There are few places on the Penn State depth chart where the elimination of the Sandusky-induced NCAA sanctions is reflected more clearly than wide receiver.
There are eight players listed at three receiver positions, all but two of them sophomores or younger. They range from proven (DaeSean Hamilton led the Big Ten with 82 receptions last year) to promising (Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin) to intriguing (DeAndre Thompkins, Brandon Polk, Juwan Johnson).
It makes for a potentially explosive group. It also makes for healthy competition each day in practice.
“I love it,” Godwin said Wednesday, as he looked ahead to Saturday’s season opener at Temple. “Going to practice each and every day, you have to bring your ‘A’ game.”
One slip, one off day, and it’s possible to be bypassed in the pecking order.
“We all push each other,” said Godwin, a sophomore.
Godwin finished his freshman season with 25 receptions, seven of them coming in the 31-30 victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. They netted 140 yards, and included a 72-yard touchdown bomb from Christian Hackenberg.
“That (game) was big for my confidence, and let me know that all the work had come to fruition,” Godwin said, “and I’m ready to take the next step forward.”
“That (game) was big for my confidence, and let me know that all the work had come to fruition, and I’m ready to take the next step forward.”
He will have to, in fact, because the competition for playing time is fierce. Blacknall, who had 11 catches as a freshman last season, is listed behind Godwin at the “X” receiver spot. Next in line is Johnson, a 6-4, 213-pound freshman known by his teammates as “Megatron Jr.,” for his physical resemblance to Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson.
“He brings a different element to our receiving corps,” Godwin said.
Hamilton, a redshirt sophomore, is listed at No. 1 at the “Z” spot, with redshirt junior Geno Lewis and senior Matt Zanellato behind him. Thompkins and Polk, two burners with freshman eligibility, are the top two at the “F.”
“It doesn’t matter who starts,” Godwin said. “We’re all capable of performing.”
He said that in his case, the talent of Division I-level players took some getting used to last year. If he could overwhelm opponents in his native Delaware with his ability, he discovered he would have to refine his technique in order to succeed in college.
He would get a catch here, a catch there, but there was little to indicate he would have the kind of night he enjoyed against BC.
“It was more what the defense was giving us,” he said. “That day it was my turn to produce. … That time was just my time.”
Now he and the other receivers test themselves daily against PSU’s secondary, another unit that seems to have talent to burn.
“It’s more like a steel-vs.-steel type of thing,” Godwin said.
And a mouth-vs.-mouth thing. Godwin said there is plenty of trash talk on both sides, with Hamilton and Lewis the leading yappers among the receivers.
“I’m a little more reserved,” he claimed.
But in another sense he cannot afford to be. Not with all the pass-catching options around him.
“If we all give our best efforts each and every day in practice,” Godwin said, “the ball will find the open receiver.”