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Despite limitations, Nittany Lions land 17 signees

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Coach Bill O'Brien liked the 17-member class Penn State signed for 2013.

O'Brien might have liked it even more if not for the NCAA sanctions last July.

The Nittany Lions watched blue-chip prospects Dorian Johnson, Greg Webb and Will Fuller go elsewhere after the NCAA announced punishments against the school, including scholarship reductions and a four-year postseason ban, for the way the university had handled the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal.

Penn State still finished with what many consider to be a top-25 class but some will wonder what could have been.

"There's no question that we lost some guys to the sanctions," O'Brien said. "I'm not going to tell you that wasn't a factor. At the end of the day, all I'm concerned about is the guys that we have here. I think we've done a good job of starting to build a football team."

Future Penn State teams will be built around quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, but the Nittany Lions also added needed depth to their defensive backfield and offensive line.

The scholarship reductions hurt, but Penn State has received commitments to walk on from more than a dozen players, most from its home state.

Penn State won eight of its final 10 games to finish its first season under O'Brien at 8-4.

The prospects who committed before the sanctions and stayed with the school all the way until Signing Day have faith that similar success is in their future. So does their coach.

"We signed a lot of kids who committed to us early and stayed committed to us when they could have gone elsewhere," O'Brien said. "That says a lot about Penn State."

TOP OF THE CLASS

QB Christian Hackenberg (Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va.) -- The highest-rated player Bill O'Brien has landed in two classes at Penn State will be the key to future offenses and could see action as a true freshman. Big, strong and mobile, Hackenberg is already popular among his classmates and coaches believe he has the acumen and leadership intangibles to excel in O'Brien's pro-style offense.

TE Adam Breneman (Cedar Cliff High in Camp Hill, Pa.) -- Built like a defensive end and with the speed and hands of a wide receiver, Breneman should be able to find a home in an offense that already showcases tight ends. Breneman missed his senior season while recovering from an August knee injury but enrolled at Penn State in January and is expected to be ready for preseason camp.

DE Garrett Sickels (Red Bank Regional High in Little Silver, N.J.) -- At 6-foot-4 with room to pack on a few pounds, Sickels should add depth to a deep but not very experienced rotation of Penn State ends. He was one of several players who stayed committed after NCAA sanctions hit the school.

SPRING SNAPSHOT

Practice priorities: Penn State needs to get young QBs Steven Bench, a true sophomore, and Tyler Ferguson, a junior-college transfer, up to speed with the playbook and the rest of the offense. The Nittany Lions must also find a right tackle to replace Mike Farrell and find replacements for all-conference LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:

--WR Allen Robinson set Penn State's single-season record for receptions as a sophomore and should once again receive plenty of targets, this time from a to-be-determined first-year starter at quarterback.

--TE Kyle Carter missed the team's final three games because of an injury but still finished with 36 catches and was a threat on the outside as well as across the middle.

--T Donovan Smith played through minor injuries through much of 2012 but was solid as the team's starting left tackle. Another year of seasoning should make the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder even better.

--CB Adrian Amos was terrific against both the run and pass in his first season as a starter in 2012 and will be expected to help anchor a young group of Penn State cornerbacks in 2013.
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