CHICAGO - Some Big Ten coaches insist they're staying away from Penn State players, who essentially became free agents after the NCAA leveled unprecedented sanctions on the football program stemming from a child sex abuse scandal.
But some coaches, like Purdue's Danny Hope, are in active pursuit.
"We're going to follow the rules, and the rules allow you to go recruit," Hope said Thursday at the first day of the Big Ten media days. "Whether or not anything materializes, I don't know. But, to me, like any other recruit, if they're available and they can help us win, we're interested."
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and Michigan coach Brady Hoke were among coaches who said they were staying away from Nittany Lions players, who are able to transfer without penalty.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman admitted the Illini have had assistant coaches in University Park and have spoken with some current Penn State players.
Hope said he personally hasn't contacted any players, but that there has been some communication between players and Purdue's staff. Hope said as long as it's within the rules, he would send coaches to State College.
"It's part of recruiting," Hope said. "When it's recruiting and there's players in Florida, we send our coaches there. When there are players in Texas, we send our coaches there. We send our coaches when we're allowed to go to recruit any area that there's players at. That includes Penn State as well."
The NCAA is allowing schools to oversign past the 25-initial scholarship and, thus, 85-scholarship limit this season as long as it subtracts one the following season. When Hope was asked if his team already is at 85 scholarships for the fall, he said "potentially."
Biggest questionsHope mentioned the offensive line and linebacker as two potential areas of concern heading into the season, largely because injuries kept those spots from developing continuity in the spring.
At least on the line, there appear to options with some experience. Though Peters Drey and Justin Kitchens missed the spring, they've both started and could move back into a prominent roles in the fall.
That'd, seemingly, leave only one spot to fill to play alongside Rick Schmeig and Trevor Foy. Cody Davis, who played right guard much of the spring, is listed as the starter on the team's preseason depth chart.
Linebacker seems to be more of an issue, considering there simply aren't players with much game experience as options as a third starter in a 4-3 defense with Will Lucas and Dwayne Beckford.
Hope mentioned Sean Robinson, who played middle mostly last spring after his switch from quarterback, as a possibility to play some outside. Nnamdi Ezenwa is listed as the pick on the depth chart, despite not playing much in the spring with a hand injury.
"We didn't have everyone out there in the spring, so it's really hard to bring some real clarity to who is going to line up exactly at which positions," Hope said of the linebackers. "We have different fronts and different schemes we can use and our linebackers can be interchangeable based on the front or the scheme."
Perhaps, then, the best option could be Robert Maci.
"He has really matured physically quite a bit," Hope said of Maci this offseason. "He's real tall and strong and lean and muscular and very athletic-looking. I'm really pleased with his progress and his development. He's always been a good football player, but I think that he has a little more firepower now as a rush end, just based on being a little bit older and being a little more experienced and being stronger. So I think he can make a difference to our team as a pass rushing defensive end, and obviously we're going to utilize him some as a Sam linebacker, sometimes lined up over the tight end.
"He's a smart guy. He played linebacker in high school, so it's not something that's brand new to him. The work we got with him in the spring, I thought he did a really good job at both positions. Robert Maci is very important to our football team."
Saying it againHope reiterated what he's said about the quarterback position since the end of the spring: Caleb TerBush is No. 1 entering the fall but he will play more than one quarterback.
Hope still has yet to name TerBush the starter for the season opener, though. (TerBush is one of the three players Purdue brought to media days.)
Hope has been high on TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry. He mentioned, again, how much TerBush improved during the season and how he didn't throw an interception in the final four games.
When asked specifically about Marve, Hope said he thinks Marve has greatly matured since he's been at Purdue and thinks he can have a good season.
"I think that he has a great handle on where things are at and the good things that could be in store for him. He has outstanding potential," Hope said. "He'll play this year, and he'll play well. He has the potential to be an NFL quarterback. All the dreams that he had coming out of high school as far as football goes, they're all still alive. I've always been a big Robert Marve fan."
Hope said he saw Marve made great strides by simply getting reps during practice. He thinks that could mean better production.
"He's a much more disciplined player. I think understanding the offense and having reps in the offense allows him to execute the offense to the detail of the letter and not get outside of the system."
A better chance?Penn State and Ohio State aren't eligible to play in the Big Ten championship game, leaving only four teams to compete for the Leaders Division spot.
"Obviously everyone that's eligible, their odds have increased a little bit, but you still have to win," Hope said. "You have to play well against the teams who aren't eligible for it this season and you have to play well against the teams that are eligible. Because the teams that win the most are going to go."
All goodBeckford and O.J. Ross, both players who were suspended for the bowl game, are still in good standing with the program, Hope said.
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