TYM: Spring WR Preview

Our breakdown of the Penn State football program heading into the spring continues, as Harrington and Brennan tackle the receivers. What new faces will make and impact this spring? Who will flex their muscles at tight end? What's going on behind the scenes? Check out all of this an more.

RECEIVER

Key Issues

Brennan: Though young at the position, Penn State has terrific depth at wideout. But will super sophomores Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams have the same chemistry with new starting quarterback Anthony Morelli as they had with 2005 starter Michael Robinson? A former receiver himself, Robinson could clearly relate to his young pass-catchers. Now a new leader must emerge in the passing game, whether it is the QB or one of the wideouts.

Harrington: Though the wide receiver unit is young, it is an experienced, receiving significant playing time last season. The main issue is getting the most out of a talented, deep unit. With Butler and Norwood serving as the unit's leaders, the offense also sees the return of Derrick Williams and Mark Rubin, both back from injury, not to mention newcomers James McDonald, Kevin Cousins and true freshman Chris Bell. There is a lot of talent ready to pull in balls.


Derrick Williams.

Off-season Priorities

Harrington: The biggest priority is building a solid synergy between Morelli and the receivers. Morelli should be chomping at the bit to see action with this wideout unit. If the Lions can build a cohesive passing game out of the gate they should be a formidable force on the field. The key is consistent route-running and ball delivery.

Brennan: Penn State returns only one tight end who saw serious action in 2005, and senior-to-be Patrick Hall was primarily a blocker in the Lions' jumbo set. He had all of two catches (but both did go for short TDs). The point: Hall is not the kind of tight end who can stretch the field. And that means one of the underclassmen will have to step up and start making plays this spring. The list of candidates includes redshirt sophomore Jordan Lyons, and redshirt freshmen Brennan Coakley, Mickey Shuler and possibly Francis Claude.


Patrick Hall (44).

Keep An Eye On

Brennan: Joe Paterno has repeatedly stated that some of the strongest prospects from last year's true freshman class took redshirts. And while he'll never let on who - “If I start mentioning names, I'll forget someone,” is his familiar refrain - you can bet McDonald is one of them. The Washington, D.C. native has a great combination of size, speed and athleticism.

Harrington: Lyons sustained an ankle injury which sidelined him in 2005. However, with his return he brings excellent strength, size and power, along with a solid physique. Though he is not the fastest guy on the field, he is quicker than most expect. He also has a good blocking frame, which he will need to break into the two-deep. In terms of receiving he is a big target who provides a challenge for defenders to cover and has the size to pick up extra yards. As one observer described, "If the coaches were to use him on some crossing routes he would be dangerous."

Behind The Scenes

Harrington: With the emergence of the young guns like Williams, Norwood and Butler, most fans have all but forgotten Rubin, who was sidelined with an injury last season. Many feel Rubin's lack of breakaway speed make him obsolete in the spread, however observers feel his added size and clutch receiving ability make him a valuable possession target in this offense.


Mark Rubin in 2004.

Brennan: Justin King and Williams both wanted the No. 1 vacated by senior cornerback Anwar Phillips. So how did King get it? “[Derrick] wore No. 1 in high school, but I wore it longer than he did,” King said. “I wore 1 my whole high school career.” Williams will remain in his familiar No. 2. In related news, Lydell Sargeant, who played wideout last season but projects as a running back or defensive back for 2006, has switched from No. 16 to No. 10. Redshirt freshman safety Knowledge Timmons has taken over No. 21.

Setting The Record Straight

Brennan: Folks talking about Penn State using a “flex” tight end are overcomplicating things. In three- and four-wideout sets, one receiver — usually designated as the “Y” — will often line up a few yards away from a tackle. Terrell Golden did it at times last year and will probably do more of the same in 2006. Can a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder actually be considered any kind of tight end? Semantically, sure. In reality, however, the designation is a stretch.


Terrell Golden.

Harrington: Don't buy the rumors of Rubin moving to tight end — flex or otherwise. His frame is just not big enough to handle the position. The staff used him at safety in the pre-bowl practices and may give him some reps there in the spring. Ultimately, look for him to play receiver in 2006.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS

• Part 2: Running Back.
• Part 1: Quarterback.

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