Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

More change coming on PSU staff

More change coming on PSU staff

Penn State special teams coordinator Phil Galiano speaks to the media during a press conference last August. (Phoebe Sheehan/Centre Daily Times via Associated Press)

Here’s an interesting start to your Friday, if you’re a Penn State fan.

The university posted a help wanted ad for a special teams coordinator today (H/T to my intrepid colleague Mark Woegenrich of the Allentown Morning Call for noticing).

Only thing is, the current special teams coordinator, the embattled Phil Galiano, hasn’t been publicly let go.

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Juwan Johnson heading west

Maybe the worst-kept secret in college football became official today.

It appears former Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson is going to play his final season this fall at Oregon.

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Johnson announced in January he had entered the transfer portal and planned to play his graduate transfer season away from Penn State. Johnson had 25 catches for 352 yards and a touchdown last season, as he battled some injury and inconsistency issues.

Recruiting staffer Sanders heads to Oregon

Recruiting staffer Sanders heads to Oregon

You can probably argue that this one is the biggest loss Penn State has suffered in the year of the transfer portal.

Kenny Sanders, who has worked in the Nittany Lions’ recruiting department since 2014, announced that he is heading to the University of Oregon to become director of recruiting for the Ducks.

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REPORT: One more name in the portal for Penn State

REPORT: One more name in the portal for Penn State

Looks like there could be at least one more player looking for a new opportunity away from the Penn State football program.

Lions247 is reporting that receiver Cameron Sullivan-Brown is entering the transfer portal.

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Thorpe evidently back to offense

Every day during winter workouts, Penn State’s assistant coaches take time to tweet messages of congratulations to members of the team for strong performances, hard work, dedication, or anything else, really, they choose to point out.

It isn’t always particularly newsworthy, but today, offensive line coach Matt Limegrover offered some information that does affect the roster: C.J. Thorpe is apparently back on the offensive line.

The Big Dog BROUGHT IT yesterday at our 2nd winter workout! Great job Grinding and COMPETING @Truk_Savage #OLPride #Today pic.twitter.com/fHxF7tmsqC

— OLineCoach Limegrover(@CoachLimegrover) February 7, 2019

Penn State rather surprisingly moved Thorpe, a backup guard who was seeing some playing time, to defensive tackle. There was a need there at the time after Ellison Jordan went down with an injury, and Thorpe filled it. But head coach James Franklin said at the time that some coaches weren’t exactly excited to let Thorpe make the move, and he left the door open for a return to offense.

It made total sense it happened sooner rather than later.

Penn State loses starting guard Connor McGovern, the Lake-Lehman grad who declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, and the need for offensive line depth likely now exceeds the need on the defensive line. We’ll go over this more next week, when I start breaking down the spring roster position by position here on the blog. But by my count, I have 19 scholarship players on the defensive line — 12 of which have been in the program before. And there are, again by my count, 12 scholarship players on offense now with Thorpe being added. But just nine have been in the program.

So, clearly, Penn State needed a boost of experience on the offensive side, and Thorpe makes a lot of sense to provide it.

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: T.J. Jones

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: T.J. Jones

Graphic courtesy of Penn State Athletics

Times Shamrock newspapers’ Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins is breaking down every member of Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class who has signed their letter of intent. This is a look at receiver T.J. Jones, who is ranked as the No. 48 receiver prospect in the nation by ESPN.

Height: 6-1

Weight: 175

School: Columbia HS (Fla.)

Projected position: Wide receiver

Ranking: Four stars by ESPN; Three stars by Rivals.com and 247sports

Other offers: Arkansas, Boston College, Cincinnati, Duke, East Carolina, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Illinois, Indiana, Louisville, Marshall, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Michigan State, Minnesota, Ole Miss, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, South Carolina, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee, Temple, Texas A&M, Troy, UCF, Utah, Virginia, Wake Forest.

Enrolling: Summer semester

Strengths: Jones plays like a bigger receiver than he is. He has good height at 6-foot-1, but he runs after the catch like a 200-pounder. … Very physical with the ball in his hands. Not afraid to lower his shoulder and get the extra yard or 2. Not a lot of video out there of him choosing to run out of bounds rather than seek out the contact. … Not afraid over the middle. … Good, strong hands that enable him to take an initial hit, protect the call and still make a push to get physical. … Jones has a style that is reminiscent of the way a good tight end would play. But, every once in a while, he shows quick enough feet to be able to get around a defender in a tight space.

