Tyler Donohue/Land of 10
Micah Parsons will begin his Penn State career at linebacker.

Penn State recruiting mailbag: Micah Parsons prepared to compete at LB; latest on Lions targets

Tyler Donohue

Have Penn State football recruiting questions? We have answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Penn State recruiting mailbag to discuss Nittany Lions recruiting. This week, we discuss 2018 signees who may make an immediate impact and remaining targets beyond the early signing period.

Penn State recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have plenty to address here. Let’s get started.

Dave mentions three key remaining uncommitted recruits who’ve spent significant time on Penn State’s target board during the course of this 2018 cycle: offensive tackle Rasheed Walker and defensive ends Jayson Oweh and Tyreke Smith.

Each of these linemen are considered top-110 overall prospects, and their widespread recruitments are approaching conclusion. Though they declined to take advantage of college football’s new early signing period, decisions are imminent as National Signing Day (Feb. 7) looms.

The commitment timelines of Oweh and Smith were laid out months ago. Both blue-chip defensive ends intend to announce Jan. 4 at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, Fla. I’ve long held the sentiment that Penn State would sign three of the defensive targets who clearly became priorities as the 2017 season progressed: Oweh, Smith and prized in-state athlete Micah Parsons.

Parsons, who de-committed from the Nittany Lions in April and spent the following eight months exploring other options, ultimately returned to the class Dec. 20. Locked in during the early signing period, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Harrisburg High School standout will begin his Penn State career at middle linebacker upon early enrollment, according to James Franklin.

We’ll dig into this development a little later in the mailbag, but it’s worth noting that announcement shed new light on Penn State’s remaining strategy on the 2018 recruiting trail, as Franklin emphatically identified defensive end as a lingering need for the Nittany Lions. Naturally, this casts a large spotlight on Smith and Oweh, especially with the majority of work completed for Penn State after 21 players signed.

We projected Parsons to end up in Happy Valley for the past few months, while juggling the outcome for Oweh and Smith. Admittedly, it’s been a back-and-forth outlook, but that’s precisely the kind of feedback I’ve received from people close to the situation for both players.

Near the end of the regular season, I leaned more toward Smith, a 6-3, 260-pound Cleveland product, joining the class. Now, approximately a week before both announce, it’s become clear Oweh is the better bet.

This 6-5, 235-pound New Jersey prospect has visited Penn State more than any other school and seems to fit in the 2018 “family,” whose members have pursued him with regularity. Oweh, who recorded 13 sacks in less than five full games this fall at Blair Academy, is my pick to become the next promising defender to join Brent Pry’s attack.

The choice is down to Ohio State and Penn State for Oweh. It’s long seemed the same for Smith, though he continues to list Alabama, Oregon and USC as fellow finalists.

As Dave alludes to in his question, Walker may be heading down a similar path. Franklin and Nittany Lions offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis both shared their desire to add another tackle. Penn State presently carries three signees along the offensive front: Nana Asiedu, Bryce Effner and Fredrick Scruggs.

The addition of Walker would provide Penn State with a pair of top-10 tackle prospects, creating that tandem with Asiedu. However, despite a strong recruitment and multiple successful visits with the North Point (Waldorf, Md.) High School senior, the Nittany Lions can expect a serious battle for his signature.

Walker, a 6-6, 300-pound U.S. Army All-American, still shows interest in Maryland and Virginia Tech, but again it’s Ohio State that likely presents Penn State’s largest obstacle.

The Buckeyes were spurned by elite in-state lineman Jackson Carman on Dec. 20, representing a rare miss for Urban Meyer on home turf. The nation’s top-ranked tackle chose Clemson, leaving Ohio State searching for prospects with increased urgency. I’m still searching for clarity while attempting to read Walker’s recruitment process.

I’ve projected him to sign with Penn State since last offseason and tend to think that remains the case, but the margin of conviction here is slight. As Dave said, going toe-to-toe consistently on the recruiting trail vs. Ohio State, and picking up key wins against a respected closer like Meyer, is a positive sign for Penn State.

Let’s switch focus from speculation to a newly-known Nittany Lions commodity…

There is no doubt Franklin surprised some when he declared Parsons as a candidate to replace Jason Cabinda at middle linebacker. This is certainly tied to his label as a defensive end in most recruiting-industry rankings, along with the fact that he did some of his best work in high school while firing out of a three-point stance.

Versatility has always been the most fascinating aspect of Parsons, who is a finalist for U.S. Army All-American Player of the Year.

He dominated on defense throughout his prep career, reaching double-digit totals in tackles for loss every season and securing sacks in bunches. Parsons again provided evidence of his offensive prowess in 2017, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Past conversations with Parsons didn’t end with the linebacker-or-defensive-end debate. They consistently extended into his ambition to contribute on offense in college, and he previously mentioned Penn State as a program at least open to that possibility.

I’ve always considered Parsons an edge rusher, which is a role that’s really blossomed at every level of football. Defenders with a unique blend of strength, size and agility who can blow by linemen and overpower lead blockers. At his finest, Parsons fits into this category, and I firmly believe a skill set of this caliber can lead him to first-round NFL intrigue.

Here is what I wrote about Parsons during a September assessment after attending his senior-season opener:

Parsons can overpower offensive tackles at the high school level, but it’s his lateral quickness that will always frustrate offensive coordinators. He gains separation by violently knocking an opponent’s chest, cutting toward space with a sharp side-step and fires toward the football with straight-line speed you simply don’t see from most defensive end prospects.

He doesn’t take his foot off the gas pedal, despite abundant accolades, scholarship offers, and the fact that he’s still competing against 15- and 16-year-old kids. Some top-tier prospects become complacent toward the end of high school and they eye an upcoming collegiate career. There has been more recruiting noise surrounding Parsons than any defensive player in the 2018 class, yet his focus was more clear than ever this season.

So is Parsons a defensive end in college? A linebacker? An X-factor weapon on offense? Perhaps he can be all of the above. Simply put, Parsons possesses the physical tools and on-field drive to put himself in position to earn NFL paychecks.

Beyond his physical arsenal, Pry is optimistic Parsons can handle the mental demands of middle linebacker.

“He’s very knowledgable. He understands the game,” Pry said, according to Andrew Callahan of 247Sports. “His skill set would say that he could do it.”

Considering the impending departure of Cabinda and Brandon Smith, coupled with the recent dismissal of Manny Bowen, Penn State’s linebacker corps will be closely monitored in 2018. Several players will contend for reps this offseason, so Parsons’ impending early enrollment and participation in spring camp is crucial.

This head start on development for the 5-star recruit, on and off the field, could serve as a springboard toward immediate playing opportunities. Already cemented as a Pennsylvania high school legend, Parsons now aims to emerge among the historic “Linebacker U” legacy.

Have a question about Penn State recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10PSU and we’ll try to answer it in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Penn State recruiting mailbags here.