Ask the Staff: Fight On Statements

Welcome to our regular feature of Fight On Statements, where premium members ask questions on the Total Access Board — questions ranging from Penn State players and prospects to the coaches and conference, and everything in between — and the staff answers.

1. SafeHaven Asks: At one point I had thought that linebacker/safety prospect Bani Gbadyu would be our next verbal based on what seemed to be some very good inside info from a well-connected poster over on the Audibles Board. But lately it seems that any number of ACC schools (Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, etc.), plus schools like UNL and OU are getting mentioned much more frequently. Any ideas on where PSU stands with him at this point?

Bob Lichtenfels Answers: Gbadyu is from Liberia, the recruiting process is all a very new and exciting thing to him. Coach Mencarini and Gbadyu's father are helping him sort through everything right now. I know Mencarini is a big PSU fan and he feels it would be a great fit for Bani.

2. Bigslu Asks: How good are our chances with Philip Taylor? Any idea who leads for him? It seems like this guy is a monster.

Bob Lichtenfels Answers: Who wouldn't be thrilled to land Taylor and Odrick? Phillip told me at our Akron combine that he is going to camp at Penn State. He is still nursing a sore groin, but I'm sure he'll be up to Penn State in the next few weeks.

3. montyburns130 Asks: What's the reason for the sensitivity on Penn State's recruitment of Devlin? I keep reading posts from Bob saying that he won't comment on what happened with Pat and Penn State, and that he won't compare Devlin/Frazer to Henne/Morelli. Why is this situation any different than others?

Bob Lichtenfels Answers: What purpose would it serve to compare Devlin to Morelli? Especially on a Penn State site, obviously if you say Devlin is better then Morelli you'll be lynched.

Ok, let me put on my protective equipment and I'll answer this. Morelli has an NFL arm, but personally I think Henne and Devlin are better overall quarterbacks. As far as me mentioning what happened between Devlin and Penn State, it is not going to happen. I'd alienate myself from Devlin (whom I have to cover for the rest of the year), the Penn State coaching staff and Downingtown East in general.

4. petek Asks: It seems to me that our running back strategy is a bit vague. Even with more emphasis on speedy receivers, in my opinion, a blue-chip running back this year is really important. We seem to have two guys on our most wanted list, Tate and McCoy - what are our odds on getting one of the two and what is our backup plan?

Bob Lichtenfels Answers: McCoy and Tate seem highly interested in Penn State. There is always a "plan B," which will come out as soon as it seems like the top targets are looking elsewhere. Other options may be Aaris Reed and Pha`Terrell Washington from Westlake, Md.

5. SafeHaven Asks: A fill-in the blank question: As of this moment, PSU's chances of signing WR Vidal Hazelton are X percent.

Bob Lichtenfels Answers: 10 percent. Right now it appears as though it's between Virginia and Miami.

6. ernie05: Could we have an update on PSU's involvement with receiver/running back Brent Carter from (Pottsgrove SHS) in Pottstown, Pa.?

Bob Lichtenfels Answers: I have been trying for two weeks to reach Carter. You'll know as soon as I do.

7. BleedsBlueandWhite Asks: Has there been a solid reason that PSU has never hired a qualified QB coach? Also, do you feel that we are moving to the four-WR set this fall because Joe and the staff feel that the O-line cannot protect the QB for a long enough period of time?

Mark Harrington Answers: As for your first question, if you look throughout the history of PSU's program under Paterno's tenure the offense has been built upon the running game. The quarterback was a position that was traditionally viewed as one where Penn State could excel as long as the QB did a "decent" job (translation: don't make any major mistakes). This is a major factor in why PSU has not focused its efforts on the quarterback position, but I am not sure you can say they have not hired a "qualified" coach there. This is also a big reason why Penn State boasts nine (Pittman, Mitchell, Cappelletti, Warner, Dozier, Thomas, Carter, Enis and Johnson) All-American tailbacks under Paterno, compared to only three All-American quarterbacks (Hufnagel, Fusina and Collins). Having said that, times are changing and Paterno is realizing it.

The game has shifted from one where power wins to one where speed dominates. Fortunately, Paterno and his staff have realized this and infused some horsepower into the lineup. Although the questions surrounding the offensive line make the four-wide set attractive, it is also the clear approach to leveraging the speed to program now has. Ironically though, the spread's success relies on the ability of a solid quarterback to deliver the ball.

Mark Brennan Answers: The Nittany Lions have indeed had their trouble with QBs the last few years, but to say they've never hired a "qualified" coach at the position is unfair. Dick Anderson, for example, handled the job from 1993-99, molding Kerry Collins, among others. Collins, you may recall, was the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft and is still in the league. Anyone care to guess how many Big Ten quarterbacks have gone in the first round since Collins? Like so many of the other coaching moves that occurred after the 1999 season, switching Anderson from quarterbacks to offensive linemen was a disaster, even with his strong background with linemen. Neither area — QB nor OL — has had much success since.

