Penn State Nittany Lions: Jason Cabinda

Although there’s been plenty of good news on the recruiting trail for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions, injuries and depth issues sure seem to be stacking up for the program this offseason.

According to a report from Lions 247, linebacker Ben Kline is the latest to succumb to a serious injury -- a torn Achilles tendon that should make him miss “significant time,” according to the outlet’s sources.

[+] EnlargePenn State's Ben Kline
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsBen Kline's reported injury further depletes a thin group of Penn State linebackers.
The injury comes about seven months after Kline suffered a torn pectoral that required surgery. He also underwent a second shoulder surgery shortly after that. At the time of those surgeries, then-coach Bill O’Brien remained hopeful that Kline would be ready in time for kickoff this season.

Now? Well, with Franklin’s philosophy to not discuss injuries, it’s anyone’s guess as to when -- or whether -- Kline will return for his redshirt junior season.

Regardless of the severity, the injury obviously sets Penn State back. Depth issues along the offensive front have been well-documented, but the corps of linebackers are also extremely thin. Penn State now has just four linebackers who played last season and entered the university on scholarship: Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman, Brandon Bell and Gary Wooten.

Kline, a team leader who penned an articulate open letter in January about the program, could’ve challenged for a starting job had he been healthy. At the least, he would’ve played a crucial role as a backup. Last season, he battled through injuries but eventually won the starting job later in the season -- before the torn pectoral ended his year.

Kline offered this team a safety blanket of sorts at his position. He was a solid player who would’ve contributed in some manner -- but now that production will have to come from elsewhere, which likely either means a lot more Wooten, time split among non-scholarship players or an immediate impact from the two true freshmen, Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder.

Linebacker for Penn State just went from a potential issue to a real concern. The rest of these players need to stay healthy -- or Penn State’s defense could end up being in almost as much trouble as the offensive line.

Penn State positions to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- This week's countdown continues with the No. 4 spot.

Once again, until spring practice starts, we'll have a different countdown every week. Up next are the positions of concern for Penn State, and this group is one that historically hasn't been an issue for the Nittany Lions.

No. 4: Linebackers

[+] EnlargeNyeem Wartman
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsKeeping Nyeem Wartman healthy will be a big part of the linebackers' success at Penn State in 2014.
The players: Mike Hull (78 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss), Nyeem Wartman (32 tackles, 4 pass breakups), Brandon Bell (24 tackles), Ben Kline (18 tackles, 1 sack), Gary Wooten (6 tackles), Troy Reeder (incoming freshman), Jason Cabinda (incoming freshman)

Last season: Depth was a huge concern throughout the season, and PSU tried to overcome that with position switches and different combinations. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong moved to the outside and filled in for Hull when he was injured, while Bell, Wartman and Kline split time as the season progressed. The health of this unit was an ongoing issue, but Glenn Carson turned in a solid season And Hull, when healthy, was also good -- although he failed to meet lofty expectations (in part because of those injuries).

What's missing: Depth. It's the same issue as 2013, except the most solid starter in Carson is now gone. Kline once again has two surgeries to recover from this offseason, and Wooten appears to be more of a special-teams contributor. Outside of those two, there are just five linebackers on scholarship -- and that includes the two incoming freshmen.

Moving forward: Wartman and Bell were both greenhorns last season, so they at least have experience now. And they'll both need to be solid -- and healthy -- for this group to experience success. An injury to Hull or those two could be disastrous. Kline is once again a wild card because he's coming off of serious injuries, so PSU might have to turn to a non-scholarship player or a true freshman to pick up some slack. Incoming freshman Koa Farmer could play safety or linebacker, and Reeder appears more game-ready than Cabinda. For the second straight season, linebacker is once again a concern for Linebacker U.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The signees' breakdown continues now with defense.

You can find the overview of the offensive signees here. And, once again, here's a list of the early enrollees that are not included here.

LB Troy Reeder (Wilmington, Del./Salesianum)
Four-stars (Scout grade: 81), No. 25 at position
Committed: Feb. 26, 2013
Top offers: Miami (Fla.), Pitt, Rutgers

Synopsis: He's an All-American lacrosse player who originally committed to play the sport at powerhouse North Carolina before opting for football and Penn State. He'll likely play in the middle, and he could be next in line for a spot when Mike Hull graduates.

Scouting report Insider: A big, strong physical prospect and a jumbo athlete of sorts who can run for his size and make plays with ball skills.

LB/S Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame)
Three stars (Scout grade: 78), No. 72 at ATH position
Committed: Jan. 25, 2014
Top offers: Cal, Utah, Washington

Synopsis: He could play either safety or linebacker -- or a hybrid of both. He was the first Cal commit of the 2014 class, but defensive coordinator Bob Shoop helped sway him and an official visit clinched it. He wants to eventually earn a Ph.D. in pathology.

