Penn State Nittany Lions: Parker Cothren

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State lost quite a few solid starters this offseason, but that should make the spring position battles all the more interesting.

As part of this week’s countdown, which centers on those position battles, we’re taking a closer look today at one such position that lost two experienced players ...

No. 3 position battle: Defensive tackle

Departures: DaQuan Jones (56 tackles; 11.5 tackles for loss), Kyle Baublitz (23 tackles, three sacks)

Returning players: Tarow Barney (early enrollee), Parker Cothren (redshirted), Brian Gaia (5 tackles; 11 games played), Austin Johnson (27 tackles; three tackles for loss), Antoine White (early enrollee)

Breaking it down: Johnson will take up one starting spot, but there’s a big question mark surrounding the other. Derek Dowrey appears to have moved to the offensive line, and there’s still a chance that defensive end Anthony Zettel could slide inside on a permanent basis. But for now it appears as if the main battle will be between Barney and Gaia.

Gaia boasts more experience than Barney, an early enrollee -- but not by much. Barney is a bit bigger at 290 pounds, according to the current online roster, and it should be a good battle. Penn State really needs someone who can stuff the run, since Zettel can always rush the passer inside. So whoever is better in the run-stuffing department should take this spot. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer likes to use a lot of bodies and combinations along the line, too, so even the backup should see quite a bit of playing time this season.

Pre-camp edge: Gaia. He has the edge since he’s spent more time with the team and the strength program. But anything can happen here. Tyler Ferguson had the advantage at quarterback last May, and look what happened there. Barney isn’t as used to this level of competition as Gaia since he’s coming from a community college in Mississippi, so it will take some time to adjust. Make no mistake; Gaia has the advantage right now. But that advantage could be eroded by the time the Blue-White Game swings around April 12. That’s what makes this position battle one of the best ones to watch.

More position battles to watch:

No. 5: Kicker
No. 4: Tight ends

Penn State positions to improve: No. 5

February, 10, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Signing day is over and spring practice is still a few weeks away, so we've designed a few countdowns to keep you busy in the meantime.

This week, we're taking a look at Penn State's top five position groups with room to improve. No. 1 will be unveiled on Friday, so sit back and relax as this countdown kicks off.

Up today: No. 5 -- defensive tackles.

[+] EnlargeAustin Johnson
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAustin Johnson showed promise at defensive tackle in 2013 and will be the foundation of Penn State's defensive line next season.
No. 5: Defensive tackles

The players: Austin Johnson (27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery), Brian Gaia (5 tackles), Derek Dowrey (1 tackle), Parker Cothren (redshirt), Antoine White (early enrollee), Tarow Barney (early enrollee).

Last season: The interior was a strength in 2013, with 318-pound DaQuan Jones anchoring it. Jones earned the team's MVP award by routinely taking on double teams and still leading PSU with 11.5 tackles for loss. He also ensured that neither of Wisconsin's tailbacks reached the 100-yard mark Penn State's upset over the then-No. 15 Badgers. Kyle Baublitz rotated in with Johnson on the other side and put up respectable numbers (3 sacks, 1 blocked kick) before deciding to move on with a teaching career. The line was the defense's strong point last season.

What's missing: Experience. Jones is heading to the NFL, Baublitz is heading to State College Area High, and Johnson is the only returning defensive tackle who saw serious time at the position last season. Put simply, there are a lot of question marks. Former coach Bill O'Brien was set on taking a junior college defensive tackle because he was in such desperate need of finding an immediate contributor, so it wouldn't be surprising to see new coach James Franklin plug in a newcomer right away.

Moving forward: Defensive end Anthony Zettel could move inside and, in a lot of ways, that would help quiet those questions surrounding experience. But he's only 258 pounds right now, so of course there's the question of his weight. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer likes to rotate a lot of players on his line, so we could see more of a lot more combinations this season. Johnson is really the only lock, but he has a bright career ahead of him.

The staff needs to decide quickly what it wants to do with Zettel and, from there, find at least one more DT who can separate himself. Gaia played in 11 games last season and likely holds the slight edge right now, but Dowrey's not that far behind. Barney and Cothren are both darkhorses, and a lot of eyes will be on them in the spring.


