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

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Position Profile: Receivers

Submitted by on August 22, 2011No Comment

With under two weeks to go until Penn State’s season opener against Indiana State, we’re officially back in football mode here at quebecpenspinning. We might be a bit late with this set of season previews, but we’ll be breaking down the roster, sizing up the depth chart, and taking a look at how the Nittany Lions stack up at each position up until kickoff. We start with a look at the receiving corps.

The Starters: Derek Moye, Justin Brown
In The Rotation: Devon Smith, Curtis Drake, Bill Belton
Filling out the two-deep: Shawney Kersey, Brandon Moseby-Felder, Christian Kuntz
Graduated: Graham Zug, Brett Brackett

A year ago:

In 2009, Penn State had to break in an entirely new corps of receivers–the graduations of Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood had left a hole in the depth chart large enough for Brandon Ware to run through. But lo and behold, players stepped up. With Daryll Clark there to guide them into the starting lineup, Derek Moye and Graham Zug turned out to be solid starters in their own right, though after those two, and tight end Andrew Quarless, there wasn’t much depth. And without Quarless–or an experienced passer–it would’ve been fair to expect a drop-off in production.

But that didn’t happen, thanks in no small part to the evolution of Derek Moye. His stats–53 catches for 885 yards, and 8 TD receptions–were pretty phenomenal in their own right, but stand out even more when you consider the periphery. He was Penn State’s clear #1, had a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks throwing him the ball, and, for most of the season, the run game wasn’t enough to even keep opposing defenses honest. Complementing Moye was Brett Brackett, who enjoyed a breakout senior season, but also Justin Brown, who showed occasional spurts of brilliance when not struggling to hold on to the ball, and Devon Smith, who seemed to become more a football player and less a shiny new toy for the offensive coordinators as the season progressed.

A look ahead:

Moye will once again lead the receivers, but reports out of media day were that he’s put some weight on his 6’5 frame, looking bigger and stronger, not to mention harder, better, or faster. For Moye–who already combined extraordinary size and speed, to go along with superb route running and fantastic hands, the addition of some much needed size ought to allay the one knock on him, that he was skinny, and that litheness would’ve limited his effectiveness against bigger, more physical corners. The point is, Derek Moye is already on the precipice of greatness, and should he continue to improve in his senior season, the record books may need to be re-written. But Penn State knows what it has with its #1 receiver. What the Lions must be a little less sure about is the production that it’s going to need to get from his position-mates.

Justin Brown looks the part of an NFL receiver–at 6’3, 214 pounds, he’s got size that is simply prodigious–and showed glimpses last year of breaking through. As a junior now, and as the starter opposite Moye, he’s going to be asked to do just that in 2011, especially because this is a Penn State team deep on quicker, slot-type players, and thin on split ends. Brown put up numbers last year that look solid, at first glance–33 catches and 452 yards are nothing to sneeze at from your third option–but a closer look reveals a scary erratic streak. Brown caught just one touchdown pass a year ago, and caught two passes or less in 7 of 13 games, twice getting shut out completely. In the bowl game, he didn’t help out Matt McGloin, dropping a number of well-thrown passes, including a couple that would’ve converted third-down attempts. Brown’s development will make or break Penn State this season, from the standpoint of the wide receivers.

That said, there’s an impressive depth in the complimentary pieces, especially in the three-way battle developing for reps at slot receiver. Devon Smith inherited that position almost by default last preseason, after Curtis Drake broke his leg, and acquitted himself nicely, hauling in 27 passes, and adding 15 carries, to go along with handling kick-return duty for the Nittany Lions. But Smith’s unbelievable speed came with a catch–at times, the coaches seemed to see him only as a gadget player, forcing the ball into his hands at the cost of interrupting the offense’s rhythm. He certainly became a better pure receiver as the year went on, though.

Unfortunately for Smith, Drake should be back from his second broken leg in time for the season, and promises to take plenty of reps at the slot position, especially if Joe Paterno holds a grudge. Like Smith, Drake showed plenty in limited opportunities in 2009–the freshman year for both players–but appeared at times to be more of a smooth “football player” than the unbelievably fast athlete Smith was. If healthy, Drake could split time with Smith, or overtake him on the depth chart entirely. It wouldn’t come as a surprise.

Either way, both will face a challenge from freshman Bill Belton, who has turned heads since stepping foot on campus. Like both Drake and Smith, Belton has been destined to fill that jack-of-all-trades role since he decommitted from Pitt after Dave Wannstedt resigned. Just as Drake did, Belton played quarterback in a run-first system back in high school, and when on the field, the goal will be to get the ball in Belton’s hands in space.

Those five players should see the most balls for Penn State in 2011, but the Lions always tend to spread the love around. Shawney Kersey has been itching to get on the field for the better part of three years, and stands out for his impressive run on an end-around in the Alabama game last year. Moseby-Felder and Kuntz might be little more than garbage-time players, but should the unthinkable happen–an injury to Moye or Brown–they’ll need to step up.

The verdict:

While the running game loses Penn State’s all-time leading rusher, the offensive line breaks in half a new unit, and the quarterback job still isn’t settled, the Nittany Lions’ receiving corps is in pretty good shape. Depending on how Brown progresses, this group just might be one of the better ones in recent memory–and the floor is still pretty high, as long as Derek Moye keeps on being Derek Moye.

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