With about four scholarships left to give this year, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and his staff are treading carefully -- but that doesn't mean they're starting to relax.
Quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher has taken to the road this week, and Tuesday he was in Iowa. On Friday, O'Brien and assistant coach Charles London will be in Fork Union, Va.
They've been working the phones this week, and it appears the staff is now focusing on four positions for those remaining scholarships. Penn State might choose to hold on to two offers after signing day, just in case a player decides to bolt during the offseason, but the staff seems intent to sign players at these four positions.
NittanyNation takes a closer look at just who they're targeting and where:
Top target: Jake Waters (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Iowa Western CC)
The surprise departure of Paul Jones sent the staff scrambling. Jones might have been a third-string quarterback with difficulty reading the playbook, but he was an insurance policy. Without him, Penn State will have just two scholarship quarterbacks next year, Steven Bench and 2013 commit Christian Hackenberg (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union). As a result, the staff was faced with a decision after Jones left: Either nurture a walk-on freshman, lean on scout-team QB Garrett Venuto, or go the junior college route.
The decision seemed to be an easy one. Fisher offered Waters on Tuesday, and Waters' coach told him that Penn State was looking at other juco players, too. Still, Waters is the only quarterback with an offer. Kansas State is Penn State's biggest competition right now, but the good news for PSU is that Waters graduates in December -- so he must make a decision before signing day. If he winds up elsewhere, Penn State can just as easily move to a Plan B.
Waters is taking a wait-and-see approach with his official visits, but he said Penn State would be one of the likely destinations.
Top target: Richie Anderson (Frederick, Md./Gov. Thomas Johnson)
If there's one position Penn State seems determined to bolster, it's running back. The Nittany Lions aren't terribly shallow here, but they do need to prepare for the future. Michael Zordich and Derek Day will graduate and that still leaves four scholarship running backs -- but only one, freshman Akeel Lynch, will be an underclassman.
Anderson is committed to Maryland, but he said this season that PSU was his dream school and the offer would force him to think. If he declines, the staff has already found its Plans B, C and maybe even D. Wesley Bullock (Tampa Bay, Fla./Plant Senior) grabbed an offer about two weeks ago and will visit Oct. 27. The Nittany Lions are also heavily recruiting Roman Clay (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Catholic) and visited one of his games just a few weeks ago.
A coach also recently stopped by the high school of William Houston (Dublin, Ohio/Dublin Scioto). But the Lions will likely offer him a preferred walk-on spot. One of those three running backs -- Anderson, Bullock, Clay -- will almost certainly suit up for the Nittany Lions next season. It's just a matter of which one.
Top target: Jaleel Hytchye (Cincinnati/La Salle)
DB coach John Butler is not pleased with the secondary's depth. Sure, PSU signed two safeties and a cornerback in this class, but Butler said he ideally needs 11 or 12 defensive backs. With the sanctions, he might settle for nine or 10 -- so he'd like to add another player. With Stephon Morris graduating, an addition like Hytchye would allow Butler to either redshirt him or Jordan Smith (Washington, D.C./Howard D. Woodson)
"I know a lot of readers are wondering why we don't play nickel," Butler said Wednesday, "and I was wondering why we only had six DBs when I took the job here."
The Lions clearly want to add another player because they offered Hytchye this week. Butler said defensive backs, running backs and linebackers are imperative because most of those backups are fixtures on special teams. And Penn State could also use some help there.
Top target: Toby Johnson (College Park, Ga./Hutchinson CC)
When Greg Webb (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek) decommitted, the Nittany Lions were unable to add another defensive tackle to take his place -- but they've been trying. Keith Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic Community), a soft commit to Miami (Fla.), received an offer a few weeks after Webb's decision -- but Bryant's interest level seems low.
So, Penn State recently turned to junior colleges and found Johnson. O'Brien said Wednesday the staff was interested in postgraduate and juco guys, and Johnson is a quality talent -- but one who's likely already too far into his recruitment to seriously consider Penn State. Still, this is a position that Penn State has targeted, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them make a move at another defensive tackle.