The questions: Jones was a really good prospect as a junior who was expected to take a big jump as a senior. And, he just didn’t. … He doesn’t always show an extra burst of speed in the open field, and while he shows flashes of quickness in the box, they’re just flashes. … He’ll need to improve as a route runner at the next level, as he doesn’t show every route consistently on film. … He had a ton of big offers, but many of those programs lost interest over time. The big question with Jones is where his potential can get him, and at the end of the day, can he get to another level?

Projection: Jones is interesting, because he shows you a little bit of everything. But mostly, he looks like a possession receiver. If Penn State can get him to that next level, it might have a real steal on its hands. If not, there’s no reason Jones can’t give Penn State the same kind of presence that Juwan Johnson conceivably could have: A toughness over the middle, and a chain mover. One thing is for sure, the competition isn’t going to scare Jones, and with as physics as he is, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him carve out a role by 2021.

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: Joseph Darkwa

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: Joseph Darkwa

Graphic courtesy of Penn State Athletics

Times Shamrock newspapers’ Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins is breaking down every member of Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class who has signed their letter of intent. This is a look at defensive tackle Joseph Darkwa, who is ranked as the No. 67 defensive tackle prospect in the nation by ESPN.

Height: 6-5
Weight: 260
School: Dusseldorf (Germany) Panthers
Projected position: Defensive tackle

Ranking: Three stars by Rivals.com, 247sports.com and ESPN
Other offers: Cincinnati, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Rutgers, UCLA

Enrolling: Summer semester

Strengths: Darkwa is the true definition of the word prospect. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, he has the build you want to play anywhere along the defensive line. … He has long arms and looks leaner than his 260 pounds, which means he can put on some good weight and build himself into a more prototypical defensive lineman. … On film, he can dominate a game. He beats double teams frequently. He can stuff the run and get after quarterbacks, and on special teams, he is a force up the middle on punt coverage and field goal block teams.

The questions: He looks like a man amongst boys on film because, in most every way, he is one. He plays in Germany, where the competition isn’t anywhere near as good as it is in the states, and that makes it very difficult to determine if Darkwa has skills or if he just has more athleticism than anybody around him. … The jump in competition for him is going to be an immense hill to climb.

Projection: Darkwa is a total wild card. He can come in and be a dominant player, or he’ll never get on the field. It’s difficult to predict which way he’ll go, because it all depends on how he adjusts to that jump up in competition. But he’s got a terrific frame for the position Penn State is going to want him to play, and the program can probably get by with building him into the type of player he needs to be for a few years without needing him to actually get on the field and contribute. If he can, it will be a major plus for the Nittany Lions defense, but he’s a purely developmental prospect at this point.

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: Smith Vilbert

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: Smith Vilbert

Graphic courtesy of Penn State Athletics

Times Shamrock newspapers’ Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins is breaking down every member of Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class who has signed their letter of intent. This is a look at defensive end Smith Vilbert, who is ranked as the No. 15 overall prospect in New Jersey according to 247sports.com.

Height: 6-6
Weight: 250
School: St. Joseph’s Regional (N.J.)
Projected position: Defensive end

Ranking: Three stars by Rivals.com, 247sports.com and ESPN
Other offers: Baylor, Boston College, Central Florida, Florida, Florida State, Kent State, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Tulane, Virginia, Virginia Tech.

Enrolling: Summer semester

Strengths: You can’t teach 6-foot-6, 250 pounds with long limbs, and Vilbert has that. In every way, Vilbert looks the part of a big-time defensive end, and that alone makes him a high ceiling prospect for a team that has done a good job developing rush ends. … Length is his biggest attribute as an end, and he uses it to his advantage. … Vilbert has proven himself to be one of the best pass rushers in the Garden State, and he has played with his hand in the dirt and as a stand-up rusher, so he has pretty good experience with both. … He is a basketball star too, and that speaks both to his athleticism. But, he is also a competitive kid. He stays with plays and does a good job rallying to make a play after he appears out of contention to make a stop. … Diagnoses plays well, too, and shows good instincts.