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- ESPN 300 receiver De'Andre Thompkins didn't know whom his Penn State coach would be on Monday night. The Nittany Lions' commit only knew the coach he preferred.

"I really hope [James] Franklin takes it," he told ESPN.com, five days before the hire became official.

He wasn't the only one -- four-star wide receiver Chris Godwin felt similarly -- because Franklin's reputation precedes him. He's the gregarious coach who calls recruits "homeboy" and the tireless recruiter who clips two cell phones to his boxers when he's preparing for a night's rest.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Don McPeak/US PresswireJames Franklin was the most successful coach at Vanderbilt in generations, and his outgoing personality is infectious.
He garnered Vanderbilt commitments from ESPN 300 prospects in Florida, Georgia and California. He convinced offensive tackle and Louisiana native Bailey Granier to choose Vandy over Alabama and Florida State. And he reeled in 22 four-star recruits during his time there -- a half-dozen more than Penn State. The Commodores managed a total of just one four-star prospect in the six previous classes.

Franklin's impact on the Nittany Lions' future recruiting classes -- and on overall recruiting in the Big Ten -- should be instant and far-reaching. An ACC coach told CBS' Bruce Feldman that, if Franklin wound up at Penn State, "He'd kill it in recruiting around here."

"He's very different because he's so approachable," said Ricky Bowers, a high school coach at The Ensworth School in Nashville, Tenn., whose team won four consecutive state titles. "He's just different. He's friendly, likable and passionate.

"The only way you wouldn't like him is if you were jealous of him."

Franklin drove to Ensworth before the state title game just to wish Bowers luck. And Bowers said Franklin is that rare type of coach with whom he can just shoot the breeze on the occasional lazy day.

Franklin was characterized by others as an energetic recruiter with an infectious personality -- so Bowers wasn't surprised much by all the NFL attention. After all, Nashville-area recruits looked at Franklin as the man who built up the local college program out of the ashes. Lest you think that's an exaggeration, consider this: Before Franklin arrived in the Music City, the Commodores last boasted a nine-win season in 1915, a full decade before Joe Paterno was born. In the past two years, Vanderbilt has recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons.

"Good gracious, he's got everybody fired up about football," said Marty Euverard, the high school coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. "He just knows how to build relationships, and I think that's a key component. Some people have a gift; some don't. He's got it."

Penn State's old coaching staff tried to construct new recruiting pipelines. Former defensive coordinator Ted Roof attempted to circle back to his recruiting roads around Georgia and, when he left, safeties coach Anthony Midget focused on his old stomping grounds in Florida. Their spoils? Roof helped reel in two 2013 commits who remain on the roster, defensive back Kasey Gaines and defensive tackle Parker Cothren, from Georgia and Alabama, respectively. Midget didn't grab any in the most recent class.

Compare that untapped territory with Vanderbilt. The Commodores signed three players from California -- and that was just in the last class alone. Vanderbilt's current roster includes players from 21 states. No recruiting area has really been off-limits to the bald coach with the trademark frames.

"He's been able to cast a wide recruiting net at Vanderbilt, one that's broader than any net I've seen cast," Bowers told ESPN.com. "He's honed in on schools that Vanderbilt has not traditionally been in on. When you first see him, he just has this personality, where you like him right away. He's just a nice guy and, yeah, he's a really good recruiter."

Franklin was able to attract top recruits to a cellar-dwelling program and turn it into something special. It's unknown what he can do with a former powerhouse -- whose fans once showed up in the thousands for a 7 a.m. pep rally, and showed up by the handful Wednesday night in snowy, below-freezing temperatures at the airport just to catch a glimpse of Franklin.

Nobody can say for sure the heights that Franklin can take this program, recruiting-wise. But Thompkins and Godwin aren't the only ones who are excited -- and Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, two teams in PSU's recruiting footprint, shouldn't be the only ones who are worried.
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

As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Defensive tackles.

Projected starters: DaQuan Jones (2012 stats: 22 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one fumble recovery) and Kyle Baublitz (three tackles, one sack).

