It was not that many years ago that many Penn State fans, including myself, were calling for Joe Paterno to step aside and allow the program to step into the next generation. Of course, through some great recruiting led mainly by two players, Justin King and Derrick Williams, the program turned around, and we fans enjoyed one final period of success. This led to Coach Paterno’s historic 400<sup>th</sup> victory, certainly a proud day for all Nittany Lion fans.
I, for one, would like to know just how key King and Williams were in the recruiting process during those years. It was hinted in many articles, which reported on the progress of recruit commitments, that both were very involved. I wish now that I had kept a notebook where I had tracked each mention that, “Justin King made a phone call to ….” (fill in player’s name), or, “Derrick Williams hosted ….. on his official trip to Happy Valley.” It seemed every top recruit who chose PSU during those years had some connection with either, or both, players.
Unfortunately for Penn State, those two players are no longer available to bring top talent into the fold. With few exceptions, PSU has never been able to attract top talent at the quarterback position. It is certainly debatable whether or not the presence of Pat Devlin would have made a difference on the overall outcome of the 2010 season, but it is certain that Devlin was a recruiting coup at the time. Whatever the true circumstances are surrounding his subsequent transfer to Delaware, the fact is that Devlin proved to be a very good quarterback for the Blue Hens, and may well find himself in a position to make an NFL roster by the end of the summer.
In the end, the 2010 football season proves that Penn State football is no longer a coveted choice for skill position players. Many believe that Justin King chose PSU because his step-father was a Nittany Lion. Most people know that Derrick Williams chose to wear the blue and white because King convinced him that they could lead the team back to the top with their combined skills. Today, we have no one on the roster to inspire others to choose to join them.
Evan Royster certainly enjoyed a nice overall career. He became the career leader in rushing yards, as well as the only PSU back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season three separate times. But he came into 2010 out of shape and looked like a mere shadow of the back we expected for the most of the season. Stephon Greene has always shown promise at the position, but has success only in fits and bursts. He ended the season injured and on the sideline. Silas Redd gave the fans hope for the future, and he may well be a very good runner, but 2010 proved that he has a ways to go yet.
Most fans believe that the current crop of receivers at Penn State is a very nice group, but if you watched the games without your rose-colored glasses on, you saw many, many dropped balls all through the season. There is not one elite receiver on the current roster.
The offensive line certainly improved throughout the season. They also were certainly not close to what we have come to expect as Nittany Lion fans. Stefan Wisneiski was a great lineman for 4 seasons, but he was not allowed to display his entire skill-set because the overall lack of talent along the line forced the staff into a ‘play it safe’ mode throughout his career.
As for the defense, we witnessed a similar lack of talent from front to back. The line was supposed to be a strength, and perhaps they would have been if they were not forced to play it safe. The linebackers had some moments, but overall were a weak version of a once vaunted unit. The secondary is simply below average.
Which brings me to the quarterback position. This should have been Pat Devlin’s year. I am sure that I read comments throughout the season commenting on this missing link. Even Coach Paterno brought Devlin up a few times. Rob Bolden may prove to be a good quarterback by the end of his career, and then he might just be the next Kevin Newsome. Matt McGloin was a nice story … for about two days. Give the kid credit, he used confidence and swagger in practice to earn himself a shot to play major college football. Now be realistic, McGloin is not the answer at the position. The biggest problem with McGloin is that he has a Brett Favre mentality, but lacks the skill to back it up. The throws/plays that he did make during the season were blown out of proportion by many fans and, at times, the media, but they were merely throws/plays that any quarterback on any college roster should be able to make. We fans can only hope that Paul Jones does not lose patience and transfer, as Devlin did. Don’t forget that Jones was the #2 rated quarterback prospect in the country his senior year of high school. Coach Paterno made the decision to red-shirt Jones due to some initial academic struggles. We fans can only hope that Jones is being truthful in reports that he has used this year to mature and get himself together with the books. We also hope that Jones is being completely sincere when he states that he is staying at Penn State.
If yesterday’s game proved more than that the Nittany Lions need a serious upgrade in all facets of the game, it is that the PSU also needs to make some changes in the coaching ranks. Let’s face it, Coach Paterno has earned the right to go out on his own terms, and even if I might complain about some of the coaching decisions that are being made, I will continue to respect everything that JoePa has done for, and brought to, Happy Valley. The thing is, it is time for a major overhaul among the assistant coaching staff. And it is here that Coach Paterno hurts the team most. His blind loyalty is admirable, to a point, but it is clear to most that the game has passed Galen Hall by. Jay Paterno and Mike McQueary probably belong coaching at a lower level, if at all, and Tom Bradley has grown all he can as a coordinator. Bradley needs to become a head coach or retire, because he will never improve in his present position. But what great, or even just good, assistant coach is going to come in to replace any of these men when the future is so cloudy? Coach Paterno could be forced to retire due to age-related concerns at any moment, and there would be no safety net for someone with only a short time with the program if that happens.
As fans, our biggest hope for next season remains that Jones wins the quarterback job, Redd gets bigger and stronger while maintaining his quickness, somebody works with the receivers and all those freshmen on the defensive side of the ball get out there and prove that all the hype from their high school careers comes through. This may allow for success despite the current condition of the coaching staff.