Blue White Roundtable: Alabama Week Edition
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Position Profile: Receivers

Submitted by on August 31, 2010No Comment

With less than two weeks until Penn State takes on Youngstown State, the mixing and matching of the spring and summer is starting to die down. The starting lineup and rotation is mostly set, and we’re taking a look as just how each position stacks up. We continue with a look at Penn State’s receiving corps, where considerable upheaval is met with remarkable consistency.

Last Year: Derek Moye led the team with 48 catches and 785 yards (6 TD). Graham Zug was second, with 46 and 600, respectively, and led the team with 7 TD. Andrew Quarless set a new Penn State record amongst tight ends, with 41 catches for 536 yards. Chaz Powell made 28 catches, and Mickey Shuler had 11 receptions.

Key Losses: Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler depart, having graduated. Curtis Drake will miss at least the first part of the season with a broken leg.

Overview: Penn State fans had been spoiled. From 2005 to 2008, the same three receivers were out there starting every game, making every big catch, and setting all the school records.  From the dynamic downfield threat that was Deon Butler to the multifaceted talent of Derrick Williams and the model of determination and guts that Jordan Norwood embodied, Penn State’s “big three” were all you could ask for from a receiving corps.

But the negative that came with three four-year starters was the question mark that receiver brought in 2009.  Daryll Clark was returning, sure, but would he have anyone to throw to?  Moye and Zug had combined for 14 catches the year before, and they were expected to fill the shoes of their predecessors?

And yet, Penn State’s passing game barely missed a beat.  Daryll Clark’s passing numbers actually improved in his senior year, and his starters, along with Andrew Quarless, who enjoyed a breakout senior season, surpassed the statistics of the vaunted trio they replaced.

Heading into 2010, some questions have obvious answers.  Penn State knows what they’re getting out of Graham Zug, who proved himself to be more than just a possession receiver last year–though he has the hands to excel in that role.  And Derek Moye was every bit the deep threat of Deon Butler–turns out a former state track champion with a 6-6 frame is hard to cover.  And while Chaz Powell struggled with consistency, and drops, he was adequate enough in the X-factor role of Derrick Williams.

Those three return, and they’re supplemented by some of the best talent at the position that Penn State has ever boasted.  Curtis Drake will probably redshirt, with the news of Powell’s return to offense, but lightning-quick Devon Smith, who struggled after suffering a concussion last year, can fill a similarly versatile role.  Justin Brown certainly looks the part, at 6’3, 216, and impressed those who saw him this spring.  And Brett Brackett, who made 13 catches in 2008–more than Zug or Moye–has the frame to be a valuable asset near the goal line.  That’s not even considering the freshmen who could step in, like Shawney Kersey, Alex Kenney, or Brandon Moseby-Felder.  With a new quarterback coming in, Penn State’s certainly surrounded him with weapons in the passing game. That’s for sure. at tight end, the personnel paint a more muddled picture.  Gone to graduation and the NFL are Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, who provided as effective a tandem as anyone could’ve hoped for: Quarless, the pass catcher–simultaneously both a safety valve for Daryll Clark and a field-stretcher; Shuler, the vicious in-line blocker. Replacing one of them would’ve been a difficult undertaking, but finding two to fill their shoes seems near-impossible.

That task was even further complicated when Andrew Szczerba, who looked almost as good in the two Blue-White games as his name is hard to spell, fell victim to a nagging back injury that’s kept him out for a month, and will carry on to the regular season.  Szczerba was the only tight end on the three deep with actual game experience, though his 2 career catches don’t exactly inspire confidence.

With him down, the job falls to Garry Gilliam, a redshirt freshman who spent last season practicing amongst the defensive ends.  Gilliam has a frame to drool over, at 6-6, 265, and an all-state pedigree that gives you hope.  But he’s never seen the field in a real game, and there’s not much experience behind him, either.

Kevin Haplea is even more green–a true freshman early enrollee–and he’s listed as the #2 tight end.  Mark Wedderburn is probably too small (listed at just 226 pounds) to see meaningful playing time, and that’s, really, about it, barring a miraculous recovery from Szczerba.  It won’t shock me to see Brackett fill an H-back role that puts him in-line with the tight ends more often than split out wide.

Three Questions:

1. Can Garry Gilliam carry the load at tight end? In all fairness, Penn State hadn’t leaned so heavily on their tight ends until last year, when Andrew Quarless finally “put it all together.”  In the first three years of his Penn State career, Quarless had led Penn State tight ends with 21, 14, and 11 passes, respectively.  21 catches would be a great year for Gilliam as a freshman–if he can hold his own as a blocker.

2. Are there enough balls to go around? Penn State knows what they’ve got in the two split ends, Moye and Zug, but the glut of talent competing for playing time at the slot means somebody’s going to get left out.  Chaz Powell’s return to offense is going to push someone to the bench, and the presumptive run-first offense that Penn State will go to, with such a raw QB means there are sure to be fewer passes thrown than there were a year ago.  In situations like this, it’s easy for one or more players to get lost in the shuffle, just as Brackett did last year.

3. How will the unsettled quarterback situation affect the passing game? If Joe Paterno pegs Kevin Newsome as the starter, the prevailing opinion suggests that Penn State will return to the offense they ran in 2005, under the similarly-minded Michael Robinson.  That year, Penn State completed just 175 passes–15 a game.  But with Matt McGloin, you would expect to see a more west-coast style of offense, relying on quick, short, crisp routes.  Penn State’s got plenty of versatility amongst the wideouts, but some players who thrived in the pro-style offense of a year ago might have some difficulty adjusting.  On the other hand, Chaz Powell or Devon Smith could thrive in a wildcat-esque single wing system where speed is the necessity.

Extra Bonus Question: Of Penn State’s non-returning starters (i.e., not Zug, Moye, or Powell), who has the most catches?

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