Bill OBrien, Penn States new football coach, is withholding judgment on his teams recruiting class. But no one else is.
Nineteen players committed to the Nittany Lions on National Signing Day Wednesday, comprising a class that was ranked 47th in the nation by Scout.com, 50th by Rivals.com and unranked by ESPN.com. This comes in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno on Nov. 9, OBriens hiring nearly two months later and Paternos death Jan. 22.
Some recruits who made verbal commitments to PSU, notably cornerback Armani Reeves, linebacker Camren Williams and defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, opted out. So too did St. Joes Prep quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, son of Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Others who were strongly considering the Lions, like defensive end Noah Spence, turned their attention elsewhere.
Reeves, Williams, Spence and Schutt wound up at Big Ten rival Ohio State. Mornhinweg is headed to Florida.
Penn State was on the way to having a Top-10 recruiting class before the scandal, said Tom Lemming, national recruiting expert for CBS Sports Network.
What theyre trying to do now, Lemming added, is keep their head above water.
Given the circumstances, they did a great job, said Brian Dohn, recruiting analyst for Scout.com. But the circumstances were near-impossible, to be honest.
Lemming compared the Lions haul to that of lower-echelon Big Ten schools.
Its not what Penn State is used to, he said.
But OBrien doesnt put a lot of stock in the rankings.
My thing is, you never judge a recruiting class until two years into it, he said via conference call Wednesday from Indianapolis, where in his guise as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator he is helping the Pats prepare for the Super Bowl.
O'Brien said that if you were to scan the Patriots' roster, You would find plenty of guys who were ranked pretty high coming out of high school, and youd find guys that werent ranked at all.
OBrien, introduced as the new head coach Jan. 7, said he and his staff which includes two holdovers in defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, two of its best recruiters did the best it could to retain the players who had verbally committed. Interim head coach Tom Bradley had done the same.
But in many ways the Lions were fighting an uphill battle.
When CNN and 60 Minutes are setting up on your campus, it usually doesnt mean good publicity, Dohn said. It usually doesnt bode well for you.
And Dohn noted that bad news is pounded into kids by recruiters from other schools.
Theyre allowed to e-mail links and everything, he said. Penn State had no way to combat it. A huge thing was the negative recruiting that took place.
OBrien insisted that the coaching transition went really well, in no small part because of the assistance offered by Larry Johnson. He also said that he and his staff were trying to find players who were the right fit for Penn State good students, good citizens and good football players.
He expanded on that later, saying that they were looking for smart, tough, instinctive players, and guys who were going to come in and do the right thing, on and off the field.
It is widely believed that the players most likely to make an immediate impact are Eugene Lewis, a wide receiver from Plymouth, Pa., and Akeel Lynch, a running back from Attica, N.Y.
Lewis, said Dohn, is a phenomenal talent.
He doesnt play in a very good area or a very good league (in Northeastern Pennsylvania), Dohn added, but his athleticism is off the charts. Hes so smooth. Hes a 'wow' kid.
Lemming was similarly impressed, saying Lewis has great hands, speed and production.
He can stretch the defense, but he can also make the hard catch look easy, he said.
And OBrien said Lewis is a really sharp guy, and a guy who loves football.
Hes going to do great off the field, the coach said. Hes got a good skill set for what were going to try to do.
Lynch, who reminds Lemming of former Michigan star Mike Hart, fills a need for depth behind holdover tailback Silas Redd.
Its very difficult to say you have enough running backs, OBrien said, with the pounding the position takes. We wanted to make sure we went out and secured a running back.
As for Skyler Mornhinweg, he only recently de-committed.
Its a loss, Lemming said, but not a big loss.
He was a kid they identified for the offense they were going to run, Dohn said. Bill OBrien wanted something different for his quarterback.
And late in the process the Lions swooped in and grabbed another QB, Steven Bench of Camilla, Ga., who was originally bound for Rice. OBrien said he likes Benchs accuracy and decision-making.
The darkhorses in this class, it is believed, are tight end Jesse James, a 6-7, 248-pound tight end who enrolled at Penn State earlier this month; Wendy Laurent, a defensive tackle from Princeton, N.J.; and Malik Golden, a two-way athlete from Cheshire, Conn.
Another interesting name is that of Jonathan Warner, a wide receiver from Camas, Wash. His dad, Curt, was one of the greatest running backs in Penn State history.
But in general, Dohn said, Penn State fans have to look at it from the aspect of it may not be the greatest class this year. But one class doesnt kill a program.
E-mail Gordie Jones at email@example.com.