Key losses: Jordan Hill (64 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery) and James Terry (13 tackles, one sack).

Next in line: Redshirt freshman Austin Johnson might not be next in line -- he could very well overtake Baublitz as a starter. Bill O'Brien said on his weekly radio show last season that he expected big things out of the younger defensive tackle, and he's already 21 pounds heavier than Baublitz.

[+] EnlargeDaQuan Jones
Vinny Carchietta/Icon SMIHow Penn State's defense performs in 2013 will be dependent on how DaQuan Jones plays at defensive tackle.
Regardless, the top three players at this position should see plenty of time. The big question is just who comes in at No. 4. That would be a logjam, and none of the options are all that exciting just yet.

Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia and Tyrone Smith will all compete to see who sees situational time a la Baublitz in 2012. True freshman Parker Cothren likely needs a redshirt season to add bulk before he sees any time on the field.

What to expect: Huge expectations are being squarely placed on the shoulders of Jones, and he'll need to match Hill's performance to live up to all the hype. Gil Brandt recently named Jones the top senior DT in the country -- which was a little surprising considering he made just 12 tackles in the last nine games once Hill faced fewer double-teams and stepped up his game. By comparison, Jones made 10 tackles in the first three games.

For this defensive line to find success, Jones will have to become quickly accustomed to those double teams -- because it'd be an even bigger surprise if teams sent just one interior lineman after him. This position is one of the bigger concerns on the team because, even if the 318-pound Jones does succeed, his other starting teammate will likely be overmatched this season.

Baublitz appears to be a band-aid until Johnson is ready to take off. And Johnson undoubtedly boasts a high ceiling -- but it doesn't seem as if this is the season it will all come together. If the staff had that much faith in him, he would've initially been named starter over Baublitz. Expect PSU's 23rd-ranked run defense to drop, at least a little, in the rankings.

Recruiting trail: The Nittany Lions have already picked up one 2014 prospect in Antoine White (Millville, N.J./Millville), a three-star commit whom ESPN scouts label a "tweener" but who also "gives good effort in pursuit and is a solid wrap-up tackler."

He's about 270 pounds right now, so he needs to bulk up. But PSU's staff really liked the explosiveness of his first step and like his attitude. His high school coach said he and a teammate constantly put in extra work, and White was the lone junior captain on his team last season.

PSU also appears intent on grabbing at least one more DT, likely either ESPN 300 prospect Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) or a junior college DT such as Joe Keels (Highland, Kan./Highland C.C.).

Best-case scenario: Jones picks up right where Hill left off and becomes an unstoppable run-stuffer who lives up to Brandt's top billing. PSU's No. 23 run defense holds steady, while Johnson breaks out and shows fans that he'll be a four-year starter.

Worst-case scenario: Jones initially struggles with double teams and gets hurt later in the season, leaving an inexperienced Johnson and a limited Baublitz as the starters. Those two struggle, and Big Ten running backs set up their respective offenses by running straight up the middle.

Top position question: If Jones falters, what happens to this defense? Penn State can't withstand mediocre performances at defensive tackle and linebacker. If Jones doesn't live up to expectations, it'll have an ripple effect on the entire defense.

If Jones doesn't play well, that means more work for middle linebacker Glenn Carson -- who's been the beneficiary of some great DTs in NFL draft picks Hill and Devon Still. Jones is crucial to this defense's success in a lot of ways, and it was able to overcome a young secondary last season by limiting opponents to 3.54 yards a carry on the ground. If Jones struggles, those rushing numbers increase.

And if those rushing numbers increase? PSU allowed more than four yards a carry in just two of the last 10 seasons. In 2003, it allowed 4.29 yards a carry and finished with a 3-9 record. In 2010, PSU allowed 4.46 yards a carry and went 7-6. In other words, if Jones falters and the run defense struggles, then it might become tricky to get to eight wins.

Camp notebook: Canadians, 'ships & LBs 

June, 24, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State hasn't built a pipeline to Canada just yet -- but it's certainly starting to form a reputation there.