Scouting report Insider: Shows flashes on defense as a high-point safety who would likely need to move to strong or nickel linebacker.

Daquan Worley
Scott Fink for ESPNDaquan Worley was a prolific running back as a senior before a knee injury ended his season.
DB Daquan Worley (Coatesville, Pa./Coatesville)
Three stars (Scout grade: 77), No. 82 at ATH position
Committed: May 2, 2013
Top offers: Georgia Tech, Pitt, Rutgers

Synopsis: He tore the ACL in his right knee in October, and that ended quite the senior season for Worley. The two-way athlete rushed for 1,246 yards -- averaging 9.6 yards a carry -- and he does have an outside shot to play at tailback at the next level. PSU discovered him after initially recruiting linebacker teammate Tyler Burke.

Scouting report Insider: Worley is not going to blow you away with size or speed measurables on paper, but he brings a lot of versatility to the table.

S Marcus Allen (Upper Marlboro, Md./Wise)
Three stars (Scout grade: 77), No. 61 at position
Committed: May 10, 2013
Top offers: Clemson, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest

Synopsis: Allen began his career as an undersized linebacker and thought the varsity coach was crazy when he wanted to promote Allen through junior varsity as a safety. After a lot of convincing, Allen agreed to play a 7-on-7 game at safety following his freshman season. He ended up with three picks -- and never played linebacker again.

Scouting report Insider: Improved man-to-man skills will really enhance his stock.

CB Grant Haley (Atlanta, Ga./The Lovett School)
Three stars (Scout grade: 76), No. 41 at position
Committed: Jan. 20, 2014
Top offers: Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

Synopsis: Yes, he was a Vanderbilt flip -- but his mother actually attended Penn State in the 1980s. Franklin anticipated him returning kicks at Vanderbilt, so Haley could be a critical part on special teams, too.

Scouting report Insider: An elusive and dynamic running back on offense with natural change-of-direction and movements.

LB Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central)
Three stars (Scout grade: 74), No. 119 at ATH position
Committed: Oct. 23, 2013
Top offers: Boston College, Maryland, Syracuse

Synopsis: Ron Vanderlinden spent a lot of time with Cabinda during a summer camp and, when Jared Wangler decommitted in favor of Michigan, that opened up the spot for Cabinda, who was a Syracuse pledge. Syracuse contacted him again after Bill O'Brien left, but Cabinda didn't budge.

Scouting report Insider: He could easily be the big back teams look for, or also be projected as a a solid standup LB.

DL Torrence Brown (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Tuscaloosa Academy)
Three stars (Scout grade: 73), No. 130 at OLB position
Committed: Feb. 5, 2014
Top offers: Southern Miss, N.C. State, Northern Illinois

Synopsis: If there was any sort of surprise on signing day, Brown was the closest thing to it. He received an offer the day before he planned to sign with Southern Miss -- and flipped to the Nittany Lions. He takes the spot of DE Lloyd Tubman, who flipped from Vandy to PSU, then flipped again to Kentucky.

Scouting report Insider: This is a developmental size prospect who will need time and a redshirt year prior to challenging for playing time at the major level of competition.

CB Amani Oruwariye (Tampa, Fla./Gaither)
Three stars (Scout grade: 73), No. 76 at position
Committed: Jan. 30, 2014
Top offers: Louisville, Nebraska, Vanderbilt

Synopsis: He's another Vanderbilt flip. He's tall for a corner, at 6-foot-1, and he played some receiver -- but he's a DB through and through. Since his sophomore season, he's tallied a dozen interceptions.

Scouting report Insider: He is of ideal height and, with time on his side, he should be able to bulk up, which will help his playing strength and confidence in run support.

S Christian Campbell (Phenix City, Ala./Central)
Three stars (Scout grade: 72), No. 127 at position
Committed: Feb. 3, 2014
Top offers: Missouri, Minnesota, Memphis

Synopsis: Campbell was set to pick between Minnesota, Indiana and Syracuse before before Penn State entered the race. He took some heat on Twitter for the choice, but said that Franklin had been recruiting him even before the Gophers and Hoosiers. He was a surprise pickup for PSU.

Scouting report Insider: Many lower-level BCS programs should envy his toughness and admire the attitude and physicality he will bring to a program.

Looking to the past & future: LBs

December, 27, 2013
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It's never too late -- or too early -- to see what we learned from this past season and also look ahead to next season. So, we've started breaking down each position on the Nittany Lions.

Up today: Linebackers.

REWIND

Expectations entering the 2013 season: This group was clearly going to take a big step back from 2012. Without Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, this was probably the group that was going to receive the heftiest downgrade.

