Difficulties in signing a blue-chip quarterback was the thing that held back Penn State football recruiting classes for some time.
Now that the Nittany Lions have brought in three in two years, the position is still the source of issues.
"I don't know,'' PrepStar senior editor Phil Fritz said, "how they're going to get all of these guys on the field.''
Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Paul Jones is one of two top QBs heading to PSU.
That's the kind of problem that's good to have: Too much of a good thing.
Landing signal-callers Paul Jones of Pittsburgh and Robert Bolden of Michigan to compete with current freshman Kevin Newsome for snaps over the next few years was definitely the highlight of Penn State's 2010 recruiting class. Some are calling it the best quarterback class in the country.
Signing Jones and Bolden wasn't the only good thing the Lions accomplished, though. Penn State got a few more potential difference-makers at the skill positions, secured several players capable of carrying on the "Linebacker U'' tradition and brought in very solid groups on both the offensive and defensive lines.
PSU recruiting class of 2010
Total number of players: 20
Strengths: Quarterback, offensive line, linebacker
The gems: LB Mike Hull, RB Silas Redd, LB Khairi Fortt, QB Paul Jones
The impact players: Hull, Redd, Fortt, WR/CB Alex Kenney
The sleepers: Kenney, CB Shyquawn Pullium, WR Levi Norwood
The ones that got away: DE Dominique Easley (Florida), RB Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina), DT Mike Thornton (Georgia)
Best job of recruiting: Tom Bradley
Most intriguing background: Hull's father and uncle played at Penn State for Joe Paterno. OL Tom Ricketts' father was an All-American at Pitt, while OL Miles Dieffenbach's dad coaches tennis there. Zwinak's father played alongside Bruce Smith on the defensive line at Virginia Tech. DE C.J. Olaniyan first gained attention as a top basketball prospect. OLs Dieffenbach, Luke Graham and Ricketts met each other growing up through AA basketball.
Where the class ranks nationally: Rivals.com - 12. Scout.com - 9. ESPN - 11. Prep Football Report 9. SuperPrep 9. G&W Prep Report 9. PrepStar - Final rank not available, but will be in top 10.
Next Signing Day: Feb. 2, 2011
Although the Lions encountered some late disappointments, missed on a few of the elite targets along the defensive front and did little to address the secondary, what they did early and across the board was good enough to still have this season's 20-member class ranked in the top dozen in the nation and have recruiting analysts singing its praises.
"It's one of the better [classes] Joe Paterno has had in recent years,'' Bill Kurelic of ESPN-powered Nittany Network said.
"The quality was exceptional,'' said Fritz, who had still not completed his final national rankings when interviewed but thought Penn State would wind up seventh or eighth, its best showing from any of the recruiting services. "I think their class is as good as any in the South with the exception of Florida . It's better than Alabama's.''
Most services wound up ranking the Lions ninth, although ESPN had them 11th and Rivals.com put them 12th. However, when the quantity of recruits was taken out of the equation and the ranking is just based on the average rating of each signee, Penn State's class fares better. It jumps to ninth on Rivals' list and surges all the way to fourth - behind only Florida, Southern Cal and Texas - in Scout's rankings.
Had the Lions not lost a pair of highly-regarded players that had already verbally committed and replaced them with lesser-known commodities late, those standings would have been even higher.
"It was kind of bland. They'd get a four-star player here, a four-star there. After awhile, I looked, and they had 12 four-star players, three five-stars,'' said Altoona native Cory James, who works for Scout's Penn State Web site, FightOnState.com.
Penn State was a virtually unanimous recruiting winner when it came to the Big Ten. National signing day was Wednesday.
Heading up the class are five U.S. Army All-American Game participants - Jones, running backs Silas Redd and Zack Zwinak and linebackers Khairi Fortt and Mike Hull - an all-time best for the Lions. In addition, center Miles Dieffenbach, defensive end/linebacker Dakota Royer and defensive tackle Evan Hailes played in the Under-Armour All-American Game.
Fifteen Lion recruits were SuperPrep magazine all-Americans. Twelve of the top 25 prospects in the Northeast signed with Penn State according to G&W Prep Report.
Of course, what has drawn most of the attention is quarterback. Jones is the more highly-rated but only barely - in fact, Rivals has Jones ranked 134th in the class and Bolden 136th. Both bring similar but slightly different skills to the table: Jones is more of a traditional drop-back passer, while Bolden is more agile.
Fans and analysts alike have had a hard time figuring out who will ultimately be the better pickup.
"In the offense as Penn State currently runs it, Bolden fits better. As far as if you were starting from scratch, Jones is better,'' James said.
While James thinks Jones will eventually emerge as the guy, others feel differently.
"I've seen both and I like both, but I've been more impressed with Bolden,'' Kurelic said. "I just like Bolden's accuracy and throwing mechanics a little more.''
The future running game looks like it will be in capable hands with Redd at tailback following Zwinak at fullback. Rated as one of the top two players at his position in the country, Zwinak had a monster senior year of high school in Maryland and is sometimes mentioned in the same sentence with Mike Alstott when his potential is assessed.
