Recruiting Report Card: Offense

I'm a firm believer that a recruiting class should not be judged until three years after it signed because even the best players often take a redshirt year or need time to physically and mentally mature before they can become significant contributors at a program like Penn State.

That's not going to stop me from giving my opinion on how well the Penn State coaching staff was able to meet the program's recruiting needs with the Class of 2005, however. Overall, I feel that the coaches did an solid job, especially considering the difficult seasons that the program endured in 2003 and 2004. This recruiting class will provide a significant infusion of skill-position talent and should play a large role in determining whether Penn State can resume its place in college football's upper echelon in the near future.

What follows is a position-by-position breakdown of the Class of 2005 and a grade that represents how well the players being brought in fill the recruiting needs at the position. Keep in mind that these are just projections and do not reflect the opinion of anyone on the Penn State coaching staff. We start with the offense today, and will hit the defense later in the week.

Quarterback
Players Needed: 1
Players Signed: 1 (Daryll Clark)
Grade: B-

Daryll Clark was actually recruited for the Class of 2004, but academic issues prevented him from signing with the Nittany Lions until this February. Clark spent this academic year at Kiski Prep, where he had a chance to further hone his quarterbacking skills while improving his grades.

As a senior at Youngstown Ursuline, Clark earned first-team Division IV All-Ohio honors by passing for over 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns. He received scholarship offers from the likes of Iowa and Nebraska but chose Penn State and will get a chance to develop at a comfortable pace with Anthony Morelli and Paul Cianciolo ahead of him.

Running Back
Players Needed: 0-1
Players Signed: 0
Grade: incomplete

There was not a pressing need to recruit a pure tailback in this class with Austin Scott, Tony Hunt and Rodney Kinlaw all having at least two years of eligibility remaining, but none of the backs established himself as a workhorse, so it would have been nice to sign a tailback in the Class of 2005 to provide some competition.

The Penn State coaches wanted Seattle O'Dea star J.R. Hasty to be the tailback in this class, but he decided to stay home and attend Washington despite taking an official visit to Happy Valley and receiving an in-home visit from Joe Paterno. Hasty's late decision left Penn State without a pure tailback, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

While Lydell Sargeant is expected to start his Penn State career at flanker, he could move into the backfield if needed. Sargeant rushed for 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior and then exploded for 124 yards and a touchdown at the CaliFlorida Bowl against some of the best high school prospects in the country, proving that he has the skills to be a major Division I tailback.

In addition, there is now a significant opportunity for early playing time available that the Penn State coaches can use in their recruiting pitch to a number of highly touted tailback prospects in the Nittany Lions' traditional recruiting territory for the Class of 2006.

Wide Receiver
Players Needed: 3-4
Players Signed: 5 (Kevin Cousins, Willie Harriott, James McDonald, Lydell Sargeant, Derrick Williams)
Grade: A

If you look at the Big Ten's top teams, you will find at least one game-breaker at wide receiver. Players like Michigan's Steve Breaston, and Ohio State's Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn give their team a quick strike capability that Penn State has sorely lacked since the departure of Bryant Johnson. It's extremely difficult to win consistently when your offense is forced to complete long drives almost exclusively in order to score points.

In addition, the Nittany Lions return only two scholarship receivers in Mark Rubin and Terrell Golden, further underscoring the need to sign several talented receivers. The Penn State coaches recognized the need to infuse the wide receiver corps with speed and talent, and worked tirelessly to sign a bumper crop of receiver prospects.

This group of receivers is a nice mix of speed burners and possession receivers. The crown jewel is obviously Williams, but the other four receivers should not be overlooked.

Williams and Harriott should be able to keep defenses honest with their blazing speed and are legitimate home-run threats. Williams may get an opportunity to start as a true freshman and at the very least will be the Lions' third receiver. He is instantly the best athlete in the program and is the kind of player who can turn those close losses that have plagued the program of late into close victories.

