Penn State Football: Re-Evaluating O'Brien's Recruiting Priorities
To say that a lot has been going on up in State College recently is quite the understatement.
After the NCAA levied their "unprecedented" sanctions upon Penn State, not only were current players faced with the decision of jumping ship, but recruits were also faced with the same predicament/opportunity.
However, it seems as though the short wave of players who decided to leave is over with, even though the exodus consisted of almost half of the team's offense from 2011.
With these changes in personnel and team privileges over the next four years, Bill O'Brien has been tasked with the job of keeping his own team together while maintaining the trust and loyalty from his 2013 recruiting class.
Considering the players who left to greener pastures (i.e. Silas Redd) and student athletes who will be graduating from Penn State this upcoming spring, let's take a look at how Bill O'Brien should go about the rest of recruiting period for 2013.
No. 5: Set Up a Foundation at Safety
Even though the corners are looking rather inexperienced heading into 2012 with the exception of Stephon Morris, the Nittany Lions safety duo are looking better than ever—battle-tested and athletic enough to make a continuous impact on defense.
While former safety and rising sophomore Adrian Amos was necessarily switched to cornerback due to depth issues, redshirt juniors Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis are ready to perform consistently and will be locking down the safety spots for the next two years.
But who comes along after them?
While O’Brien has some young safeties to work with, he should be out on the recruiting trail searching for a safety or two with high ceilings.
Should he reel in one or two in the 2013 class, it would set up a prosperous mentoring system in the secondary.
Obeng-Agyapong and Willis will be seniors in 2013 and might be able to help ease an incoming safety recruit into an eventual starting role down the line.
While snagging a safety isn’t a need for O’Brien in terms of depth next season, it would be logical move to prevent any drop-off during a potential transition period.
No. 4: Find a Workable Punter
While national pundits want to highlight Silas Redd and Justin Brown as the major departures following the NCAA sanctions, one of the most important offensive and defensive players on the team last year was kicker/punter Anthony Fera.
While no one could really blame the Texan for his transfer to the Longhorns, it really does a number on Penn State’s chances of winning close games in 2012 and the future.
Even though Bill O’Brien mentioned in a teleconference that sophomore Sam Ficken has made noticeable strides in the field-goal department, the punter position still seems to be in limbo with Alex Butterworth and Matt Marcincin failing to separate themselves.
With this, the special teams could suffer in 2012 and O’Brien might want to consider going after a high-profile punter.
Premier punters aren’t always easy to come by, but with due diligence and a keen eye, don’t sleep on O’Brien and Co. reeling in a talented booter.
While this isn’t something that is going take a lot of focus and energy for the recruiting team, it’s something that needs to be addressed if the current punters don’t get the job done.
No. 3: Ensure Depth at Running Back
Probably the most obvious need for Bill O’Brien in the future is a running back.
Luckily they held on to true freshman Akeel Lynch, keeping their depth at the position manageable for the upcoming year.
Even though Bill O’Brien has hyped up Bill Belton’s abilities, he’s still an unproven runner, with his Wildcat performance last year against Ohio State being his only real experience.
Even though I do expect Belton to pan out for the Lions, it’s still a toss-up to see who will come in and give him some rest.
With underrated back Derek Day leaving next year due to graduation and Curtis Dukes' history of academic uncertainty, O’Brien needs to find a solid running back or two in recruiting.
After courting in-state tailback David Williams for some time and failing to reel him in, O’Brien may have to look outside the state and scrounge for some talent.
Maybe he’ll be able to use his Southern roots to pry a couple of backs from talent-rich Florida or Georgia.
No. 2: Have Insurance in Case Hackenberg Flips
One thing that Bill O’Brien needs to remember is to have insurance in case highly-touted verbal commit Christian Hackenberg decides to flip.
Nothing has indicated that he would change his mind considering his love for the university and the opportunity to be a part of something special with this recruiting class.
However, O’Brien would be smart to make sure all precautions are taken care of and that includes looking at other quarterbacks.
With Rob Bolden bolting to LSU and starter Matt McGloin and backup Shane McGregor graduating after 2012, O’Brien could be looking at quarterback depth issues in 2013.
Looking at the Lions' depth chart, they’ll have three quarterbacks on the current roster expected to return in 2013: highly-touted Paul Jones, late 2012 recruiting grab Steven Bench and career backup Garrett Venuto.
However, Venuto will be graduating this year despite his junior eligibility, so it wouldn’t be crazy to think that he might graduate and move on from football.
Considering this situation, O’Brien should be looking to walk away with two quarterbacks in the 2013.
Let’s hope that Hackenberg is still one of those two by time National Signing Day comes around.
No. 1: Make Sure Breneman, Hackenberg and Co. Don’t Go Anywhere
While filling all these depth needs are important, the biggest priority for O’Brien after these sanctions is to keep the gung-ho recruits together.
The nucleus of the nation’s best tight end recruit (via ESPN Recruiting Nation), Adam Breneman, and Elite 11 quarterback Christian Hackenberg, are keys to the Lions' future and have excited this enormous fanbase even though they haven't even graduated high school yet.
This group—including 4-star lineman Brendan Mahon (via Rivals.com) and Garrett Sickels (via Rivals.com)—have been outspoken leaders for the 2013 recruiting class, whether it be promoting #RestoreTheRoar on Twitter or contacting potential recruits about coming to Penn State.
These guys have a lot of promise on and off the field and all Bill O’Brien has to do is continue what he’s been preaching to them for the past couple of months.
It may be crazy to think that so much of a program’s future success rests on the shoulders of a group of high school kids, but that is just the case.
Just keep having these guys on campus and around the football team and you’ll be fine Bill O’Brien.