Redd, meanwhile, was originally being recruited as a cornerback, but shot up the charts on offense during the summer and followed it up with a terrific season that got him into the U.S. Army game and made him a finalist for that organization's player of the year.
BlueWhite Illustrated publisher Phil Grosz sees similarities in style and build to those of Nittany Lion great Ki-Jana Carter when he came out of high school 20 years ago.
"I was really impressed with him at the U.S. Army game. He was up against elite people, and he looked like he belonged,'' Scout.com national recruiting editor and SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace said. "He's a tough runner who can find the crease and has good speed.''
Up front, Penn State brought in four players - Dieffenbach, fellow western Pennsylvanians Tom Ricketts and Luke Graham and Virginia's Khamrone Kolb. Dieffenbach is the most heralded, having held his own in camps against the likes of Florida recruit Sharrif Floyd and Ohio State signee Jamel Turner, while Ricketts' father, also named Tom, is a former Pitt All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Ricketts projects as a tackle, while Kolb, at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, could wind up there or at guard.
Graham is probably the best athlete of the four and, at the very least, could be a good utility lineman.
The Lions also signed Scout's sixth-ranked tight end in Kevin Haplea and a pair of wide receivers, State College's Alex Kenney and former State College star Levi Norwood, who moved to Texas when his father, one-time Lion assistant coach Brian, took the defensive coordination job at Baylor.
Defensively, Penn State did very well, as it always seems to do, at linebacker. With Fortt and Hull, the Lions have two elite prospects who complement each other. Fortt, who will play outside, is a tremendous athlete with a frame that looks like it was chiseled from marble. Hull is a tough-as-nails, Dan Connor-type throwback in the middle.
"He was excellent in the U.S. Army All-American Game and the most valuable player in the U.S. vs. The World Game. I don't think anybody comes in ready to start, but Hull will have the opportunity to play, at least on special teams,'' Grosz said. "Where I think he excels most as a linebacker is on pass coverage. The way he reads and gets into his drops reminds me of Navorro Bowman.''
Both Royer and late-committing sleeper prospect Brad Bars could figure in as outside linebackers, but it's more likely they'll be Aaron Maybin-style rush ends. They are part of another well-regarded facet of this class, joining DaQuan Jones, Evan Hailes, Kyle Baublitz and C.J. Olaniyan on the defensive front.
Jones and Hailes are rated among the nation's top tackles. Hailes is something like former Lion Anthony "Spice'' Adams. Jones is taller and more of an athlete; some recruiters liked him as an offensive guard.
Olaniyan is a former basketball standout who plays on the end, while many expect Baublitz to start outside and grow into a defensive tackle.
Baublitz, Hailes and Royer are two of seven members of this class that are already taking classes at Penn State. The others are Paul Jones, Haplea, Fortt and Redd
"I think that's important because several are at critical positions,'' Grosz said. "They have a lot of inexperience at quarterback, so they were fortunate to get Jones in. Penn State lost all three starting linebackers, and they got Royer, Fortt and I count [2009 signee who grayshirted because of injury] Glenn Carson to come in and get experience. It's the same at tight end with Kevin Haplea. With the injury to Brandon Beachum, Penn State is not as deep as people think at running back, so Redd was important.''
Defensive line, though, might also have been the area of biggest disappointment for the Lions. They lost Floyd, a U.S. Army All-American tackle who was the state's top prospect from Philadelphia, to Florida. The Gators also got New York's Dominique Easley, a defensive end who was big enough to move inside on passing downs; after committing to Penn State late in the summer, he came on during his senior year and dominated in the Under-Armour game.
Then Mike Thornton, the four-star defensive tackle, signed with home-state Georgia after he was speculated to favor Penn State early.
"Easley was a big loss,'' James said, "because they thought they had him.''
The other position Penn State really didn't address was the secondary. The only recruit the Lions signed there was Erie's Shyquawn Pullium, who could be a steal but also might not be academically qualified and is looking at spending some time at Kiski Prep.
On the heels of the graduations of A.J. Wallace and Knowledge Timmons, standout Darrell Givens' inability to gain admission last year, Drew Astorino's injuries and the recent rumors that D'Anton Lynn might be considering transferring, the Lions could be left awfully thin in the defensive backfield this fall.
Kenney may get a look there, although it seems he was brought in for offense and to help with the return game.
In the end, Penn State's class could have been further bolstered had it reeled in Thornton and South Carolina five-star running back Marcus Lattimore, who instead chose to stay in-state after having the Lions in his top three in mid-January. Baltimore receiver Adrian Coxson committed to Penn State before eventually signing with Florida; however, that seemed like a case where both sides felt his leaving was mutually beneficial.
Even with the slow finish, the experts seemed to agree that it was a successful class for Penn State.
"I think they did as well as to be expected. Losing those guys is not a concern,'' Wallace said.