The questions: Vilbert looks like a good athlete, but on film, he doesn’t always look like a natural football player. … He doesn’t appear to play with great leverage, relying mostly on his speed and athletic ability to get around blockers. … He doesn’t have the number of pass rush moves you’d expect from a big-time prospect at defensive end. He needs to use his hands better. … He’s not a dominant run stuffer yet, either. … While he’s 250 pounds, he’s going to need to add plenty of strength and weight.

Projection: There are going to be scouts who look at Vilbert and love his potential. There are others who will watch his video and see that he’s a down-the-road type of contributor and move on to someone who can help more immediately. There are players in this class for Penn State who look like they can get on the field this year — even if it’s only for the four games you can play and keep your redshirt. Vilbert probably won’t play in four games. But he’s a really good project who, once he focuses on football, has the type of athleticism where you’d think he can become a regular contributor. His ceiling is pretty high. The flip side is, the floor for Vilbert might be lower than some of the bigger prospects in the class.

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: Daequan Hardy

Class of 2019 Scouting Report: Daequan Hardy

Graphic courtesy of Penn State Athletics

Times Shamrock newspapers’ Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins is breaking down every member of Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class who has signed their letter of intent. This is a look at cornerback Daequan Hardy, who is ranked as the No. 26 overall prospect in Pennsylvania by ESPN.

Height: 5-10

Weight: 160

School: Penn Hills HS

Projected position: Cornerback

Ranking: Three stars by 247sports.com and ESPN. Two stars by Rivals.com

Other offers: Akron, Army, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kent State, Michigan, Michigan State, Navy, Nebraska, Toledo.

Enrolling: Summer semester

Strengths: Hardy has been one of the better playmakers on both sides of the ball in the WPIAL, and that’s saying something. … He has run a 4.5 40-yard dash, which speaks to his speed. But what separates him is his elite change-of-direction skills, in combination with his ability to accelerate to top speed quickly. … As a receiver, he can locate the ball in the air, adjust and make a play on a poorly thrown pass, a skill that translates to the defensive side of the ball. … He plays absolutely without fear. He’ll bring a big hit, and he gets in the mix against the run, too. … Looks like he can play on an island or in the zone equally as well because of his instincts. … There’s potential with Hardy to be an effective kickoff and punt return man.

The questions: If Hardy was merely an undersized prospect, he’d have twice the scholarship offers he wound up getting. But he’s small, at 160 pounds. And that might be a generous listing. He looks slight. … He’ll need to add between 20-30 pounds to be the kind of player who can push for a starting job on a Big Ten defense. … With that size, he’d also need to become much more aggressive at the line with bigger receivers at the college level. He can get by with his speed and ball skills in high school, but he’ll need to be a more complete defender in big-time college ball.

Projection: Hardy is absolutely a boom or bust type of add to the 2019 class, and the fact he received a scholarship offer as late as he did last weekend speaks to that. But he’s a good gamble. He has speed. He is tough. He plays hard. He’s a winner who comes from a winning program. And, he has a chance to compete for playing time in all three phases of the game. Certainly, Penn State will look to start him out on defense and hope he can add the size to that speed and tenacity to help him become a pretty good all-around cornerback down the road. But he’ll certainly redshirt in 2019 and would do very well coming in at 160 pounds to compete for time as the slot corner in a few seasons.

Lackawanna adds third member to PSU class

About a week after he received an offer to join the Penn State football program, Lackawanna College punter Bradley King accepted it.

Via his Twitter account on Monday, King announced he accepted the chance to join the Nittany Lions this fall as a preferred walk-on.

He’s an interesting case, for sure. A guy who averaged about 33 yards per punt during his career with the Falcons but who also has a strong leg and manages consistently good hang time. Once he gets into a program where he can get some consistent looks and attention from a coach devoted to special teams, he’s expected to be a guy who can take a big leap. Blake Gillikin returns for his senior season in the fall, but the Penn State punting job will be wide open in 2020, and King being in the program a year ahead of that gives him a fighting chance.