It would be surprising if Paterno chose not to travel again this year given the fruit those trips eventually bore last year. The NCAA has set aside the six weeks from April 15 through May 31 as this year's Evaluation Period. Each school must choose four consecutive weeks during that time span as their contact period.
Spring practice culminates with the Blue-White Game April 23, meaning the Nittany Lion coaches will go on the road starting April 24 for four weeks of player evaluation and visits with high school coaches across the country. This month-long journey will begin to clarify exactly which prospects are at the top of Penn State's wish list of the Class of 2006 and which positions are considered the most critical needs.
In this month's Recruiting Report, I'll provide an educated guess as to how many players are needed at each position for the next recruiting class. The Class of 2005 contained a high concentration of skill position talent on both sides of the ball. Now, the coaches need to address the paper-thin depth in the trenches, add even more speed at the skill positions and handle the running back situation.
What follows is a position-by-position breakdown of which Nittany Lions have eligibility remaining for the 2006 season and how many players will need to be signed for the Class of 2006. Remember that in recruiting, you don't look at the current year, but instead look one to two years down the road to see where the depth will be thin. Early projections indicate that the Nittany Lions should have 18-20 scholarships to give out with this recruiting class depending on how many potential fifth-year seniors choose to return.
Number of QBs Needed in Class of 2006: 1
I'm a firm believer that Penn State should recruit one quarterback in every recruiting class. It appears definite that the Nittany Lions will attempt to sign at least one quarterback with the Class of 2006. After all, with Michael Robinson gone after the 2005 season, the most important position on the field will be wide open.
Anthony Morelli is assumed to have the inside track to the starting job, but don't count out Paul Cianciolo. Daryll Clark and Kevin Suhey will likely be redshirt freshmen in 2006, but it's important to bring in an elite quarterback prospect to groom for the future. Fortunately, there appear to be a number of high-end quarterback prospects in Penn State's traditional recruiting area this year.
The two prospects that have received the most attention from the coaching staff so far are Mechanicsburg's Zach Frazer and Downingtown East's Pat Devlin. Frazer already has a written scholarship offer from the Lions, while Devlin is rumored to have a verbal offer, but nothing in writing at this time. Neither will be a slam dunk for Penn State as both quarterbacks are being hotly pursued by some of the nation's best programs, including Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame.
Number of RBs Needed in Class of 2006: 2
The running back position has a number of solid candidates, but no one has stepped forward as a workhorse back yet, and none of the current Nittany Lion backs is considered a gamebreaker at this stage of their careers.
Tony Hunt and Austin Scott have been solid, but unspectacular. Both will be seniors in 2006, underscoring the need to bring in two running backs with the Class of 2006 to provide depth and prepare to take over the backfield duties.
There are more questions than answers among the remaining backs on the roster. Rodney Kinlaw, who will be a redshirt junior in 2006, remains an unproven commodity at this point. He has not been given many opportunities to carry the football. Can he handle the punishment of being an every down back?
Will Lydell Sargeant even be a tailback? He may be thrown into the mix in the backfield this fall, but he could also find himself with the wide receivers.
Essentially, there is a wonderful opportunity for early playing time at the running back position. The Penn State coaches have already given significant attention to several running back prospects in their traditional recruiting territory, led by Bishop McDevitt's LeSean McCoy, one of the early favorites for the nation's top running back.
Number of FBs Needed in Class of 2006: 0-1
One of the most talked about subjects heading into spring practice has been Galen Hall's reported decision to add an H-back to the Penn State offense. Some of the current fullbacks and tight ends are getting a look at this newly created position. A traditional H-back is usually a quick FB/TE type with good hands who can find holes in zone coverage and work the seams. Former Tennessee Titan Frank Wycheck is one of the best examples of what a good H-back can do.
Matt Hahn appears to be an excellent fit as an H-back. He has already proven that he can make plays in the passing game coming out of the backfield. He has soft hands and quickness that could make him a valuable asset this season. Jed Hill might also be capable of filling the H-back role as he was a receiving tight end in high school.
Dan Lawlor and BranDon Snow are more along the lines of the traditional Penn State fullback and will be more likely to carry the ball in short yardage situations than catch swing passes or screens.
If Galen Hall does indeed use an H-back in the offensive scheme this fall, the fullback position at Penn State will take on an added dimension that has never existed before. The position would require a versatile athlete capable of being a lead blocker and an effective weapon in the passing game.
I've listed one fullback for this recruiting class with the thought that the player will be slotted for the H-back position. However, there are several other positions that will require multiple players to be signed, meaning that the fullback position may have to do without a signee this year.
