Blue White Roundtable: Alabama Week Edition
September 7, 2011 – | 1 Comment

Once again, it’s Adam Collyer over at BlackShoeDiaries providing the questions, and we, your humble bloggers, providing the answers. Mine are below, and you can venture off to the remote areas of the blogosphere that …

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Spring Position Profile: Wide Receivers

Submitted by on April 11, 2011No Comment

With under one week left until the Blue/White Game, quebecpenspinning is getting back in the football mood. It’s been a long offseason–and the scrimmage is really just a tease–but after what has felt like an interminably long offseason, that Blue/White Game is sorely needed.

And with that in mind, we’ll be profiling the team heading into the game, breaking down the roster, highlighting position battles, and looking at key players to watch. We continue with a look at Penn State’s wide receiving corps.

Last year’s leaders: Derek Moye: 53 catches, 885 yards, 8 TD; Brett Brackett: 39 catches, 525 yards, 5 TD; Justin Brown: 33 catches, 452 yards, 1 TD; Devon Smith: 27 catches, 363 yards, 1 TD; Graham Zug: 17 catches, 194 yards, 1 TD

Moving On: Brackett, Zug

Entering the fold: Shawney Kersey, Christian Kuntz, Brandon Moseby-Felder, Bill Belton

On the DL: Moye (concussion, out all spring), Curtis Drake (broken leg, 2011 season in jeopardy)

The past two seasons have been an interesting study in contradiction for Penn State’s receiving corps. In each season, we’ve seen elements of experience come together with new players in new roles, and yet the unit has been one of the most successful–or at least consistent–on the team. 2008 saw the graduations of Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood, a trio that set all sorts of Penn State records, but come 2009, Moye and Zug broke out–as did the perennially underacheiving Andrew Quarless–aided by the senior quarterback Daryll Clark.

Photo credit: The Daily Collegian
Last year was more of the same–with Clark and Quarless both exiting stage left, an unsettled quarterback position, and a total dearth of any depth or experience at tight end, one might have expected a step back from the receiving corps, but that certainly didn’t come to fruition. Derek Moye continued his meteoric rise to greatness with a terrific junior campaign, and now that he’s the unquestioned leader of this offense (and perhaps the team; Joe Paterno selected him, over all other players, to join him on the Spring media teleconference), big things will be expected. How much better could he be than he was in 2010? I’m not sure, but with his size, speed, terrific route-running, and obscenely good ball skills, the sky is the limit. He’s got a chance to leave his mark as one of the best receivers ever to play at Penn State, and I’m not sure that’s even hyperbole.

Justin Brown showed glimpses of that same ability, and he’s got the stronger, more compact body of an NFL receiver to boot. But unlike the incredibly consistent Moye–who always seemed to know how to get open–Brown was invisible for large portions of many games. Alongside the breakout performances against Temple and Michigan State were the 7 games with 2 or fewer catches. And though his hands seemed fine for most of the year, he developed a serious case of the drops in the bowl game against Florida.

That might have been a contagion he caught from Graham Zug, the formerly reliable fan favorite who went from walk-on to possession receiver to afterthought. In his senior season, Zug caught 30 fewer balls than he did the prior year, and looked like he often didn’t belong on the field. In his stead, Brett Brackett stepped up–perhaps owing to the losses of Quarless and Mickey Shuler, Brackett and his giant frame stepped in as a wide-receiver, H-back hybrid–but became a reliable target down the seam, especially early in the season for Rob Bolden, who had the ability to get the ball there. while optimism can remain high, given the return of Moye and Brown, who form the best receiving tandem in the Big Ten, it’s a bit unnerving to see that last year’s weakness should still be prevalent come 2011–the Nittany Lions lack a true slot receiver. Devon Smith is a nice gadget player, but too often Penn State tried to force the ball into his hands, and he seemed uncomfortable going out on passing routes. Curtis Drake seemed poised to take that role, but a broken leg forced him out of action for the entire 2010 season. And apparently, lightning sometimes can strike twice–another broken leg may well sideline him for all of 2011. It doesn’t help that he’s been in some trouble off the field, but should he recover quickly, and get healthy in time for the season, it would be a big boost for a Penn State passing game with questions on the underneath routes.

Then there are the depth guys. For whatever reason, Penn State went really wide receiver heavy in the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes, and even with some players shifting to defense (like Chaz Powell and Alex Kenney), there are still plenty of players vying for playing time. Shawney Kersey might be the most high profile of that group, having been a big get in the recruiting game, but every so often, it seems one of those players bursts into the rotation for Penn State. Discounting a Moseby-Felder or Kuntz would be a mistake, especially given Penn State’s newfound affinity for spread sets. I’m not sure how well any but true freshman Bill Belton could play in the slot, but there’s always place for someone willing to go over the middle in the lineup.

And considering that Penn State once again lacks a tight end, 3 and 4 receiver sets seem a likelihood. The perpetually-hampered Andrew Sczcerba is once again on the mend, and after Kevin Haplea, the depth is pretty much walk-on JD Mason, and converted linebacker Mike Yancich. Last year, Nate Cadogan was forced into the lineup at tight end wearing number 76 (and even caught a touchdown pass!), and he’s got as much experience as pretty much anyone else.

Verdict: It’s fair to expect big things out of Penn State’s receiving corps in 2011–Moye and Brown alone should be responsible for carrying the offense, given the ever-present question marks at quarterback and along the offensive line. But in this new football landscape, even in the Big Ten, two receivers don’t a corps make. The competition for the third and fourth receiver on this team will be a storyline I’m watching closely in the Blue/White game–an impressive showing from the likes of Kersey, Kuntz, or even Belton could signify that they’re ready to break out in 2011.

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