Take Your Marks: Recruiting Priorities

Fight On State's Mark Brennan and Mark Harrington discuss and debate topics concerning Penn State in their regular feature, "Take Your Marks." This time they debate which position should be the focal point of Penn State's Class of 2006 recruiting efforts.

WHAT IS PENN STATE'S MOST PRESSING NEED AS IT BEGINS TO COMPILE ITS RECRUITING CLASS OF 2006:

HARRINGTON: It was great to see Joe Paterno and the coaching staff address needs at receiver and cornerback with the Class of 2005. Best of all it addressed the "need for speed." Now the Nittany Lions have a new set of needs with the Class of 2006. Though I think the they absolutely have to get a punter given that Jeremy Kapinos will wrap up his career after 2006, the offensive line should be priority No. 1 with this class. Sure, it may seem like PSU has 20 or so players on the offensive line right now, but if you take a look at the line after the 2006 season, the Lions are left with Greg Harrison, Gerald Cadogan, Wyatt Bowman and Matt Lowry at tackle, Austin Hinton, Rich Ohrnberger and Dennis Landolt at guard, and A.Q. Shipley and Trent Varva at center. The staff must take a long, hard look at Shipey and use him as the guideline to recruit linemen for current and future classes.

BRENNAN: Whenever questions such as these arise, I immediately turn to Scott Cole's often imitated but never duplicated epic recruiting report for the lowdown (Check the next issue of FOS The Magazine — mailing in June — for his latest position-by-position breakdown of Penn State's recruiting needs). Shameless plugs aside, I'll lay it on the line here, too, albeit on the other side of the ball. With three NFL-caliber defensive ends exhausting their eligibility this season (want to wager on who is drafted first?), the Lions must restock. We've heard positive things about Amani Purcell and Josh Gaines, but even if they are every bit as good as advertised, depth will be a huge question mark here unless State adds at least a couple of blue-chip ends. The Lions are involved with several outstanding DE prospects and are in the position to offer immediate playing time. I think this is going to turn out well. By the way, are you getting enough sleep? Starting a conversation about recruiting priorities by talking about punters?

HARRINGTON: You know I am all about winning those field-position battles, hence the punter plug. But I am also all about controlling the trenches and opening up holes for the backfield. That's why I think the offensive line should be priority No. 1 with the Class of 2006. It is exciting to see speed on the wings and power in the backfield, but without a solid offensive line it is all for naught. If the staff chooses not to recruit Shipley-caliber prospects, I would recommend recruiting as many top defensive line prospects as possible and converting a portion of them into offensive linemen. After all, PSU's recent defensive line recruiting has been more successful than its offensive line recruiting, so at the very least it would be getting some athletic, nasty players protecting the pocket.

BRENNAN: This really is too easy. Now you are making my arguments for me. I was all set to point out that three possible starters on this year's offensive line (Levi Brown, Charles Rush and Shipley) began their respective PSU careers as defensive linemen. But I guess I don't have to. (As an aside here, as I recall, it wasn't so long ago that one FOS staffer proclaimed Shipley would be better off staying on defense. Now the staffer in question has made A.Q. the poster boy for the entire offensive line.) State can use some help at defensive tackle, too, with Shipley's move and Ed Johnson's uncertain status. This is not as pressing a need as DE (or, ahem, punter), but as you so accurately suggest, any short-term surplus of talent at defensive tackle could be used to reinforce the offensive front down the road.

HARRINGTON'S FINAL WORD: Well, if the offensive line performed as expected it would not need to pluck defensive prospects from the opposite end of the trench. But as you so astutely pointed out, this has been a regular occurrence, which actually proves my original point that PSU must focus on recruiting quality for the offensive line. It has had a plethora of defensive line talent, so much so that the recruiting pipeline for defensive line prospects has been feeding both lines. The Lions need to button up offensive line recruiting so they don't have to depend on the defensive line. As for my comment on Shipley, he was a standout on both sides of the ball coming out of Moon Area High. As I said in the spring, "I think he is capable of playing on either side, but he has the edge on defense because his heart is in it more. He got the look on the offensive side last season and ‘dogged' the drills ‘intentionally.' I just think he hands down wants to play defense." He was dogging it, but has since embraced his role at center, which makes all the difference. You get a handful of Shipleys on the O-line and PSU could be talking about a BCS bid again.

BRENNAN'S FINAL WORD: We've talked about this before: Penn State's problem is not in recruiting top offensive linemen, but in developing them. With zero first-team All-Big Ten picks this century, the program's most pressing overall need (aside from player recruitment) is someone on the staff who can turn that around. Until it happens, I'm not sure all of the blue-chip offensive linemen in the world will make a difference. With that in mind, I'll take my chances on a few standout defensive linemen this year.

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