Penn State football: Nittany Lions fill depth needs with latest recruiting class

tjohnson@centredaily.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Early enrollees wave to the crowd during The Signature Event with Penn State football coach James Franklin at the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday, January 5, 2014.

CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE — CDT photo Buy Photo

For a program that has been limited for two years in terms of the number of prospects it can re-stock its program with, Penn State is coming off a year-long period where it satisfied many of its depth needs at a few positions for years to come.

Penn State brought in six defensive backs — half of them safeties — four wide receivers and four offensive tackles. All three position groups were must-recruits for Franklin.

Franklin was adamant in keeping Beh and Wright on board after they committed to O’Brien’s staff and brought along former Vanderbilt recruits Chance Sorrell and Brendan Brosnan after learning Penn State had just two scholarship tackles — Donovan Smith and Andrew Nelson — on its roster.

O’Brien also mentioned offensive tackle as a need and moved former tight end Garry Gilliam to that spot last offseason. But Gilliam decided to give up his final year of eligibility to try his hand at he NFL.

Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions suffered big turnover at the offensive skill positions, too.

The Nittany Lions lost record-setting receiver Allen Robinson who decided to give up his last year of eligibility and enter May’s NFL Draft. Penn State lost its most experienced wide receiver in Brandon Felder, too. Meanwhile, Penn State’s returning receivers all factored sparingly into game plans last season.

Sophomore Geno Lewis returns as the squad’s leader with 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Matt Zanellato and Richy Anderson combined for just 17 catches for 164 yards last season. Alex Kenney, an afterthought in O’Brien’s offense, caught just three passes for 25 yards and transferred to Massachusetts.

Penn State’s recent take of Saeed Blacknall (6-2, 210), Troy Apke (6-2, 195), Chris Godwin (6-2, 205) and De’Andre Thompkins (6-0, 175), will add blends of size and speed to a Penn State receiving corps that will also be looking for freshman DaeSean Hamilton to factor into the rotation after missing all of last season with an injury, receivers coach Josh Gattis said. Gattis also expects all of Penn State’s wide receivers to get looks on special teams as gunners and returners.

Gattis said his recruiting pitch was made easier by the player who will be throwing the ball when practices start.

“He’s been a great ambassador as far as in recruiting,” Gattis said of reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg. “Whenever you go in to a wide receiver’s home and are able to sell them on one of the top quarterbacks in the country, it just sparks their eyes really. They know it’s not just play calling. It takes a quarterback to be able to get them the ball.”

While Apke, Godwin and Blacknall will join the team this summer, Thompkins has already gotten a head start by enrolling early. Gattis said.

“He comes into my office each and every day asking for playbook material, asking for routes,” Gattis said. “Really, really excited about him. He’s shifty. He’s elusive. He’s going to be able to be a guy that’s going to be able to help us out next year and compete for playing time.”

There will be lots of playing time to go around after the 2014 season for Penn State’s young and incoming defensive backs, especially at the safety position as Adrian Amos — who has also played a lot of cornerback — Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle will all be without eligibility following next season.

Penn State brought in Farmer (6-1, 205), Christian Campbell (6-1, 195) and Marcus Allen (6-2, 200) in addition to three cornerbacks in Grant Haley (5-10, 185), Amani Oruwariye (6-1, 185) and Daquan Worley (5-10, 180) to solidify depth in the defensive backfield.

Defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith said he’s looking forward to spring ball where players will have to earn their spots. Penn State started six different players in the secondary last season and played a total of 10 players in defensive looks.

“It’s hard to pinpoint any one guy (to play immediately) because you just don’t know how they’ll respond once they get here,” Smith said. “We anticipate more than a handful of these guys will contribute in some way. We just don’t know which handful it is.”

Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.

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