IN FOCUS: Catching On (WR/TE)

With preseason drills past the halfway point for Penn State football, the receiver unit has shown plenty of balance and depth. Get an in-depth look at the group here.

When FOS broke news of the injury to Curtis Drake earlier this month, fans wondered how losing such a versatile player would impact Penn State's receiving corps.

Yet as one observer explained, "Losing a guy like Curtis is a blow — no doubt about it. But if there's one unit I am not overly concerned about on offense it's wideout."

The unit has a "nice veteran base" with Derek Moye and Graham Zug. "Both are level-headed and understand that their roles go way beyond getting the players hyped up. They work with the players, help them with technique, pull them aside to show them hand position or how to square their body. Both are a huge asset to the entire offense," one observer said. "Moye is really stepping up as a vocal leader for the unit."

It's also been mentioned that they have been working with the quarterbacks (Matt McGloin, Kevin Newsome, Robert Bolden) and Paul Jones. In fact, the QBs and WRs spend a lot of meeting time together. "These are three young guys (at QB)," another observer explained. "It's huge to have not one but two veteran receivers explain where they should place the ball or how they should view a route."

Moye and Zug combined for 94 receptions for 1,385 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

Another key player in the receiving corp is senior Brett Brackett. After an down season in 2009, he has been shifted from a pure outside receiver post to a flex position. It is a similar role to the one handled by tight end Andrew Quarless last season.

As Quarless did last season, Brackett will line up in a variety of spots this year, from tight to the line to flexed to near the boundary.

Unlike Quarless, though, Brackett does all of his practicing with the wideouts. He is not involved in any of the offensive-line style blocking drills the tight ends do.

One of the reasons is because the former quarterback has also been a real leader among the wideouts and, according to the coaching staff, has been especially important in the development of the young quarterbacks. Why?

"Brackett knows the offense inside and out because he's played a bunch of positions," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said.

Behind the veterans is a "mixture of size and speed." Justin Brown, Fight On State The Magazine's newest cover boy, has decent experience having seen action in 11 games in 2009. Although he only pulled in five catches for 78 yards, the 6-foot-3 Brown "probably has the best overall combination of size and speed (in the unit)." He's two inches shorter than Moye, but as one observer put it, "He is such a smooth runner and uses his body well - he's tough to defend." He also weight 216 pounds.

On the other side of size chart is Devon Smith who is 5-7, 157 pounds and also saw action in 11 contests last season, grabbing four passes for 30 yards. "I thought Smith would get broken in two when he arrive on campus," one observer shared. "But he not only flies, but he's pretty tough."

Beyond that the unit is "stacked with a lot of untested potential," with Shawney Kersey, Alex Kenney, Christian Kuntz and Brandon Moseby-Felder.

Kersey and Kenney tend to get the bulk of praise from practice observers. Kersey "has big-play potential," and has made some big plays in the team's two scrimmages. Observers like his aggression — "he plays fearless."

Kenney, who shifted from cornerback to the slot after Drake's injury, has shown he can run "good routes" and can "get separation in some tight spaces." Both have good speed and have shown they have "reliable hands … with some freshmen drops here and there."

Kuntz was hurt in the spring but it was not serious. He missed the Blue-White Game as a precaution, but participated in Lift For Life and is fine now. He's an "under-the-radar" player who "could emerge as a possession-type target" thanks to his 6-4, 215-pound frame.

Moseby-Felder has shown "promise" this preseason, but will have "to focus on refining his game to move up the chain." He also has to add a bit of bulk to his 6-2, 176-pound frame.

One other player who has done well in the preseason but who will have trouble climbing past all of the other talent is walk-on Tariq Tongue. Tongue is on the small size (5-8, 165) but has good athleticism. The fact that the redshirt freshman earned a spot on the 105-man preseason roster means the coaching staff likes what he brings to the team.

As for the tight ends, as of Wednesday Andrew Szczerba had seen no contact in the preseason due to a back injury. At PSU Media Day last week, he insisted the injury was not serious. But the season is closing quickly now, so if he is going to be in the mix for the starting job most figured would be his, he'll have to start hitting soon.

In the meantime, redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam's strength, size (6-6, 265) has had him running with the first team. "Gilliam has good size and can deliver a crushing block. His hands aren't bad either — he's grabbed some tough balls and he fights for extra yards," according to one observer.

Freshman Kevin Haplea has also "looked solid" and has even worked into getting some first-team reps this preseason.

Redshirt sophomore Mark Wedderburn has gotten better with his blocking but is still too light (he carries 229 pounds on a 6-6 frame) to be earn consistent playing time. He has seen second- and third-team work in the preseason.

Because of the lack of experience here, when Penn State goes to two-tight end sets in non-short-yardage situations, expect Brackett to get much of the work alongside whomever emerges as the starting TE (Gilliam or Szczerba).

The projected two deep at the various positions if the season began tomorrow:

Wide Receiver: Graham Zug, Justin Brown
Wide Receiver: Derek Moye, Shawney Kersey
Slot: Devon Smtih, Alex Kenney
Tight End: Garry Gilliam, Kevin Haplea
Flex: Brett Brackett

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