Receivers must show big jump from 2018
What position are you most curious about this season?
Cory deferred the first choice this week so I picked the receiving corps.
I think it’s the most intriguing spot after the position collectively failed last year, resulting in the dismissal of receivers coach David Corley.
The Nittany Lions led the nation with 36 dropped passes in 2018 — an average of three per game — which was the biggest reason Trace McSorley’s completion percentage dipped to 53.2 and the Lions finished dead last in Big Ten time of possession, which, of course, tired out their defense.
The main culprit was Juwan Johnson, who entered the season as a heralded NFL prospect but couldn’t catch a cold. His production dropped from 54 receptions in 2017 — including the memorable game-winning touchdown to beat Iowa as time expired — to just 23 last year.
Fellow veteran receivers DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk saw their totals dip as well, and all three lost playing time to newcomers.
Each is now gone, Johnson to Oregon, Thompkins to an NFL attempt (Philadelphia Eagles free agent) and Polk to James Madison.
Left are some exciting prospects, led by K.J. Hamler, who led the way last year with 41 receptions. He can be explosive in the open field, evidenced by his 17.4 yards per catch average.
Jahan Dotson was also impressive, a sure-handed possession receiver and go-to option whose 13 receptions as a true freshman included five for first downs.
Both should be complemented by Justin Shorter, the most decorated prospect of the group as a five-star, top-10 recruit nationally and bigger than Hamler and Dotson at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds. Shorter appeared in four games last year, thus preserving freshman eligibility, and made just three catches so a lot more is expected beginning Saturday.
Daniel George’s 95-yard catch-and-run touchdown — from Sean Clifford — against Kent State is the longest play from scrimmage in program history. He’s another rangy target, at 6-foot-2, along with Cam Sullivan-Brown and former walk-on Dan Chisena, who was granted a scholarship at the Blue-White game.
One more player to keep an eye on is Division II transfer Weston Carr, a senior who arrives from Azusa Pacific after catching 33 passes last year for 644 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Certainly the offensive line, in its usual state of rebuild, and the transition of Clifford will be major question marks bringing anticipation.
Expect Ricky Rahne to approach that combination with some quick-hitting plays that get the ball out of Clifford’s hands and into the hands of this talented group.
Immediately after the regular season ended, Corley was dismissed and replaced by Gerad Parker, who spent the last two seasons as receivers coach at Duke.
“Coach Parker has done a fantastic job with that unit,” James Franklin said Tuesday. “I think everybody will be pleased with that group and excited to watch them play.”
It should be a whole lot better than the 2018 edition. Then again, it has to be.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.