Number of WRs Needed in Class of 2006: 2
Prior to signing day, Penn State had no one at the wide receiver position who could be considered a playmaker. In recent years, Paterno has often lamented the lack of a player who could turn a 5-yard hitch route into a 50-yard touchdown. That excuse for the team's offensive woes disappeared the moment that Derrick Williams set foot on campus for the start of the spring semester.
High expectations will follow Williams throughout his Nittany Lion career, but early indications are that he is everything he has been hyped to be. Fellow superstar freshman Justin King is also expected to get a look at wide receiver this spring. King may very well play on both sides of the football this year before shifting over to defense permanently as a sophomore.
Williams and King are a good start, but the Nittany Lions need even more speed on the outside in this recruiting class to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan. The program appears to have an abundance of possession receivers, but only a couple of players with the potential to keep defensive coordinators awake at night. Two more speed burners are needed in the Class of 2006 to upgrade the passing attack.
The coaches have already gotten off to a strong start in recruiting more blazing fast receivers to Happy Valley. One of the best prospects on the radar screen is Granby (Va.) wide receiver Chris Bell. Bell was among the first juniors to receive a written scholarship offer from Penn State, and the coaches would love nothing more than to lure him away from in-state powers Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Number of TEs Needed in Class of 2006: 1
Tight end depth will be almost non-existent after the departure of Isaac Smolko following the 2005 season. Jordan Lyons is on track to be the starter in 2006, but there are no other proven receiving threats among the remaining tight ends on the roster at this time. Francis Claude has a chance to become a weapon in the passing game, but he will spend most of 2005 adjusting to American football after playing the Canadian version his whole life.
Brennan Coakley could very easily wind up at tight end as well, but I have been projecting him at defensive end. The Nittany Lions will need one tight end in this recruiting class regardless of what position Coakley plays, in my opinion.
Number of OTs Needed in Class of 2006: 1
The depth situation at offensive tackle looks as good as it's been in years. Levi Brown is a proven talent while Wyatt Bowman, Gerald Cadogan, Mark Farris and Greg Harrison have all garnered praise from our sources at one time or another in the past year. Farris will be a senior in 2006 and will probably get the chance to start opposite Brown.
The coaches should attempt to sign one offensive tackle in the Class of 2006. That player would be able to develop at a reasonable pace, redshirting in 2006 and then providing depth starting in 2007. It appears that the coaches are targeting the nation's best offensive tackle to fill this slot.
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) tackle Sam Young lived in Pittsburgh for most of his life before moving to Florida and is strongly considering Penn State along with many of the nation's top programs, including Florida, Miami, Michigan and Ohio State.
Number of OGs Needed in Class of 2006: 2
The guard spots are in a much more precarious position from a depth standpoint than the tackle positions. Tyler Reed and Charles Rush will finish their Penn State careers with the 2005 season, leaving both guard positions up for grabs going into 2006.
None of the players listed above has any appreciable game experience. Richard Cheek and Robert Price will be fifth year seniors in 2006, while the other five players entered the program in 2004 and redshirted. It's difficult to say how much, if any, experience these players will gain sitting behind Reed and Rush this fall.
With only three of the seven returning guard prospects being scholarship players, offensive guard is a critical recruiting need for the Class of 2006. The coaching staff has to find two to three high-end guard prospects to replenish the depth at the positions and challenge the inexperienced players ahead of them on the depth chart.
Offensive linemen are the most difficult prospects to project because many players are able to overpower their high school opponents simply due to a significant size advantage. The Penn State offensive line has not been up to par since the 2002 season, and even that group struggled mightily against upper echelon competition.
The line determines the ultimate success or failure of the offense as a whole. Therefore, it's imperative to sign linemen in this recruiting class that have a strong pedigree and will be capable of stepping and performing at a high level early in their career. There is no room for a project at the guard positions in this class.
Thus far, the Penn State coaches have made scholarship offers to some of the nation's best offensive line prospects. Two of those prospects hail from nearby Maryland in Gwynn Park's Philip Taylor and Lackey's J.B. Walton.
Number of Cs Needed in Class of 2006: 1
It's a complete mystery at this point who will be snapping the football to the Penn State quarterbacks in 2005, let alone 2006. The fallout from the bow and arrow incident could leave the Nittany Lions without the services of returning starter E.Z. Smith. While that is certainly not a positive thing, it could provide redshirt freshman Trent Varva with valuable game experience this year that would make him an established starter for 2006.
Regardless of how experienced Varva is entering the 2006 season, the coaching staff needs to find a scholarship center prospect for the Class of 2006 to provide depth behind Varva. Neither Chris Auletta, who moved to center in time for spring practice, nor Patrick Weber has seen any snaps during a regular season contest. Both will be redshirt juniors in 2006.