[+] EnlargeStephen Obeng-Agyapong
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesFormer safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong was pressed into duty at linebacker because of injuries.
Still, many pointed to Mike Hull as a candidate for PSU's top breakout player. Hopes were high for Nyeem Wartman, and there wasn't much concern surrounding middle linebacker Glenn Carson. This position was clearly shallow, however, and everyone knew a single injury could derail the group. The best-case scenario was to be a good unit -- because it was never going to be great.

How they fared: Injuries were a concern, and they were felt almost immediately. Hull injured his knee against Syracuse, and it took him weeks before he was back to 100 percent. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong was forced to take over, and he allowed the linebackers to bide some time until Hull returned. He wasn't a factor in the second-half of the season.

Ben Kline, who overcame a serious shoulder injury, did the most with the time he saw once healed -- but then he fell again to another serious injury. Hull didn't meet expectations, and neither did Wartman, but Brandon Bell was a nice surprise toward the end. This group avoided total disaster, but it would be difficult to rank it above-average.

What we learned: Linebacker will take a few years to reload. Penn State grew accustomed to churning out one strong corps of linebackers after another, but 2013 was the exception. If everyone stayed healthy -- and Kline was never injured in the offseason -- it might've been different. But those are a lot of "what ifs." It became clear in 2013 that linebacker wasn't going to be just a one-year or two-year fix. It'll take a few years for Linebacker U to return to glory.

Grading the position: C. Yes, average. This wasn't one of the better groups in the Big Ten, and it wasn't among the worst. Carson was above-average, but he was the only linebacker who earned an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. None were named to the first or second team. Tackling was an issue at times, and so was pursuit, but it wouldn't be fair to say the linebackers were a liability, either. Once again, it was an average group ... while most PSU fans are used to great in this department.

FAST FORWARD

Key losses: Carson. Sure, everyone else returns, but Carson was the most solid of the bunch. Hull needs to show he's not as injury-prone as 2013 suggests, and PSU should receive some extra bodies in the form of incoming freshmen Troy Reeder (Wilmington, Del/Salesianum) and Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central).

Position stock watch: Trending downward. On one hand, two of PSU's starting spots should improve from last season. On the other, Carson's departure is sure to be felt ... and the other two spots are far from guarantees. Kline has to overcome two surgeries in the offseason, so PSU finds itself in a similar position as last season. One injury could completely derail this group. It needs Hull, Wartman and Bell to be on top of their games -- and stay healthy. If they don't? Well, fans might miss the performance from the 2013 season.

Key to next season: Finding depth ... somewhere. The trio of Hull, Wartman and Bell can't stay on the field all game every game -- so, not only do those three need to take huge steps from last season, but Penn State also needs more players to step up at this position. Redshirt sophomore Gary Wooten hasn't contributed much outside of special teams and -- outside of an injured Kline -- Wooten is next in line. That means Penn State will needs a true freshman or a non-scholarship player to step up. Maybe it can move a backup DB over a la Obeng-Agyapong; maybe not. O'Brien needs to find someone, anyone, who can contribute.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

October, 28, 2013
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The Big Ten always has plenty of recruiting storylines worthy of following.

From key commitments to intriguing attempts to flip prospects committed elsewhere, here’s what went down in a very busy week on the trail for the conference.

From commitments to official visits to offers tendered, the Big Ten is never at a loss for headlines.

Here’s a look at the latest from an always busy conference:

Bill O’Brien serving pancakes

Urban Meyer has been known as the master in flipping committed prospects in his time at Ohio State and rightfully so with more than a dozen pledged targets becoming Buckeyes. O’Brien is catching up after flipping Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) from Syracuse to Penn State on Wednesday.

Cabinda marks the sixth pledge to change stripes and join the Nittany Lions since O’Brien took over the reins in Happy Valley.

He’s raided Maryland three times in landing running backs Richy Anderson and Johnathan Thomas as well as offensive guard Tanner Hartman. O’Brien has also plucked quarterback Steven Bench from Rice and landed defensive tackle Parker Cothren from Purdue.

Buckeye leafs

Ohio State’s biggest target is headed to Columbus this weekend for the game against Penn State as the top-ranked linebacker in the nation regardless of position comes to town on an official visit in Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County).

McMillan isn’t the only one slated to take an official visit as East Mississippi Community College teammates Avery Gennesy at offensive tackle and A.J. Stamps at safety are coming along. ESPN 300 wide receiver Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp) will be on an official visit, too as will commit and defensive end Jalyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor).

By the way, Gennesy and Stamps went to the same community college current Ohio State junior and 2013 signee Corey Smith went to.

ESPN Junior 300 standouts Jauan Jennings (Murfreesboro, Tenn./Blackman), Lorenzo Nunez (Kennesaw, Ga./Harrison), Brandon Wimbush (Jersey City/N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), Jacques Patrick (Orlando, Fla./Timber Creek), Anthony McKee (Columbus/Walnut Ridge), Shy Tuttle (Lexington, N.C./North Davidson), Larry Scott (Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard) and Kelly Bryant (Piedmont, S.C./Wren) have all said they are coming.

