April 12, 2011

Blue-White Game Preview '11: Receivers & Tight Ends

This post is part 2 of 5 this week previewing all the offensive and defensive units heading into the Blue-White scrimmage this Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

Part 2: Receivers & Tight Ends

This position took a big hit last week when Derek Moye sustained a concussion that will sideline him for the remainder of the spring session. But it could turn out to be beneficial to the progress of this unit--of course, it's horrible that Moye had to miss time due to such a serious injury--that the less-prominent receivers will see many more reps the next week of practice and in the scrimmage.

The tight end spot is even rougher than the wide receivers. With two of the top candidates out indefinitely with injuries, it will be yet another season of inexperience on the end.

More on each in the following sections below the break.


2010 Penn State vs Michigan State-60
Will we see the Justin Brown show
this weekend? Maybe. But it's a big
opportunity for the rising junior.
Again, let me be clear that a concussion is NEVER a good thing, and in fact is one of the most dangerous injury a football player can sustain, particularly concerning his long-term health. But with Derek Moye out of action for the next few weeks, in addition to Curtis Drake's broken leg, it will allow the rest of the wide receivers to move up one spot on the depth chart. The Drake injury will definitely hurt this unit for the fall, but right now he isn't even part of the depth discussion.

Now, particularly on Saturday, all the focus will be on Justin Brown. The rising junior has shown really bright flashes on the field the past two seasons, but hasn't been able to really turn into a reliable game-breaker for the passing game. While this weekend's scrimmage won't prove much of anything for the fall, a crisp showing by Brown would at least give the impression that he's turning the corner.

The rest of the group is a bit muddled, with Devon Smith, Shawney Kersey, and Brandon Moseby-Felder all vying for two-deep positions. Two guys who are likely to see more time this year are Smith and Kersey. If you remember from 2010, Smith played a much bigger role on offense, though struggled at times with getting much room to run free. He's lightening in pads, and could provide a big spark for the offense, if he's used correctly.

2010 Blue-White Game-131
Shawney Kersey impressed in last year's
Blue-White Game. Can he do it again this year?
Kersey, on the other hand, has been up and down. In last season's Blue-White scrimmage, he caught two touchdown passes, both beautiful over-the-shoulder grabs in the end zone. During the regular season, though, he couldn't be consistent enough to have many passes thrown his way when he was on the field. Kersey has height and speed to be a top-flight wide receiver. This week is his chance to show off that talent.

Moseby-Felder is another one of those unknown entities on the team, who seems to have the talent, but hasn't put forth that breakthrough performance in practice to vault him into the two-deep. Though less heralded coming out of high school, he's very similar to Kersey in his build. Two top receivers will be missing from the scrimmage Saturday--Moye and Drake. So this is the time for Moseby-Felder to get more attention in the pass game, thus more opportunities to earn more playing time this fall.

Christian Kuntz has been plagued by injury for most of the last year. He first injured his knee during practice last spring, then again just before the season opener last fall. Then after getting more playing time in late October, he once again went down with a broken collar bone. Kuntz was supposed to be a bigger factor this spring, but he hasn't been able to go due to in recovery.

2010 Penn State vs Illinois-61
Kevin Haplea was forced into the
starting role in 2010. He returns
this spring as the only healthy
tight end with a career catch.
Tight Ends

If the receiver corps looked like triage, the tight ends look like the morgue. Penn State will be without its top two tight ends this spring and fall, as Garry Gilliam's torn ACL will keep him out the rest of this year, and Andrew Szczerba's back problems have kept him sidelined since last August and likely will keep him out this off-season. Like the situation was going into 2010, the 2011 tight end position is full of big time talent, but also big time inexperience.

The likely starter will continue to be Kevin Haplea, who took over for Gilliam after the Iowa game. Haplea was probably in line to redshirt 2010, but was forced into action. Joe Paterno said he liked Haplea's ability, but his youth was too much for the coaches to lean too much on the grayshirt freshman last year. This year, with at least a full calendar year in the program and a few live-fire games under his belt, Haplea should be able to handle much of what is thrown at him.

That leaves the door open for the true freshman this season, but not until they arrive on campus this summer. So, the coaches have moved some players around, including Mike Yancich, a former second-string linebacker, to tight end for the spring.


On the outside, injuries have hurt tremendously, particularly this spring. But by the fall much of it should be settled. This weekend should offer up some new faces thrust into the spotlight, as is usually the case with the Blue-White Game. The one spot that will be most disappointing comes in at tight end; not due to lack of talent, but due to lack of bodies. Tight end could have been a strength, even if only Gilliam were healthy.

Stay tuned tomorrow morning for Part 3: Offensive & Defensive Lines

Part 1: Offensive Backfield
Part 2: Receivers & Tight Ends
Part 3: Offensive & Defensive Lines
Part 4: Linebackers
Part 5: Secondary & Special Teams

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