TYM: Class of 2009 Impact

Brennan and Harrington talk about the players to watch from Penn State's latest recruiting haul.

Welcome to the latest installment of Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Brennan and Mark Harrington tackle timely topics related to Penn State football. In this edition, they address Penn State's Class of 2009.

Which Class of 2009 member will make the most immediate impact on the program?

BRENNAN: Safety Gerald Hodges has several things going for him in this department: 1). He's big and athletic. 2). He is coming in at position where the Nittany Lions are short on returning scholarship depth. 3). He enrolled in January. 4). While preparing for the Rose Bowl -- not to mention while playing in the game -- Penn State saw the kind of impact a big, athletic safety can have on a defense.

People close to the program have been a little premature in throwing around direct comparisons between Hodges and USC's Taylor Mays, at least for my taste. Mays is a proven commodity. Hodges has yet to log a snap. But, from everything we've heard, I think it is fair to say Hodges has a CHANCE to be a big safety who can excel in run support or coverage.

HARRINGTON: Nice pick with Hodges. The early reports indicate he has the makings of a one-man wrecking crew. I am going to go with perhaps a less flashy player, but an important one in Anthony Fera. The super-legged kicker from Texas could step in and make an early impact.

With the departure of Kevin Kelly, the Big Ten's all-time kick scoring leader, Fera may not be the immediate go-to guy on field goals, given that he has some work to do with the control of his kicks. However, with a powerful leg he should at the very least handle kickoffs, giving PSU a weapon in the battle for field position.

Which Class of 2009 member was the most critical get for the staff?

BRENNAN: This one's a no-brainer. With Pat Devlin transferring out of the program, Penn State was left with once scholarship quarterback for 2009 -- starter Daryll Clark. So landing a QB with the physical ability to contribute immediately was vital. Kevin Newsome, who committed in December, certainly fits that bill. Like Hodges, he has great size and is extremely athletic. He is used to being away from home, too, as he played his senior season at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia. Further, Newsome enrolled in January, too, so he'll have the luxury of having gone through winter conditioning and spring practice before most of the rest of his class arrives.

In a perfect world for the Lions, Clark would stay healthy and take all of the critical snaps in 2009, with Newsome serving an apprenticeship as the backup. So in that sense, there is a chance the most important get in this class may not make a significant impact on the field. But it is good to know he is there just in case.

HARRINGTON: In my view, Newsome was absolutely the critical get in this class. However, I am going to answer this from a different angle. The critical player for the staff to get to build the Class of 2009 successfully was Eric Shrive.

The Scout five-star lineman was reportedly all but a done deal for Notre Dame. Few gave Penn State even an outside shot to get the Scranton standout. In the end, however, he opted for the Lions among 40 offers, including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, UCLA and Georgia.

That helped give the class legitimacy and led to a flurry of eight pledges over the next two months, including prospects like Curtis Dukes, Adam Gress, Sean Stanley and Brandon Felder.

Which Class of 2009 member has the most long-range potential?

BRENNAN: I know, I know … you've had your heart crushed too many times by over-hyped offensive linemen who haven't panned out at Penn State. I mean, how many Joel Hollers and Antonio Logan-Els must a fan endure before finally losing faith?

Well, if my suspicions are correct, that trend is about to end thanks to the towering Shrive, rated by Scout.com as the second-best offensive tackle in the nation. I don't know if he's going to be an impact player in 2009. But, if he can stay healthy, I believe he'll begin to emerge as a star in a year or two.

Shrive is huge at a legit 6-foot-7 but -- unlike Holler and Logan-El -- is well put together at about 300 pounds. That's an incredible base from which to build. From this angle, it is always better to see an offensive lineman build himself up to 320 pounds rather than to try shed fat to get down to that weight.

He is aggressive, athletic for his size and intelligent. And here is what I really like: Shrive was rated as Scout's No. 3 offensive tackle before attending the Army All-American game. After a week of working out with and playing against the nation's best, he was elevated to No. 2.

HARRINGTON: With the backlog of linebacker talent at Penn State, I may be nuts for saying this, but I think we'll be hearing a lot from Glenn Carson down the line. Cut from the mold of Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, the 6-2, 220-pounder is coming in at a similar freshman size to those two standouts. And like them, he is noted for his athleticism and aggressiveness.

Which Class of 2009 member to you view as a sleeper?

BRENNAN: I would have said running back Curtis Dukes, who was a virtual unknown before Penn State started recruiting him. But once Scout got a hold of his film, he was elevated to four-star status, which precludes him from being called a sleeper.

So I'll go with 6-7, 260-pound Garry Gilliam. We project him as a tight end, but he could easily wind up at defensive end or -- with a few more pounds -- offensive tackle. Gilliam is a well-round athlete who also stars on his high school basketball team. I'm not sure exactly where he is going to fit in at Penn State. But I'm guessing he'll make an impact wherever he lands.

HARRINGTON: I am going with Adam Gress. With a 6-7 frame, Gress currently check in at 295 pounds. I can see him adding another 30 or so pounds over the next few years and, if done properly, he should be able to maintain his mobility.

He dominated the summer camp circuit and could still be growing. Consider that just a few short years ago he was a 250-pound tight. Gress is penciled in as an offensive tackle and he and Shrive could end up being a pair of big-time bookends for the Lions.

Is there one area where Penn State came up short with the Class of 2009?

BRENNAN: Obviously landing another quarterback would have been nice. But that is mitigated to an extent by the fact that the Lions already have a commitment from a top passer for the Class of 2010 (Paul Jones) and that by all accounts 2008 walk-on Matt McGloin has played well on the foreign team. Also, Curtis Drake, a member of the Class of 2009 who projects as a wideout or defensive back, was a high school quarterback who could be called upon to help out at the position in a pinch.

Penn State met its most pressing needs at wideout and in the secondary, and stockpiled even more offensive linemen. The Lions lost linebacker Jelani Jenkins late in the game, but to me he would have been a luxury. PSU did not have pressing needs at defensive line, tight end or running back, either. So all in all, I think the staff did what it had to do.

HARRINGTON: I actually would like to have seen one more burner at defensive end who could have possibly impacted the rotation this coming year. Perhaps a tall order, but with the departures of Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans and the uncertainty around Jerome Hayes as he returns from a second ACL injury, PSU needs to get the type of guys who can kick on the jets and pressure the pocket with their speed.

And that is not to take anything away from Sean Stanley and Gilliam. I just think the defensive end situation has been dealt a major blow recently and the staff could have addressed this with one more speed rusher.


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