As always, the list is fluid and could change at any time. There are a good collection of commits coming to the game as well.

Lee getting close

ESPN 300 linebacker Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central) cut his list down to Cal, Louisville, Missouri and Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. He will be announcing his decision on Nov. 8, and has already taken an official visit out to Cal and will be out to see Virginia Tech this weekend.

The No. 242 ranked prospect had Northwestern and Penn State in his top list, so those two schools are now obviously out of the running.

It’s still a bit of a mystery as to where he will end up, since Lee has kept everything close to the vest. He is keeping everyone in suspense and taking it down to the wire right up to his announcement date.

London has a top five and a timeline

Running back Madre London (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) is a highly coveted senior among Big Ten teams. With limited options remaining, plenty of teams are hoping to land the three-star back.

On Wednesday, London tweeted that his top five is Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Pitt and that he will be making his final decision in two weeks.

The Spartans might have the edge here, but it could go either way since he has taken a few visits recently to various programs.

At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, he would be a great fit for most programs, so landing this Florida athlete will be a big deal for whichever program gets his commitment.

Michigan coaches on the road


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Penn State picks up commitment No. 15 

October, 23, 2013
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There are very few schools which are on a roll quite like Penn State is now.

Things started going the Nittany Lions' way when they upset Michigan in a quadruple overtime thriller on Oct. 12.

In the 11 days that have followed, Penn State has seen a boom in recruiting with three more commitments.

That shot in the arm continued Wednesday when three-star inside linebacker Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) flipped from Syracuse and became the 15th member of Penn State’s 2014 class.


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Five to watch as PSU closes out class 

October, 22, 2013
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National signing day sits 106 days away and Penn State is looking to continue its hot streak in recruiting.

Here are five top seniors to watch and a look at where things sit right now as the recruiting circuit heats up to its final fevered pitch:

[+] EnlargeThomas Holley
Courtesy of Thomas HolleyESPN 300 DT Thomas Holley enjoyed a visit to Penn State, but Notre Dame and Ohio State could factor for the prospect.
1. DT Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln)

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One win shows PSU recruits bright future 

October, 16, 2013
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It is extremely rare when one football game can make a big impact during a rising high school star’s long recruiting process.

Saturday’s 43-40 quadruple-overtime win by Penn State over Michigan might be that exception.

While all of the 2015 commitments still have 16 months left before they can sign a national letter of intent, those in attendance said some big things days after witnessing the big win by the Nittany Lions.


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Big visitors set to invade Penn State 

October, 11, 2013
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Bill O’Brien isn’t missing a chance to put Penn State on center stage this week as the Nittany Lions prepare to play host to undefeated Michigan.

With an eye to the future, the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year has more than a busload full of visitors coming to check in on his program.

Here are the biggest names scheduled to head to Happy Valley this weekend.

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From commitments to big official visit weekends, it's been a busy week of recruiting in the Big Ten.

Conference recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren take a look back at the week that was and look ahead as teams build toward the future.

Boilermakers flip a commitment

Purdue picked up a pledge from safety Timothy Cason II (Clarkston, Mich./Clarkston) this week. Though unranked and a former Western Michigan commit, the Boilermakers were able to flip the switch on the 6-foot, 179-pound Cason and make him the ninth commitment of the 2014 class.


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There are still a ton of prospects on the board for Big Ten teams, so conference recruiting reporters Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival take a look at the best and worst case scenarios remaining for each team.

Illinois
Best-case scenario: Illinois picked up an offensive line commit on Monday with Peter Cvijanovic (Great Barrington, Mass./East Coast Prep), which gives the Illini two offensive line commits. Despite having four wide receiver commits on board, it looks like the staff would take another receiver in this class.

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The Big Ten had an important weekend on the field, and there was some big news off the field as well. Here is a look at what took place on the recruiting trail within the conference.

Biggest commitment:

Tom VanHaaren: Minnesota landed two commitments this past week with 2014 linebacker Everett Williams (Mansfield, Texas/Mansfield Legacy) and 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end Brandon Lingen (Plymouth, Minn./Wayzata). Those were big commits for the Gophers for a few reasons. Before landing those two, Minnesota only had six commitments for the 2014 class so adding these two helps boost the class. Williams is a three-star, and Lingen is a local kid who jumped on an offer almost immediately.


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From Wisconsin moving up in the polls to a few schools moving down, it was a busy week in the Big Ten and the class rankings reflect that.

Here’s a look at what conference recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren saw and some trends to follow in the upcoming weeks:

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

September, 30, 2013
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The Big Ten doesn’t need an entire schedule of games to make news, and it proved it in the recruiting world.

Here’s a look at what happened off the field in yet another busy weekend of looking toward the future.


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