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Strength in trenches, 3 other thoughts ahead of Penn State’s signing day

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – James Franklin hasn't shied away from making his intentions known with the remaining needs in Penn State's 2018 recruiting class. Those needs haven't changed much in the past two months either.

When ESPN recruiting director Tom Luginbill asked Franklin ahead of the Fiesta Bowl where his team needed to make the most strides moving forward Luginbill said the Nittany Lions' head coach didn't hesitate. Come Wednesday when the Lions put the finishing touches on their 2018 class we'll see if they'll add even more depth in the trenches.

"He very quickly said, 'We still gotta get better in the offensive front and we gotta get better in the defensive front,' " Luginbill said Monday on a conference call. "Look at where some of the top players are in this class: Jayson Oweh, Micah Parsons, then the defensive tackle in PJ Mustipher. You go on the offensive line and you got Fredrick Scruggs at guard and then you got an offensive tackle. They added more into the tight end range because they know they have losses at that position. I'm really impressed with how they filled their needs and the caliber of player that they're adding to the trenches I think is going to make them a team that is a formidable contender for a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff contender on a consistent sustained basis going forward."

The defensive linemen are expected to be among the highlights of this 2018 class and while Penn State will give Parsons a crack to earn the middle linebacker job during spring ball there's still no guarantee he ends up at linebacker as opposed to defensive end and the distinction there won't matter all that much. Penn State knows what Parsons with a little more weight and seasoning can do at defensive end and he gives them the flexibility to try him out elsewhere.

It's a good problem to have while Mustipher, who was on campus this past weekend and took in a wrestling match at Rec Hall during his visit, should provide depth at one of the team's positions that lacks the most depth headed into next season. Add Oweh, the defensive end who signed back in December although he didn't make his announcement public until January, and the Lions will continue stocking up at another spot that could use more depth.

Penn State has made the offensive line a point of emphasis in every class so far and while most offensive linemen take a few years until they're ready to see the field, the Lions should make gains there next season as well since they've had highly-touted prospects waiting in the wings much like Michal Menet who did so the past two seasons.

2. WILL ASSISTANT CHANGES IMPACT FUTURE EARLY SIGNEES?

Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis left for Alabama and Charles Huff joined Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State. The Lions countered by bringing in Ja'Juan Seider and David Corley, who both will meet with the media for the first time on Wednesday.

While shuffling assistant coaches doesn't impact recruits nearly as much as the staff overhaul that comes with head coaching changes, could these assistant coaching changes that come after the December signing period like Penn State's be a cause for concern headed into the second go around with the early signing period?

"What's going to be interesting is I don't think that's going to have any type of negative impact on the short term for Penn State or any other program for that matter as it relates to this coming Wednesday," Luginbill said. "But, I'm going to be interested to track and see if that makes players -- even if they were verbally committed during the early signing period -- to say, 'You know what? I might hold off and see and make sure that the coaches I've become affiliated with are going to be there come mid to late January.' Now, the player would be running a risk if he did that, but I do think that's something that you're going to see a lot of players now contemplating that there's a fear you're going to see a lot of assistant coach movement after the early signing period or after the dead period, which ended Jan. 11."

Head coaches selfishly aren't going to show their hand if they can avoid it and therefore they will hope that they can retain an assistant coach long enough to get a prospect signed in December. After that passes and the letter makes the commitment binding there's no clause that a player can opt out of his commitment just because his position coach or his primary recruiter takes a job elsewhere.

This, much like coaching staffs who complained about trying to dealing with the early signing period that conflicted with bowl prep -- especially for those who were in the earlier bowl games -- will have to get ironed out. If it was as simple as just waiting to sign then surely most prospects would be doing it. However, the pressure from coaching staffs for prospects to sign early in December and therefore not risk missing out on their spot doesn't making waiting a feasible option for everyone.

3. DO COACHES LIKE THE EARLY SIGNING PERIOD?

I suppose it depends who you ask and when you ask them.

Franklin was in favor of the early signing period since it became a proposed rule, but his reasoning was that it was good for certain players. For those who know they're going to one school and one school only the early signing period alleviates an extra six weeks of phone calls, visits and stress for both parties. However, he recognized from the start that there would be challenges along the way and this system still is far from perfect.

However, what coaches like about the early signing period mostly came down to what they were able to accomplish last month.