8. Cletus 11 Asks: Can you guys give a brief description of what goes on in the summer off-season workouts? Are there structured practices and drills; how much, if any are the coaches involved or are they solely run by upperclassmen; film study sessions, etc.

Mark Harrington Answers: The off-season consists primarily of conditioning sessions with some drills regularly run. Each unit works out together two to three times during workout days. During one session they will focus on upper body, another will focus on lower body and another will focus on flexibility. Currenty, as Tamba Hali recently told FOS, there are about 64 players on campus this summer working out in preparation for the pre-season. That number will increase during the second summer semester, which begins late this month.

The players also run drills as a unit. The players who are unit leaders typically run and oversee these drills, since NCAA rules do not allow the coaches to participate during this period. The drills run will focus on fundamentals and techniques of the squad. For instance, the offensive line will run drills to practice the various pulls and shifts along with the unit's communication. There are sessions where the offensive line will practice with the backfield unit and/or the quarterbacks and wide receivers to practice working together.

Also, the units will periodically run 7-on-7 drills, matching the offense and defense together to give everyone some competitive workouts. There are also regular film sessions where each unit sits down to review and analyze various situations. These sessions also are used to point out weaknesses with the unit for them to bring back to the drills to practice and improve.

9. PennStateFan33 Asks: What is behind the scenes when it comes to recruiting? How big is the staff supporting recruiting? What goes into a handwritten letter? Are they handwritten notes or actual letters? Given that letter-writing is a lost art in our society, I'm trying to picture how a coach (who also has to coach!) stays organized writing letters daily to multiple recruits. Who keeps the case open on an individual recruit and ensures that contact is constant, yet not redundant?

Mark Harrington Answers: The job of recruiting coordinator for any major college football program is among the most challenging in sports. First, this individual has to know the needs of the program in terms of personnel, inside and out. Aside from this he must understand the type of player the program needs to fulfill each role (remember, every position may need at least one player). Then he has to identify all the prospects out there who may fit these needs.

The role also includes gathering and evaluating film on every prospect, investigating the stats and opinions of recruits from coaches and observers, and then ranking the prospects to fit the program's needs. All of this before you even head on the road to recruit. The role takes incredible organization, dedication and discipline and an upbeat personality to boot. Mike McQueary has stepped into this role well because he has these traits, but he is also an evangelist for some aggressive risk-taking when it comes to recruiting. He wants Penn State to go after the best of the best to fulfill its needs, both inside and outside the Pennsylvania borders.

Each coach plays a role in recruiting. First, most of the coaches have regions they are responsible for. They are assigned the named targets in their region and are tasked with scouting them and developing a relationship with the players. This relationship is based on mailings (printed materials, typed and hand written letters), phone calls, emails and visits. Hand-written letters are a staple of Penn State and a favorite of Joe Paterno.

The overall coaching duties during the summer do see a decrease in activity, which is quickly monopolized by recruiting responsibilities. Each coach pursues his assigned prospects and the recruiting coordinator is the one who manages the overall process.

Mark Brennan Answers: I would add that while working their particular regions, the individual coaches are responsible for identifying the top recruits in that area. Tom Bradley, for instance, has a vast network of sources and coaches in western Pennsylvania who alert him to the best prospects. He also goes out of his way to visit as many schools as possible every year — even those that may not have a blue-chipper in a particular year — knowing that the next LaVar Arrington or Paul Posluszny may be a ninth or even eighth-grader at the school.

In the meantime, for an unprecedented look into Penn State's recruiting, check out our Q&A series with McQueary from February.

10. Bleedblu Asks: Name the top two All-America or All-Big Ten candidates on both offense and defense.

Mark Harrington Answers: Mark Brennan and I recently went through our next All-American exercise a few weeks ago here . On offense I would say Levi Brown could make All-Big Ten and Derrick Williams could make a run at Big Ten Freshman of the Year. On defense I would go with Alan Zemaitis as a likely All-American candidate along with Paul Posluszny.

Mark Brennan Answers: I agree with Zemaitis and Posluszny on defense. Over on offense, I have trouble seeing anyone who will contend for All-America honors. I'll go out on a limb and say Michael Robinson will make a run — or pass — at All-Conference recognition.

11. jonpsu Asks: What is Derrick Williams' real height? Not his "official" height that will be listed by PSU for games.

Mark Harrington Answers: Williams is listed as 6-foot by Penn State. Practice observers say he is more like between 5-10 and 5-11.

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