The Penn State football team has a lot of players returning that made huge contributions to their Rose Bowl run a season ago. However, there is one position where the Lions will have to completely start over.
Last season, PSU graduated star wide-outs Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams, who all finished in the top ten in most Penn State career receiving categories. The trio accounted for over 60 percent of the Lions’ receiving yardage last season.
So how will Penn State find replacements to fill in for what these receivers produced?
The Lions have many talented players coming into the season offensively, but not many with much receiving experience.
PSU does, however, have a quarterback returning who scored 10 rushing touchdowns a year ago as well as two featured running backs who each averaged well over five yards per carry last season. But it is pretty clear that the Lions will need to find some success through the air as well if they want to have success on offense in the coming season.
They should find that their passing success may not come mostly by way of wide receivers.
Penn State has two phenomenal tight ends with a few seasons of experience each. Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler had very similar numbers a season ago; each had a touchdown reception and Quarless had 117 yards receiving while Shuler had 120. However, in an offense that looks to the tight end more both of these players are capable of putting up much bigger numbers.
Quarless has the size and athleticism to present match-up problems for any defense while Shuler relies more on game savvy and route-running. It has not been made clear which one of these two will be the starting tight end this season, but Penn State would benefit greatly by putting them both on the field as much as possible.
The Lions also have the luxury of great pass-catching running backs. Evan Royster had 155 yards receiving last season while Stephfon Green had 268, including a touchdown and average yards per reception of 17.9. Both can serve as weapons catching the ball out of the backfield, and Green provides the added option of being split out wide and running a receiver’s route.
At the receiver position, the Lions most experience will come from Graham Zug and Brett Brackett, who had 174 and 160 yards receiving respectively a year ago. However, Zug and Brackett play the same receiving position, so PSU will have to rely on two very inexperienced new starters. Those two are projected to be Chaz Powell and Derek Moye. Powell and Moye combined for only five catches last year, but Powell gained a lot of experience as a kick returner and Moye finished with a 23.7 yard per catch average, which was best on the team.
So the big question is if Penn State will be able to put up big enough numbers in the passing game to balance their dynamic rushing attack. And the answer is assuredly yes, but not with the same style of attack as last year.
There is no doubt that Clark, as long as he stays healthy, will be able to distribute the ball to wherever it needs to go on the field, as he showed last season. The key will be running plays and routes that feature a lot of the non-receiver options at tight end and running back to take a lot of pressure off of an inexperienced group of receivers. If the Lions can do that, their receivers won’t get the full attention from team’s secondaries and will be able to get open much more easily. And perhaps most importantly, they will be able to utilize the speed at the receiver position to stretch the field.
So while there is no receiving tandem that can match the production of Williams, Norwood, and Butler this season, and perhaps will not be for any future season, the Lions offense as a team can match or exceed that production. As Penn State fans, we can only hope that they will actually follow through on that.