In Focus: Anthony Morelli

Ask the average Penn State fan which single player holds the key to the team's success in 2007 and chances are the most common answer will be quarterback Anthony Morelli. How is he doing as his second season as a starter is about to begin?

THE PLAYER: With a series of ups and downs through the 2006 season, Anthony Morelli ended 2007 on a high note with a strong showing in the Outback Bowl victory over Tennessee. "It really did a lot to boost up his confidence," one observer explained. "That's probably one of the biggest factors with him; not just becoming a captain, but feeling comfortable in the role."

As another observer told us, "He's emerged since the bowl. Being the front man takes confidence, and he's gotten a boost, which has done wonders for him." Another practice observer explained, "Morelli has gone through a maturation process and that's given him perspective."

THE ASSESSMENT: One of the consistent issues critics had with Morelli's play last season was his tendency to "lock onto the receivers he felt comfortable with," with these prime targets being Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Andrew Quarless.

Morelli has done a better job "spreading the ball around" in the preseason. According to one observer, "He ran passing drills multiple times per week in the off-season with Jordan [Norwood], Deon [Butler], Derrick [Williams], Andrew Quarless, Terrell [Golden] and a few new guys — [Brett] Brackett and [Chris] Bell.

Another observer said Morelli has improved since last August, but was concerned that at times the senior quarterback still lapses and stares down his primary target.

Nevertheless, Morelli focused extensively on his check-down routes to "handle breakdowns." As one observer explained, "A lot of defenses will play deep on him and play the 10-yard route loose. He is taking advantage of those opportunities more."

Morelli is also "getting better at moving with the pocket" and really worked the intermediate (10- to 25-yard) routes. "He's better at looking in on his routes. He used to only look for guys 25 or more yards out," one observer said. "I'd say the comfort in his decision-making is much better."

Morelli also improved on hitting his deep routes, called his "bread and butter" by one observer. Over the course of the preseason scrimmages he had several big plays, including Williams pulling in one of his "impressive" 40-yard rockets and another 30-yard strike on a post pattern, Bell grabbing a "55-yard laser on the wing," and a 25-yard catch described as a "soar and snag," Butler on a 65-yard sideline out route and Norwood on a 15-yard curl, which he "pulled around full circle and shot off for another 12 or so yards."

In terms of his demeanor in the huddle, the consensus is that Morelli is more comfortable in the role. As one observer said, "Everyone thinks about the QB as the team leader, so it basically comes with the job. That doesn't mean every guy can lead just because he can throw a ball. But Tony's grown into the role. He has a better presence in the huddle, and that came on late last year."

Morelli continues to work on audible packages, but there is debate among observers as to how much he will be allowed to do. "I don't know," one observer said. "The staff is so hesitant to change things up at the line and rarely incorporates this into things." But as another observer said, "[The audibles] give the offense an entirely new dimension. They need to do it even if it's a limited set of proven plays."

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