Spring Scrimmage Short Shots

Where will star rookie Justin King shine for the Nittany Lions next year, offense, defense or special teams? If the spring game was any indication, perhaps all three.

KING-SIZED EFFORT

When prep All-American Justin King enrolled at Penn State in January, everyone figured the versatile athlete would make an immediate impact on the program. But nobody knew exactly where.

Offense, as a play-making wideout and slot back? Defense, as a shutdown corner? Or special teams, as a return man?

How does all three sound?

King started at wideout for the Blue team in Saturday's Blue-White game, cranking off a 35-yard reception to open the game. He finished with two grabs for 53 yards and carried twice for 13 more. He broke behind the defense on another play that would have been a big-gainer, but QB Anthony Morelli short-armed the pass and the ball was picked by Jason Ganter.

King also saw plenty of time at cornerback, breaking up a game-high two passes. There were no kickoffs and punts were not live, or who knows what else the rookie might have done. He hobbled off the field late in the second quarter with what appeared to be a minor injury, and did not return.

King was not available for comment afterward. Not that anything he might have said in the media room would have sent a louder message than the one he delivered on the field.

“It's definitely a different thing for Penn State,” junior linebacker Paul Posluszny said of King's two-way duties. “But I also think we're under some different circumstances. Penn State has never really been in this situation before, where we're having losing season after losing season. This change will be good.”

But will the two-way duties end with King?

“I should line up at tailback a little bit, to be honest with you,” Posluszny said with a laugh, before adding that he was kidding.

DECLEATER

Speaking of versatile players … Penn State is not exactly hurting for talent at linebacker. But if a sudden need should materialize at the position, running back Matt Hahn has the goods to make the switch.

In the second quarter, backup defensive back John Royce intercepted a Paul Cianciolo pass. He took two steps and was leveled by Hahn, drawing a gasp from the crowd.

A DECADE LATER

Speaking of the crowd … it gave a great reception to Penn State's undefeated 1994 team, which was honored at halftime. Longtime NFL players Ki-Jana Carter and Kerry Collins received the loudest ovations during individual player intros.

The current crop of Lions were thrilled to see the uncrowned champs, too.

“It was an honor for them to be around,” Posluszny said. “When you talk about what those guys did for Penn State, winning the Big Ten championship… It's great to see those guys come back. That's where we want to be, we want to be those guys. We want to live up to their expectations and do what they did.”

Watching Penn State struggle to four losing seasons in the past five years has been difficult on the last great Nittany Lion team.

“It got a little frustrating,” said Mike Archie, a versatile running back a decade ago. “You wonder when that next team is going to step up and have that same pride we had.”

So how can the current squad get back to that level? Almost to a man, the players from '94 said it all starts with team unity. As Archie explained, “We were a close-knit group. We weren't going to let anyone come in and tear apart what we had built together.”

Another interesting suggestion came from '94 captain and starting center Bucky Greeley. It involved PSU coach Joe Paterno.

“Ten years have gone by, and you come to realize that the old guy with the thick glasses is usually right,” Greeley said. “You might not think it right now when you're doing some of the stuff he has you doing, but he's going to be right. And if you follow his lead and listen to the coaches and get yourself in position, good things are going to happen.”

WEIGHTY ISSUES

Speaking of Greeley … all five starting offensive linemen from the 1994 team spent time in the NFL. Guards Marco Rivera and Jeff Hartings are still there, and both have won All-Pro honors.

Which is why Greeley laughed when asked about the heat PSU strength coach John Thomas has taken for using the HIT method of training. Critics believe it has been part of the reason State's offensive linemen have struggled the past five years.

“It seemed to work fine for two of the All-Pros that we have,” Greeley said. “I guess people forget about that. All five of us were in the NFL at one time. Two are now All-Pro and making $100 million a year. So the program worked pretty good back then.”

MISSING IN ACTION

Speaking of offensive linemen … Arrow-gaters Tyler Reed, Andrew Richardson and Scott Paxson were all held out of the game. Reed and Richardson (two O-linemen) practiced with the team all week. But Paxson (a defensive tackle) was reportedly held out of the final week of drills for academic reasons.

Paterno did allow the three seniors to be introduced along with their classmates at a booster function before the game, though. The coach said all three players were still in his doghouse, but actually kidded about the situation by saying he was tempted to put an apple on his head.

While meeting the press later, Paterno took to the pulpit and admonished his audience for blowing Arrow-gate out of proportion. But he even did that with a bit of levity.

“I said to the alumni group this morning, if I hadn't done a couple things when I was in college, I might have been the first American pope.”

AWARD WINNERS

Speaking of apples … another trio of players were the apples of the coaching staff's collective eye. Tackle Jay Alford won the O'Hora Award as the most improved defensive player of the spring, fullback BranDon Snow won the Worrell Award as the most improved offensive player and linebacker Tim Shaw won the Patrick Award as the junior who is a good guy on and off the field.

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