anquan Boldin type of role. He will be called upon to use his body to create space, which he is adept at doing. He will be a great redzone target as well.
De'Andre Thompkins is a do it all threat, that reminds me a little bit of Percy Harvin. Thompkins played all over the field in high school, and was a threat at the running back spot, receiver spot, and on kick/punt return. He is the type of player that will have plays designed specifically to get him the ball in space, and allow him to work his magic. He is extremely fast (he was also a track star in high school), and is getting better and better with his route running. He has fast feet, and can quickly change direction. He is also a true difference maker in the return game, and could very easily find himself filling this role in Ireland.
Troy Apke is the least hyped of the four, but has just as much potential to make an impact. He has arguably the most sure hands of the four, and will likely find himself targeted on plenty of third downs during his Penn State career.
Commit: Mike Gesicki
As you all know well, Penn State has an abundance of options at tight end. They have big bruisers like Jesse James and athletic pass catchers like Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman. Mike Gesicki will fill the latter of these two roles. He is athletic marvel who excelled in basketball and football in high school. He has good speed for someone his size (6'5" 245 lbs), and is a matchup nightmare. Too fast for linebackers, and too big for corners/safeties. Tight end wasn't a dire need in this class, but Penn State went out and got arguably the best one available anyway.
All four of these guys have the chance to be starters for Penn State at some point in their careers. They each come in as three star recruits, so they're not exactly the surefire studs that most fans would like to see, but each has the potential to be great. Wright will most likely get the easiest opportunity to start, being a JuCo transfer, but the attitudes of the other three will make it so no one is handed a job. The Penn State offensive line depth is nothing to write home about, so whether it's on mop up duty, or as part of the rotation, I expect at least one of this group will see some notable time in 2014. They will each have the chance to show what they can do in training camp, as they will be on more level footing than you would think with the incumbent starters, due to the fact that Herb Hand does not have experience with anyone on the current roster.
Defensive End Commit: Torrence Brown
The defensive line does not look pretty for the 2014 Penn State roster, in terms of the defensive tackles. Coach Chaos really has his work cut out for him as Austin Johnson and Brian Gaia return as the most experienced tackles on the team. Needless to say, there was a need for some upgrades to the defensive line, and the staff was able to find a few nice pieces to add.
Antoine White enrolled early this spring (Really winter 'cause, ya know, Happy Valley and all) to get a head start on his training for the summer. Antoine possesses quick hands and fast feet, which will be valuable tools for him as a pass rusher. He still needs to bulk up a bit to play tackle in the Big Ten, but he is already well on his way to doing so thanks to Coach Galt and his S&C program. Antoine is probably destined for a redshirt this year, but should start seeing important minutes in 2015.
Tarow Barney enters Penn State as #38 ranked JuCo transfer, and will look to use his experience to burst into the line rotation right away. Right away, Barney should be someone who can help plug up the line and allow linebackers to bear down on runners out of the backfield. He doesn't quite have the ability to rush the passer much, but that should come with experience. Barney will look to earn early playing time with the weak state of the defensive tackles.
What the line lacks in depth at the tackle spot, they certainly have at the ends. Deion Barnes, CJ Olaniyan, and Anthony Zettel all return, and Garrett Sickels and Brad Bars will look to make impacts of their own. There is certainly a list of players that will be ahead of Torrence Brown at the beginning, which should probably leave him to redshirt, but that doesn't mean he won't be a force in the future. Penn State did well for themselves to pick up a defensive end in this class, as the depth they have now will start to disappear very quickly in the upcoming years.
Not gonna lie though, having Thomas Holley in this class would have been a major boost to the team.
As was the problem last season, Penn State is lacking depth at the linebacker spot. With only Mike Hull, Brandon Bell, Nyeem Wartman, and Ben Kline really assured of playing time, there is a lot of potential for both Reeder and Cabinda to step in and make their mark early on.
