James Franklin can recruit.
There seems little question about that.
Franklin already has 11 verbal commitments for Penn State's 2015 recruiting class, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation by Rivals.com, behind only Texas A&M. Seven of those 11 commitments are rated four-star blue-chippers on a five-star scale. And National Letter of Intent Day is still more than 10 months away.
Unfortunately, those recruits can't come on board until next spring, at the earliest. Until then, Franklin has a major problem along the offensive line.
A thin unit got positively anorexic over the weekend when word leaked out of Happy Valley that guard Miles Dieffenbach wrecked his knee and would likely miss the 2014 season. Dieffenbach was expected to anchor the Nittany Lions' offensive line next season, along with left tackle Donovan Smith. They're both two-year starters.
Now Smith, if he can stay healthy, will be surrounded by a very green group up front. That's not exactly a recipe for success in the physical Big Ten.
Franklin won't directly talk about team injuries, but he did confirm on Saturday that depth is a major issue for PSU, which is still shorthanded because of NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.
"At offense we have some holes in the starting lineup, we really do," Franklin told the Centre Daily Times. "We have to be creative and find ways to solve issues. ... Right now there's not a whole lot that we can do to solve issues. We have moved people around."
Before spring practice started, the Lions moved former defensive linemen Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia to guard. Both have sophomore eligibility, but no college experience on the offensive line. As a result, Franklin will likely have to rely on freshmen to fill holes — something that he's not thrilled about.
"I typically would prefer not to do that but I've already been direct messaging these guys and telling them they need to come in with the mentality that they're going to play," Franklin told the CDT. "Typically there are certain positions like offensive line that you would like to redshirt and really, you're where you're at as a program when really good offensive linemen and defensive linemen are playing by their sophomore year. We're going to have to play all these guys as true freshmen and just grow with them."
True freshman Chasz Wright is an early enrollee, and the 6-foot, 7-inch, 320-pounder definitely has the size to play in the Big Ten, but strength and experience could be problems. Three other offensive tackles — Chance Sorrell, Brendan Brosnan and Noah Beh — will join Wright in summer training camp.
Redshirt freshman Andrew Nelson, from nearby Hershey High School, was expected to step in and compete for the right tackle spot, opposite Smith, but he was not seen at practice on Saturday and his health status is uncertain.
On the interior, only junior Angelo Mangiro has seen much playing time over the last two seasons. He played in all 24 games in 2012 and 2013 and is expected to replace starting center Ty Howle. Sophomore Wendy Laurent and former defensive tackle Anthony Alosi saw some limited action a year ago and freshmen Evan Galimberti, Brendan Mahon, Tom Devenney and Andrew Terlingo all redshirted last season.
The Lions' offensive line woes are likely causing some sleepless nights for PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg. If Franklin can't find a way to patch together a serviceable offensive line this fall, the standout sophomore QB may find himself running for his life. And eluding the pass rush isn't exactly a strong suit for Hackenberg.
And if Hackenberg would get hurt well it's probably best not to think about that for Nittany Nation.
Fortunately for Franklin, he has some time to find some answers. He has a few more spring practices until the Blue-White Game on Saturday, April 12, plus all of summer camp. The way it looks, he'll need all that time to find some answers on the offensive front. Luckily for Franklin, he has a veteran offensive line coach in Herb Hand to help him out. Hand has more than two decades of college coaching experience.
Yes, we all know that Franklin can recruit. He's already proven that.
Next fall, we'll learn how well he and Hand can coach up an offensive line that appears to have some serious holes.
Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.