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Nittany Lions bolster both trenches with finalized 2018 class

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Nana Asiedu with James Franklin before the Blue-White Game last year. - AUDREY SNYDER / DKPS

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- He's probably at least two years away from the scenario playing out, but James Franklin already has at least a mental image of what the future of his offensive line could look like.

"I think you take Nana (Asiedu) at one tackle," Franklin said Wednesday as the Lions finalized their 2018 class by adding four-star offensive tackle Rasheed Walker, marking the Lions' highest-ranked class since at least 2000 when the recruiting rankings system began. "You take Rasheed at the other tackle, you put Juice (Scruggs) at center and then you have a situation with (Bryce) Effner being a swing guy that could play either guard, possibly center or tackle. ... I think we've put a hell of a class together."

It was a drama-free signing day for Franklin and staff, one that was alleviated by 22 signings during the Nittany Lions' first go around with the new December signing period. Walker, who picked Penn State over Ohio State and Virginia Tech on Wednesday afternoon, helped round out a class that's highlighted by two tackles who are among the best at their positions in the recruiting cycle.

While the Lions didn't add a second safety or a fourth wide receiver -- two areas where Franklin said he wished they would've added more depth but also conceded that they only expected one signature on Wednesday-- they close the books on a 2018 class that helps beef up the trenches on both sides of the ball. Those additions should continue building on a strong foundation that Franklin started since bringing in all top-25 classes in the four years since his arrival.

This class, which added four-star defensive end Jayson Oweh back in December though he didn't make his signing public until January, could yield some difference makers up front in the years to come. While there aren't any guarantees with recruiting rankings, snagging a key piece of the defense in January enrollee Micah Parsons, who will get a crack at middle linebacker this spring, coupled with the rest of the d-line haul and four offensive linemen has to leave Penn State satisfied with this top-5 group.

"You watch his tape, you know, he's got tremendous athleticism and length," Franklin said of Walker, who they listed as 6-6, 295 pounds. "But the thing that's amazing, you watch his tape and not only is he good in space, which a lot of times you can find offensive tackles that are good pass protectors, but they are not very physical in the run game, and you watch that guy, and he is physical. He plays with a nasty streak."

That nasty streak is important, especially after Franklin openly criticized last year's offensive line for lacking it most of the season. It's also the same word he used last season to describe offensive lineman CJ Thorpe, who took a redshirt last year as a true freshman. It's a trait that will be drilled into this line all offseason, notably in the newly started winter workouts where Penn State has one 5 a.m. team workout already under their belts this offseason. The Lions' second winter workout was canceled Wednesday as the entire university was shut down for a snow day.

"Parsons is what we thought," Franklin said. "He's strong, he's explosive, he's fast, but again, all these guys are being very supportive of one another. They are asking a lot of questions. They have humbled themselves and the morning workouts typically do that, and I know the older guys have been impressed with them."

The nastiness along the defensive line, especially along the interior, likely won't come right away from this class. Typically defensive tackles and offensive linemen are among the last to see the field in their recruiting classes since the bulking up and increased strength required to play those positions can't happen over night. Still, Parsons will likely see the field one way or the other next season, much like freshman defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos did this past year.

"We have some challenges up front," Franklin said of the defensive line. "We lost three defensive tackles, senior defensive tackles, so that's an area that's a concern for us. I feel really good about D-end, but D-tackle is an area that we're going to have to develop. And I think we tried to attack that in recruiting, but that's a position typically that those guys are not able to play early."

Penn State signed defensive linemen Aeneas Hawkins, PJ Mustipher, Judge Culpepper and Oweh, while Franklin acknowledged that early enrollee linebackerĀ Nick Tarburton "creates flexibility with linebacker or defensive line, which is how he was recruited."

"I think that we really helped ourselves up front on the defensive line," Franklin said.

As with any recruiting class only time will tell. However, if this one is any indication that future offensive line combination that Franklin was dreaming up in his head Wednesday afternoon could very well be one that paves that way to some bright days ahead for Penn State. If nothing else, they just might give that defensive line a run for their money, which would certainly be a welcomed sight on the Lasch practice field.

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