Like many other coaches on his own staff and around the country, Penn State secondary coach John Butler believes you're almost always going to get more out of a player as a 22-year-old fifth-year senior than you would out of the same player as an 18-year-old true freshman.
Penn State has had to press DaQuan Davis into action more quickly than it had hoped.
Butler looks at his own roster and sees DaQuan Davis, a talented but still-learning rookie cornerback who could probably stand to put on 5-10 pounds. He sees Jordan Lucas, another freshman who has played on the coverage teams and, though more physically mature than Davis, would likely benefit from a redshirt year as well.
But six games into the season, Davis and Lucas have long since burned their redshirts.
"They're needed right now and there is nobody else," Butler said. "So you have to play them."
Redshirts are a luxury that Butler and the rest of the Penn State staff might not have during the next few seasons thanks to the NCAA sanctions against the program. Many of the coaches used the team's bye week to hit the road to look for prospects. But the way the Nittany Lions assemble recruiting classes is going to be different than the way just about every other team does it.
"When we recruit over the next four years," Butler said, "we've got to be able to get every single ounce of talent out of every single kid."
As they recruit 15-member classes, Penn State's coaches won't be able to afford picking up players who need more than a year of development, who can only play one position or who will need time to adjust to the academic pace. They'll need guys who they can plug in immediately, particularly in the secondary, which currently has six scholarship players and will lose corner Stephon Morris to graduation.
So when the coaches are evaluating a recruit, they're putting versatility at a premium. It isn't enough to land a player the coaches know will fill a hole in the secondary. He might also have to fill a couple of holes on various special teams units.
"Can he play man, can he play zone, safety, corner?" Butler said. "We're going to do our best to not recruit a defensive back or receiver that doesn't also return punts or kickoffs."
The template might be someone like sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos who, head coach Bill O'Brien said earlier this season, was capable of playing any position on the defensive but the defensive line and has seen time at both corner and safety. He also returns kickoffs.
The problem is, every other program is out there recruiting the same player. Those teams might only have room for him at one spot but they'll make a strong effort to get him there.
"Finding a 6-1, 200-pound defensive back that can play corner and safety is what we're all looking for," Butler said.
The versatility aspect will not be limited to the defensive backfield. Offensive line coach Mac McWhorter has already played several of his linemen at multiple positions this season, and O'Brien mixes and matches tight ends, wide receivers, tailbacks and fullbacks like few other coaches in college football as he draws up a playbook that features different players and positions each week.
Ultimately, Penn State's recruiters will be searching for the best football players, guys who are simply productive or disruptive from any position on the field. Butler would love to have an army of 5-foot-11 cornerbacks with 4.4 speed and long arms, but he would just as gladly take a player who is less physically gifted but averages an interception a game.
"There's a skill set evaluation," Butler said, "but when you watch them in person you want to get a guy that makes a whole lot of plays."
Chances are, they'll be asked to make those plays for Penn State not long after they get to campus.