As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, Penn State added Class of 2012 commitments from two relatively unknown defensive tackle prospects over the weekend, when Virginia’s Derek Dowrey and New Jersey’s Austin Johnson committed on the spot to Larry Johnson-extended offers. They became the ninth and tenth commitments for the Nittany Lions, but they also immediately became lightning rods among the fans. Neither prospect is ranked by any major scouting outlet, and their commitments came at an odd time to some fans.
First, let’s meet the new members of the Nittany Lion family. And it can’t be stressed enough that these kids, even if their offering and commitments came at an odd time, are now members of our close family and should be treated as such. Fans, bloggers, and commenters alike are entitled to their opinions of the staff, the strategies they employ, or the perceived lack of effort by certain members. But it is unfair to bash a 17- or 18-year old simply because he chose his college (and chose wisely might I add).
Derek Dowrey is a 6’3″, 275-pound lineman from Winchester, VA. He is listed as a defensive tackle by Lions247, but has the skillset to play on both sides of the ball. He held offers from both of the major schools in West Virginia (WVU and Marshall) along with some smaller schools. As stated, he is not ranked by any of the major outlets. It should be noted that while Dowrey might be new to fans, he has been attending PSU camps for some time, so he is definitely familiar with the staff, and apparently visa versa.
Austin Johnson is a 6’4″, 277-pound defensive tackle from Richland, NJ. It’s difficult to predict where linemen will end up in three years, but Johnson will likely stay on the defensive line. He held offers from some other BCS schools, namely Rutgers, Syracuse, and Boston College. Like Dowrey, he is not ranked by any of the outlets, as of yet at least.
We welcome the new Class of 2012 commits, but cannot help but be skeptical of their timing. Reserving judgment on their play until more can be seen (as of now, there is limited film on either player), these players seemed to be recruits on whom the staff could have waited while higher ranked players made their decisions. Now we can argue the merits or lack thereof of the star systems until we’re blue in the face, but I’m not sure anyone, fan or staff, had either of these players above defensive tackles like Tommy Schutt, Sheldon Day, or Ryan Watson.
Sure, those players just named might never set foot on campus as a member of the Lions. But at the moment we definitively find that out, my guess is that Dowrey and Johnson would still have been available for offer. These recruits seem to be the kind of player the staff would target in January, not June, to fill any holes remaining.
Adam Collyer, new writer at Black Shoe Diaries, wrote a good article outlining why these kids weren’t so-called “Plan B” recruits. While I’ve agreed with Adam in the past and find him to be both rational and knowledgeable and a great asset to BSD, I must disagree with him here.
Adam’s point, and the one that most people take when Penn State gains a commitment from a relative unknown, centers around the trust put into the staff to make the right decision, regardless of which page of the calendar is showing.
The coaches saw kids who could play, thought they fit the system, and moved them up on their board after spending several days observing them.
This might be true, but you cannot overlook the fact that these kids, by and large, are the type of kids that Adam discusses in the paragraph just above this quote.
Had these offers been given in January after Penn State had missed on several prospects, it would be logical to argue that we were filling out the class by taking fliers on virtual unknowns. We’ve done that before and we’ll probably do it again. So goes the recruiting business.
These two players seem to be exactly the type of players that Penn State could have waited on while attempting to fill their roster with the higher ranked players on their board.
Trust in the staff is essential; without it, you’re simply going to become an exceedingly frustrated fan. But sometimes the staff makes some decisions that makes everyone pause and react in various ways. Adam’s right, the internet almost literally broke on Saturday night when these commitments were announced. A mental state of shock and a physical state of being in Cleveland prevented immediate updates, but reading the blog updates and Twitter reactions of those both in the know and casual fans could have made your head explode.
The truth of the matter is that Penn State got two new commitments on Saturday, two spots that can’t be taken up by other players that may have been higher on the actual recruiting board. Whether that turns out to be a good choice is likely a matter of years. The data we have now, both objective and subjective, are all the fans can go by in formulating their opinions.
Some, like Adam, will place trust in the staff that the right decision has been made despite the low-caliber offer sheets and lack of stars. Others, like myself, feel that the timing is questionable, and that other players may have been better fits for those spots. Each side has a valid argument, but it’s the offseason, so we argue.
Pro-staff proponents will say that Larry Johnson has a proven track record of producing quality talent, and they’re right. But what they don’t realize is that Larry Johnson has a proven track record of producing talent that came in highly rated. From 2006 to current (the furthest back that data would allow me to go), Larry Johnson has produced five NFL draft picks, and has nine current players that are poised for big seasons. I was liberal with the current players, any of whom could end up being busts. Nine of those 14 players were four-star (per Scout.com), and only one, Tim Shaw who was included simply because of his pseudo-DE role, was two-stars. So while it may be true that Johnson is a great molder of talent, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that he is creating these star players out of thin air. The defensive line prospects of late are highly ranked when they get to Penn State, an advantage for any coach.
Finally, and what may have irked some fans even more, is that Penn State, already riding some momentum into the weekend, made a rather high-profile miss on PA OL Chris Muller. It has been reported that Penn State was pressuring Muller to commit, saying that there were only two OL spots left and his “guaranteed” spot would only be held open for so long. Muller, not one to be pushed around figuratively OR literally, backed off, and eventually committed to Rutgers last weekend (which is a head-scratcher in its own right). Add in the fact that TN OL Blake “Brother of Brad” Bars committed to Michigan, and Penn State lost two of its top three OL recruits in a matter of days, while adding two lesser known defensive line commitments. Throw in the stories surrounding the number of staff members actually recruiting, and its no wonder that recruiting message boards meltdown with relative ease when stuff like this happens.
We trust the staff in June of a recruiting year while later criticizing the staff for their play-calling and decision making in November. Fans are quick to jump to the defense of an unknown commitment now but also can’t stand a six-loss season. I know those causes and effects aren’t exactly comparable, but the point is that sometimes trust in the staff can be unwarranted. And that is when doubt rears its ugly head and people start heading for the ledges.
I’ll sit back and continue to watch this class grow. It is still a great class, and if we can close on the top targets we’re after, it’ll be a phenomenal class. But one can’t help but wonder who those other two spots could have been in January…