Penn State assistants spending bye week assessing and recruiting

Having a bye week amidst a four game-winning streak seems like bad timing for Penn State.

A 0-2 start after a tumultuous 10 months have quickly morphed into feel good vibes for the Nittany Lions. They won their Big Ten road opener and knocked off a ranked opponent at home.

So two weeks between games is bad timing, right? It’s a momentum-killer. It breaks up the season.

Secondary coach John Butler doesn’t think so.

“It’s actually perfect timing to have your bye week in week seven,” Butler said. “You can’t have it any better than that, I don’t think.”

The Nittany Lions have practiced on Monday, Tuesday and will work again today. The break between games, though, is a chance to heal the nicks and bruises that come with every college football season.

The coaches, meanwhile, are assessing Penn State’s progress through six games. And then preparing for the future.

“We'll all be on the road Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” offensive line coach Mac McWhorter said. “So, the first part of the week we've practiced starting on Iowa and doing some recruiting during the day also as far as phone calls, setting up spots to evaluate and things like that, and then we'll all be on the road the latter part of the week."

Recruiting moving forward

Butler -- who has spent the week responding to e-mails to high school coaches and catching up on watching recruiting tapes -- opened up on Wednesday about what he is looking for in recruiting moving foward.

Over the weekend, Butler is planning on attending some high school football games

Butler, a LaSalle College High School Graduate, focuses on Bucks County and Montgoery County as his main areas for recruiting.

The former South Carolina assistant is a veteran at assessing high school talent -- though his task this season is unprecedented. The Nittany Lions face significant scholarship restrictions as a part of the NCAA sanctions, and Butler – who inherited a depleted roster – must be thrifty.

“Fans might be wondering why we haven’t played nickel yet,” Butler said. “I’m wondering why I have only six defensive backs when I took the job here.”

Ideally, Butler wants 11 or 12 in his secondary unit. The sanctions force each coach to trim down its wish list.

“During the time of the sanctions it may be at nine or 10,” Butler said. “But I’m basically playing with right now a completely depleted roster. So from my position it’s only going to get better.”

To make everyone’s situation better, the coaches have adopted a new mindset in recruiting: place greater premium on players who are versatile.

Butler, for example, is looking at defensive backs who can also play on special teams. In fact, that might be a requirement for evaluations.

“You’ve got to be able to do multiple things for our football team,” Butler said.

Butler is looking for players in the mold of Mike Hull (linebacker and special teams) and Curtis Dukes (running back and kickoff coverage) who can provide value.

“The biggest thing over the next four years is, we need to make sure every kid that we bring in, we can maximize his ability,” Butler said. “As a coaching staff, we need to get every ounce of talent out of every single kid. There’s no room for error.”

In the past, if the coaching staff missed on one recruit – that’s fine. He could transfer then he could be replaced.

Now, that’s not an option. That means character is also a big factor in evaluations.

“[Our players] that have stayed, the ones that are here, the ones that are part of this four game winning streak – they’re the ones that we have to go identify and recruit,” Butler said. “This is Penn State football.”

-Emily Kaplan