2014 recruiting won’t be affected much

The NCAA’s announcement on Tuesday that it was reducing many of the scholarship reductions against the Penn State football program was an immediate boost to the Nittany Lions and their fans.

Just don’t expect for it to have an immediate impact on the Lions’ 2014 recruiting class.

Recruiting analysts like BlueWhite Illustrated’s Ryan Snyder and Lions247’s Sean Fitz think that the addition of five scholarships to 2014 pool and 10 to the overall team probably came a little too late in the game to help Penn State land any extra blue-chippers by signing day in February beyond those already strongly considering coming to University Park.

Barring something that breaches its probation, Penn State will return to its full complement of 25 annual scholarships in 2015, while increasing to 80 and then a full 85 on the roster by 2016.

“It will impact the 2014s, but not as much as you would think,” said Sean Fitz of the Lions247 website. “We’re four or five months from signing day, and while that seems like it’s a long time, it’s going to take time to get more evaluations done.

“The timing isn’t great [for 2014].”

That’s because a number of high school players with whom Penn State might normally been involved more closely were not, either because the Lion coaches didn’t think they’d have room for them or the prospects didn’t find the program as attractive because they didn’t think there’d be enough talent around them to win. Some of those players already committed elsewhere.

Others just haven’t had the opportunity to form tight relationships with a Lion coaching staff that was forced by what appeared was going to be the recruiting landscape to put its resources elsewhere.

Altering course in the middle of the season with game preparation and trying to get highly regarded recruits who already have been involved with any number of other big time programs to visit the campus at what has become a late date in the recruiting calendar seems unlikely.

“A lot of fans will think with what Penn State has done with the restrictions that Penn State can go out and land four-star guys,” Snyder said. “That’s not going to be the case. They have a couple of guys that they’re in with, and those still will be the top guys.”

Penn State currently has 12 verbal commitments for its 2014 class. Considering a couple of scholarships it had left over from 2013 that were to go to early enrollees like quarterback Michael O’Connor, the Lions were expected to bring in probably 17 recruits total.

In line for the remaining scholarships were players like New York defensive tackle Thomas Holley, New Jersey tight end Mike Gesicki, Indiana linebacker Brandon Lee and Gateway safety Montae Nicholson. The additional scholarships might make it easier for the Lions to offer linebackers like Jason Cabinda of New Jersey and Christian Lezzer of Clearfield – currently committed to Syracuse and Boston College, respectively, but both close to the Lion coaches – or to make a more attractive pitch to someone like Mount Lebanon offensive lineman Alex Bookser or Virginia defensive tackle Ricky Walker.

“The difficult part came with the numbers,” Lion coach Bill O’Brien said of the impact the sanctions were having on recruiting Tusday. “For instance, say that you could only take one ‘such-and-such’ position -say it was an offensive tackle. That was difficult that you were only going to be able to take one kid in the class for that position. That was tough.”

O’Brien didn’t want to tip his hand about what direction he and his staff might go with the extra scholarships it now finds in its holster.

“The needs are pretty well established. I don’t think you’ll see a big difference from where we stand [now],” Fitz said. “They just have more flexibility. I think it’s more position-wise than specific guys. They may be able to squeeze in another linebacker to take care some of that immediate depth that you’re going to have problems with in the 2014, 2015 seasons. There’s still a lot of football to be played. There’ll be guys that come on the radar. There’s a lot of wiggle room. With that roster expanding to 75, you’ll have less position needs and more needs for the best available players and athletes. You’ll take care of positional needs down the road.”

Snyder thought the opportunity to add just a couple of players at a couple of key positions could make a big difference in a way not a lot of people had considered.

“All it really is now is depth,” Snyder said. “When people look at depth right now, they think it only affects you if the players get hurt. But, in practice now, a lot of these [scholarship] guys are going against the walk-on guys, guys they and the staff know aren’t going to play much. By adding the extra scholarships, DaQuan Jones is going to go up against more younger talent, guys more on his talent level. That’s important. I don’t think they are getting the challenge they really need at practice.”

And, while NCAA’s restoration of scholarships might not be seen in any tangible way in the next couple of months, it could turn out to be huge in 2015. Having most of what it thought would comprise its 2014 class already finished, the Penn State staff had moved on and gotten a good jump on this year’s high school junior class. Around 40 already are reputed to have scholarship offers, and the Lions no longer will have to turn away players when they get another commitment at their position; they can take more players and the margin for error if they miss on one becomes less of a hindrance.

“They could go off in 2015,” Snyder said. “They [are in on] some really, really good talent next year. The offensive line is still going to be a target next year, and there are some ridiculously good offensive linemen in the Mid-Atlantic area. More important, we thought they could take three, maybe four. Now they could take four, maybe five.”

Snyder said this staff won’t offer 2014 prospects just to hand out scholarships. Depending on how the staff feels about what it sees the rest of this year, it could conceivably save a few of those scholarships for 2015 prospects who’d enroll early.

“You have the luxury of pocketing some. The 2015 class is where the bulk of your talent is going to come three or four years down the road,” Fitz said. “The 2015 class is shaping up to be pretty strong. Now that you can add 10 more players, it’s almost like doubling your 2015 class. It’s really huge to them.”

“They have to play catch-up in 2014 and still maintain the relationships they’ve created in 2015. They’ve given a lot of attention to 2015 guys, and you can’t just stop giving them that attention,” Snyder said. “So, they’re going to be a lot busier.”