"Once it was over with and all of a sudden the hay is in the barn, you look at the month of January and all of a sudden you're putting your resources and your expenditures and manpower toward the 2019 class, toward the 2020 class," Luginbill said. "You're mapping out the road to spring recruiting schedule and you're getting it done maybe six week earlier than you normally would because you're not out trying to hold the whole class together of 20, 22, 26 (players) or whatever the number is. Now, you've streamlined your board, your player pool shrunk to a puddle and you might have six or seven guys on your board and you need to sign three. That's a big luxury and it's not afforded to everybody."

Luginbill estimated that there are about 20-25 teams in Penn State's position this week. These are the teams that only have a few spots left to fill and therefore spent January getting a jump start on their future classes. That's what Penn State liked about this process from the get-go, but what Franklin hasn't been so optimistic about are the looming official visits for the 2019 class that will disrupt the workflow and very limited work-life balance that he and his staff strive to find.

With the recruiting calendar bumped up, meaning for the first time starting with prospects in the 2019 class they are eligible to take official visits from April to June of their junior year as opposed to the old rule that didn't allow them to take visits until September of their senior year, that will give the coaches less time to try and lead a life outside of their seemingly non-stop jobs. That's the one drawback that Franklin mentioned multiple times as did Gattis, the former offensive recruiting coordinator, who said as much in this Q&A before his departure.

"I think the coaches like it, maybe more so than they want to admit," Luginbill said of the early signing period. "I think we'll see over the course of the next several cycles as we continue to go through this and what tweaks need to be made, but it has certainly enhanced their ability to broaden their recruiting scope outside of the 2018 class during the month of January."

4. WHO SIGNED ALREADY?

The Lions already have 22 players in the class, meaning they will likely take two or three more signees on Wednesday to complete the class. Who could those signees be? Keep an eye on Solomon Enis, Rasheed Walker and verbal pledge Shaquon Anderson-Butts.

Franklin will meet with the media at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the 2018 class.

Who already signed their binding National Letter of Intent?

Nana Asiedu
OL | Stafford, Va. | North Stafford High School | 6-5, 275

Judge Culpepper
DT | Tampa, Fla. | H.B. Plant High School | 6-4, 275

Jahan Dotson
WR | Nazareth, Pa. | Nazareth High School | 5-11, 170

Bryce Effner
OL | Aurora, Ill. | Metea Valley High School | 6-5, 280

Pat Freiermuth
TE/H | Merrimac, Mass. | Brooks School | 6-5, 250

Daniel George
WR | Fort Washington, Md. | Oxon Hill High School | 6-2, 210

Trent Gordon (Early Enrollee)
CB | Spring, Texas | Manvel High School | 6-0, 180

Aeneas Hawkins
DT | Cincinnati, Ohio | Moeller High School | 6-2, 280

Isaiah Humphries (Early Enrollee)
S | Rowlett, Texas | Sachse High School | 5-11, 190

Charlie Katshir
LB | Camp Hill, Pa. | Cumberland Valley High School | 6-3, 215

Zack Kuntz (Early Enrollee)
TE/H | Camp Hill, Pa. | Camp Hill High School | 6-7, 235

Will Levis
QB | Madison, Conn. | Xavier High School | 6-3, 220

Jesse Luketa (Early Enrollee)
LB | Ottawa, Ontario | Mercyhurst Prep School (Pa.) | 6-2, 240

Jordan Miner
CB | Wesley Chapel, Fla. | Wiregrass Ranch High School | 6-0, 180

PJ Mustipher
DT | Owings Mills, Md. | McDonogh High School | 6-4, 300

Jayson Oweh
DE | Blairstown, N.J. | Blair Academy | 6-5, 236

Micah Parsons (Early Enrollee)
ATH | Harrisburg, Pa. | Harrisburg High School | 6-3, 245

Jake Pinegar
K | Ankeny, Iowa | Ankeny Centennial High School | 6-2, 195

Frederick “Juice” Scruggs
OL | Erie, Pa. | Cathedral Prep School | 6-3, 270

Justin Shorter
WR | Monmouth Junction, N.J. | South Brunswick High School | 6-4, 220

Ricky Slade
RB | Woodbridge, Va. | C.D. Hylton High School | 5-9, 185

Nick Tarburton (Early Enrollee)
LB | Green Lane, Pa. | Pennridge High School | 6-3, 250

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