Harriott has not gotten as much publicity, but in my opinion, he's too skilled to put on the defensive side of the ball. He caught 33 passes for 778 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior and could be very valuable for a Penn State offense that hasn't had many weapons in recent years. He was a threat to score every time he touched the ball in high school, and Penn State desperately needs players like that on offense.

Sargeant is just a tick slower than Williams and Harriott, but he has the potential to be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses as a slot receiver. Sargeant has the soft hands needed to excel as a receiver, as evidenced by his 20 catches for 261 yards as a senior, along with a tailback's vision to see holes open up in the defense and make yards after the catch. He will create mismatches when covered by safeties or linebackers. Sargeant should see the field on special teams as a freshman, but could also make an impact in the passing game right away.

Cousins and McDonald are the possession receivers in this class. Cousins has excellent size, but he arrives at Penn State as a bit of an unknown. He played in a run-oriented offense in high school and therefore did not get as many opportunities to display his talents as he would have liked. McDonald, on the other hand, put up excellent numbers over his final two seasons and is considered a physical receiver who runs tight routes and will make catches in traffic.

This group is exactly what the doctor ordered for an ailing Penn State passing game. With Rubin as the only proven commodity currently on the roster, there is ample opportunity for these freshman receivers to make their mark early.

Tight End
Players Needed: 2
Players Signed: 2 (Francis Claude, Mickey Shuler)
Grade: C+

Isaac Smolko is set to graduate after the 2005 season, our sources indicate that Jed Hill will be tried at fullback this spring and Jordan Lyons is returning from a medical redshirt, leaving the tight end position badly in need of depth.

It was important for the coaching staff to sign a couple of tight end prospects that could be ready to contribute in 2006 once Smolko is gone. It's highly uncertain whether they accomplished that goal at this point.

Claude was considered the top prospect in Canada last year, but he only participated in four of his team's eight games due to an ankle injury. On the plus side, he enrolled at Penn State in January and will take part in spring practice prior to his freshman season.

At 6-5, 252 pounds, he definitely has the size needed to play tight end in the Big Ten. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to make the transition from Canadian football to American football quickly enough to be a contributor early in his Penn State career.

Shuler was offered late in the recruiting year by Penn State, and it will probably be at least two years before he will have enough size and strength to line up at tight end for the Nittany Lions. There just aren't many tight ends at major Division I programs who weigh as little as 220 pounds. Shuler's father was an All-American at Penn State in the late 1970s after arriving on campus at only 180 pounds. The bloodlines are there, but there's certainly no guarantee that Shuler Jr. will be able to approach the success that his father had as a Nittany Lion.

In our opinion, while Penn State met its tight end quota for this recruiting class, the coaches did not find a tight end who is ready to contribute right away, and that could become a problem in 2006.

Offensive Line
Players Needed: 2-3
Players Signed: 2 (Dennis Landolt, Matt Lowry)
Grade: B

Landolt is the reason that I gave the coaching staff high marks for this position. Landolt has a bright future ahead of him at Penn State after earning first-team All-State recognition in New Jersey as a senior. He is also a nationally ranked heavyweight wrestler, meaning he will bring quickness and athleticism to the offensive line. Landolt is expected to start his career at offensive tackle, a position that has been problematic to say the least in recent years for the Nittany Lions.

Landolt anchored an offensive line that produced nearly 200 rushing yards per game, and his run blocking is considered a strength. He has a chance to make an early impact with Andrew Richardson set to graduate after the upcoming season and John Wilson and Mark Farris after the 2006 season.

Lowry is more of a project, but based on comments made at the time of his verbal commitment to Penn State, he's aware of his shortcomings and plans on working hard to improve in all facets of his game.

Specifically, Lowry mentioned that he needs to improve his footwork and quickness in order to be effective at the collegiate level. It will probably be two to three years before we see him on the field regularly.

Check out FightOnState.com Friday for Scott Cole's breakdown of Penn State's defensive recruiting.


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