Troy Reeder has been the best defensive player in Delaware for two years now, and Penn State fans will hope to see that dominance transfer to Beaver Stadium. Reeder is a very versatile linebacker, who knows how to cover a receiver or a tight end, but can also fly through the line to attack the quarterback or the running back. He hits hard, but also tends to hit high (based off of his tape). This is the kind of tackling that college running backs are good enough to elude, so Troy will have to work on it. I have no doubt that Coach Pry is up to the task of turning him into an even more sure tackler though. That will happen, and I believe Troy will be playing regularly by the end of his freshman season.
Jason Cabinda was one of the most important Penn State commits, due to his extreme loyalty and knack for recruiting. Not only did he help keep most of the 2014 class together, but he helped actively recruit guys like Koa Farmer and Saeed Blacknall. As far as on the field, Jason is a very good athlete who can play on either side of the ball. He will man an outside linebacker spot at Penn State. He is a solid tackler and has above average speed (he was a running back after all). Due to a lack of depth, Cabinda will likely push for time early on.
The struggles of the Penn State secondary this past season were well documented. Although they got better as the year went on, especially Jordan Lucas who emerged as a bright spot, they were still a below average unit overall. The 2014 recruiting class will look to change that trend.
Daquan Worley and Grant Haley are two smaller sized cornerback recruits (5'11" and 5'10"), while Amani Oruwariye is slightly bigger at 6'1". Worley is a special athlete who absolutely tore through teams from his tailback spot during this past season, before tearing his ACL. His athleticism will help him corral receivers in man coverage, and he will likely get his fair share of picks. He was not overly quick though, and the ACL injury won't help that. He will be someone who may be best suited to cover slot receivers, or outside receivers if he has help over the top.
Grant Haley is still learning how to play the corner position. He has the ability to break up a pass thanks to his speed and agility, but he will bite on a well-executed fake and get burned for it. His ability to move quickly to the ball and break up the pass indicates that he may be more well suited for zone coverage than man, but with some mentoring from the more experienced Penn State secondary members he may begin to learn when to take gambles on the ball, and when not to.
Amani Oruwariye comes to Penn State having been committed to play for James Franklin at Vanderbilt, previously. Amani has long arms and knows how to put himself in good positions to make plays. He could stand to bulk up a little bit, especially given his height. Once he does so, he should give Penn State a physically imposing defender outside the numbers.
Marcus Allen is going to hit. He's going to hit a lot. He's going to hit hard. He has enough speed to safely cover the deep zone for the Nittany Lions, and he has the ability to move up and punish anyone running across the middle of the field. At 6'2", 200 lbs, he has room to bulk up even further to help supplement his hitting power. Allen should be a Penn State mainstay in the defensive backfield for a while.
Christian Campbell was a late addition to the Penn State class. He brings to the table a very strong tackler who will keep ballcarriers from getting extra yardage more often than not. He has good height at 6'1", and can move well enough around the field to help corral backs and receivers alike.
Finally, there is Koa Farmer. Farmer comes to Penn State listed a safety recruit, but will most likely play linebacker at the next level, which will remind more than a few of a certain Gerald Hodges. Farmer is adept at tracking the quarterback and keeping them in check, a trait that is valuable to have in the linebacking corps. Farmer will compete for a spot right away on this defense if he does indeed make that move.
And with that, we have profiled each and every one of Penn State's newest 2014 recruits. If all goes according to plan, we'll revisit this post in a few years to look at what our National Championship-winning Nittany Lions looked like as little high schoolers. I'll have an article at some point tomorrow outlining possible redshirts for this class, so be on the lookout for that. And be sure to check out Penn State's Official Signing Day page on GoPSUSports. Thank you for following along with Black Shoe Diaries today, and our coverage of National Signing Day. I had a good time, and I hope you did as well. Go State.
- National Signing Day 2014: Welcome to Penn State, Marcus Allen
- National Signing Day 2014: Welcome to Penn State, Mark Allen
- National Signing Day 2014: Welcome to Penn State, Johnathan Thomas
- National Signing Day 2014: Welcome to Penn State, Koa Farmer
- Oh, Hello: AL ATH Torrence Brown Signs with Penn State