April 9, 2010

Blue-White Countdown 2010: Wide Receivers

Previous entries...
1: Special Teams
2: Defensive Backs
3: Linebackers
4: Defensive Line
5: Offensive Line
6: Tight EndsGraham Zug (5) has earned a cult-like following among fans.

We continue our countdown to the 2010 Blue-White Game. Penn State football is up and running, the weather is warming, and that itch you're feeling won't be fixed by a doctor, but rather a sunny day in Beaver Stadium with 80,000 fans. As we close in on the Blue-White weekend, I'll go through all the major positions, trying to give the most reasoned explanation of who we could see come out big, and why. In today's edition, the wide receivers get a look.


From 2000 through 2004, Penn State had exactly one big-play threat wide receiver--Bryant Johnson in 2002. But ask most fans suffering through those "Dark Years," which positions contributed most to the poor on-field product, and they will surely point to the pass catchers. The Nittany Lions simply couldn't stretch the field on offense, allowing defenses to pile up in the box. It wasn't a fun time for the Penn State passing game.

Then, along came a kid from Greenbelt, Maryland named Derrick Williams. He was no ordinary recruit; he was the No. 1 recruit in college football for 2005. His commitment to the Nittany Lions in December 2004 gave new life to a program struggling to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

That fall, Penn State fielded what could have been dubbed the fastest group of wide receivers ever to wear the blue and white. Forty wins, three bowl wins, and two Big Ten titles later, the class of 2005 had gone on, leaving a huge hole on the outside of the offense.

Last season, new talent had to step into that void, and did so in surprisingly easy fashion. Derek Moye, Graham Zug and Chaz Powell helped quarterback Daryll Clark become the first Penn State player to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. All three return for 2010, but that doesn't mean the wide receiver positions are going to remain the same as 2009. With a new quarterback and new tight ends, this spring will be crucial to the development of the Nittany Lions' pass attack this fall.


Derek Moye (6) became Penn State's go-to guy last season, catching 48 passes for 785 yards and six touchdowns.

Last season, we saw the emergence of Moye and Zug as Penn State's two main receivers. They combined for 1,385 yards and 13 touchdowns.

That might not seem like much, but when combined with Andrew Quarless' 536 from the tight end spot, Powell's 336 as an all-purpose-style receiver, and nearly 400 yards from the running backs catching passes, the Nittany Lions had plenty of fire power through the air.

This spring, expect Moye and Zug to be held out of any serious competition. Powell has been moved to the defensive backfield. And the tight ends probably won't get nearly as many balls thrown their way as in 2009.

So, where does that leave Penn State? Well, not as bare in the cupboard as you'd think.

Aside from Moye and Zug, four returning receivers caught at least one pass last season--Curtis Drake, Devon Smith, Justin Brown and Brett Brackett. From the early reports out of spring practice, it looks like Brackett could be used as a flex-tight end in certain situations. But for this exercise, we'll include him in the wide receiver corps.






High School


Shawney Kersey
Woodbury, N.J./Woodbury
Zack Valentine
Graham Zug
Manheim, Pa./Manheim Central
Mike Williams
Derek Moye
Rochester, Pa./Rochester
Gene Matsook
Curtis Drake
Philadelphia, Pa./West Philadelphia Catholic
Brian Fluck
Brandon Moseby-Felder
Fort Washington, Md./Oxon Hill
Kevin Wolfolk
A.J. Price
Reston, Va./South Lakes
John Ellenberger
Christian Kuntz
Camp Hill, Pa./Trinity
Jeff Boger
Justin Brown
Wilmington, Del./Concord
George Kosanovich
Devon Smith
White Plains, Md./Westlake
Dom Zaccarelli
Andrew Goodman
Philadelphia, Pa./George Washington
Ron Cohen
J.D. Mason
Philipsburg, Pa./Philipsburg-Osceola
Jeff Vroman
Tariq Tongue
Flushing, N.Y./Holy Cross
Tom Pugh
Ryan Scherer
Avon Lake, Ohio/Avon Lake
Dave Dlugosz
Brett Brackett
Lawrenceville, N.J./Lawrence
Rob Radice

Receivers are like defensive backs and offensive linemen; you can never have enough on the roster. Including the six already mentioned, Penn State could have as many as ten wide receivers in serious contention for playing time in the fall. Four of them--Shawney Kersey, Brandon Moseby-Felder, A.J. Price and Christian Kuntz--are all redshirt freshmen, all of them looking for a chance to impress the coaches enough to land a spot in the regular receiver rotation. Spring practice and the Blue-White Game is where careers can be made. This season is no different, especially for these four young men.

A.J. Price (14) is just one of the young talented receivers trying to break into the rotation this spring.

Kersey and Moseby-Felder gained some early traction with the coaches, when in winter workouts prior to the Capital One Bowl, the two were said to have worked extraordinarily hard to help the team prepare. That is absolutely no slight to Kuntz or Price, as there have been no negative comments from the staff about them. It's just that the former two have been particularly praised going into the spring. Some reports have indicated that Moseby-Felder might not have been redshirted at all last season, had it not been for an injury during his senior year of high school.

The more experienced backups, including Drake, Brown and Smith, will all fight this spring for the vacancy left when Powell moved to defense. With Zug having played in the slot before, Brown won't have to worry about being left out. Drake and Smith are definitely more suited to play the slot position.

Brown is one of the players I'm particularly excited to see get more playing time. Not only did he show flashes on offense, but he saw even more in-game action on special teams as a punt returner. At 6-foot-3, and more than 200 pounds, he has prototypical NFL size, with speed to match. Paired up with Moye, Brown could give Penn State another huge boost down the sideline or to the post.

Smith played early last season, but managed to land himself in Joe Paterno's doghouse after the second or third game. He's one of the fastest players on the team, running several end-around plays and kickoff returns last season. If he can get his off-field issues settled, it will be difficult to keep him on the sideline. Smith was injured last week, but it's supposedly only a slight ankle sprain that shouldn't keep him out too long.

Then there's Drake. A former high school quarterback, the true sophomore earned increasingly more playing time as last season went on, eventually catching everyone's attention against Michigan State. On a fake end-around, Drake tossed one into the end zone for a touchdown. If that play was any indication of how the staff might want to use Drake this season, we could have another Derrick Williams on our hands. The coaches like to pull out a few tricks for the Blue-White Game crowd. I imagine this will be one of the players to do so.

Two final names, Brackett and running back Stephon Green, should be mentioned before we close. Brackett is entering his final spring session, but hasn't been able to capture a starting role for the Nittany Lions. He's seen plenty of action over his career, but with the de-emphasizing of tight ends this season, I won't be shocked to see his number of plays increase significantly. Green has been mentioned as a possibility to split out from the backfield. The coaches really want to keep him on the field as much as possible this season; catching passes might be the way to do it.

Next: Running Backs

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