First, tailback Akeel "Big Maple" Lynch, a Toronto native, joined the team. Then Ottawa native and ESPN 150 QB Michael O'Connor committed. And, over the weekend, two more Canadians headed to Happy Valley and impressed at Saturday's advanced skills camp.


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5 Questions: DT Parker Cothren 

June, 21, 2013
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Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is incoming freshman DT Parker Cothren, who'll arrive on campus today. He'll be driving from Hazel Green, Ala., and he remained committed to PSU despite late offers from the likes of Auburn, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. He'll be roommates with defensive end Garrett Sickels.


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Coach talk: DT Parker Cothren 

February, 11, 2013
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What kind of player is Penn State getting here in Parker Cothren? And what can fans expect?

NittanyNation turned to one of the people who knows best what Cothren is capable of on the field -- Matthew Putnam, his high school coach at Hazel Green (Ala.) -- and asked what separates him as a player, how he first noticed Cothren's ability and when he especially showcased his potential.


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How '13 commits want to be remembered 

February, 7, 2013
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Now that Penn State's Class of 2013 is officially in the books, we decided to ask the commits about their future with the Nittany Lions.

NittanyNation posed the same question to everyone: How do you think -- or hope -- your class will be remembered in four or five years?

Here's what they had to say:


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Larry Johnson Sr. makes difference 

February, 7, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- He rarely addresses the media. He doesn't opine for the spotlight. Heck, Bill O'Brien didn't mention his name once during Wednesday's 33-minute national signing day press conference.

But don't be fooled here. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. has played one of the most important roles in piecing together this 2013 recruiting class.


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O'Brien talks about 2013 signees 

February, 6, 2013
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Coaches aren't able to talk about individual recruits until they sign their letters of intent. Here's how Penn State coach Bill O'Brien responded to questions about them Wednesday:


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NittanyNation signing day recap

February, 6, 2013
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Signing day has gone smoothly in Happy Valley.

Here's a recap of how the letters of intent came in and how the class came together in Penn State's Class of 2013.

Follow the live blog after the jump.

(Read full post)

Overview of Penn State's Class of 2013 

February, 6, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With Penn State's fax machine whirring early Wednesday morning, NittanyNation takes an overall look at the expected recruiting class.

From top players to sleepers, misses and everything in-between, there's a lot going on in this class:

Who they got: Penn State looks as if it will sign 17 players this class, including the five who have already enrolled. The headliners are ESPN's No. 1 QB in Christian Hackenberg and No. 1 TE in Adam Breneman, who have helped bring the same kind of excitement to this class as Derrick Williams and Justin King in 2005. Penn State turned in a quality offensive group, with four-star prospects also at offensive guard (Brendan Mahon), offensive tackle (Andrew Nelson) and wideout (DaeSean Hamilton).

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Polling the commits: Why choose PSU? 

February, 6, 2013
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Christian HackenbergMiller Safrit/ESPN.comThe nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, felt a special bond with Penn State. Sixteen other prospects have also made that bond with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State's Class of 2013 ranks among the top 25 in the nation, and it's been one of the more surprising stories of the recruiting season. These prospects could've gone elsewhere -- some could've attended anywhere -- but they stuck with the Nittany Lions.

They'll officially become part of Penn State today. So, we asked them, why did you want to commit Penn State? Here's what they had to say this week:

  • QB Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union, Va./Fork Union, four stars, No. 15 in ESPN 150: "You know, I just got this gut feeling that it was home for me. Everything fell in line for me moreso than the other schools. I liked a lot of other schools, but I loved Penn State."


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Cothren sticks with the plan in signing 

February, 6, 2013
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No Penn State commit's loyalty was tested more than Parker Cothren (Hazel Green, Ala./Hazel Green).

The Alabama boy with the southern drawl grew up less than a three-hour drive from Tuscaloosa. Visions of the SEC once danced in his head at night and, during the day, it wouldn't be uncommon for him to step on the school bus while wearing a gray "Roll Tide" T-shirt.


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SPONSORED HEADLINES

Penn State Lands ESPN 300 CB Taylor
National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert breaks down what No. 12 cornerback Garrett Taylor - once a Michigan commit - means to James Franklin's defense now that Taylor has committed to the Nittany Lions.
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