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Giger: Shorter in transfer portal bad look for Lions

The long and short of it is, Justin Shorter’s development and production at Penn State have been terribly disappointing.

The how and why are debatable.

Who’s to blame is debatable.

What’s not debatable, though, is that Shorter is unhappy and apparently wants to leave Penn State.

The receiver entered the transfer portal Tuesday, according to published reports, and if you think about it, that should not come as a surprise.

Shorter, a great physical specimen at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, came to PSU as an elite five-star recruit. According to 247Sports, of the hundreds and hundred of players Penn State has had this century, only two were higher-rated recruits than Shorter — former receiver Derrick Williams and current linebacker Micah Parsons.

Shorter was expected to be a superstar. In Happy Valley for three years, then off to the NFL early to enjoy an Allen Robinson or Chris Godwin kind of career.

Instead:

n Shorter, has caught a total of 15 passes in two years for 157 yards and no touchdowns.

n He had only three catches last year as a true freshman, limited to four games because of injuries and so he could be redshirted.

n He was projected by many to be a breakout player this season. He hasn’t come close to that.

n A couple of weeks ago, Shorter lost his starting job to Dan Chisena, who came to Penn State as a walk-on who was considered a track specialist.

So again, it’s hardly a surprise that Shorter would be considering transferring. At this point, we don’t know if he indeed will transfer, or ultimately pull his name out of the portal and remain at Penn State.

James Franklin was asked about Shorter at the end of his Tuesday press conference, right when news broke of the receiver entering the portal. The coach said he had been in a meeting about the issue right before coming to his press conference.

“Literally we’re just having a conversation and walking out when I came here,” Franklin said. “I’m not sure where we’re at. Obviously, it was a conversation that was had.”

All of that begs a conversation about this question: What happened with Justin Shorter?

One simple explanation could be that he was drastically overrated and simply isn’t good enough. He looks the part of a great receiver, and sometimes scouts and folks who give out recruiting stars get wowed by what a kid looks like in camp, rather than his actual skills.

I’ve heard rumblings from people around the program in recent weeks that Shorter just doesn’t have the overall game right now to be a reliable college receiver. He doesn’t run good routes, doesn’t use his body to his advantage, can’t get separation, etc.

Let’s revisit yet again what Franklin said about the receiver during the preseason.

“He can run. … But like a lot of big guys, it’s the transitions, top of the route, in and out of breaks. It’s playing as big and strong as what he is, in terms of contested catches, in terms of blocking, in terms of releasing and being physical.”

So, perhaps all of this is on Shorter.

But I find that very hard to believe.

Fixing that stuff is what Penn State’s coaches get paid for. Finding a way to get the most out of a 6-4, 235-pound receiver is the responsibility of the people running the offense.

Even if Shorter is very raw, it’s unfathomable that someone with his size and potential would be little more than an afterthought in the passing game. He’s been targeted only 17 times in 10 games this season and has 12 catches, although he has dropped a couple balls.

I put a lot of the blame for Shorter’s development on offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, and Penn State’s offensive system in general.

The Lions’ receivers were awful last season. Juwan Johnson struggled badly at PSU and transferred to Oregon, and when healthy, he’s been a big factor this season for the Ducks (21 catches, 340 yards, four TDs).

KJ Hamler is a good receiver this season. But his individual production equals just about all of the other wide receivers combined.

Rahne, quarterback Sean Clifford and everyone running the offense just don’t seem to know how to get other wideouts involved to a high degree. The RPO offense is designed to find the best matchup and get the ball to whoever is open, so given that, doesn’t it seem strange that the overwhelming bulk of the throws go to two guys — Hamler and tight end Pat Freiermuth?

Rahne had Clifford throwing fade routes to Hamler in the end zone at Minnesota. Hamler is 5-9. Are you serious? If you can’t teach a 6-4 guy how to catch balls on a fade route, is that on him or you as a coach?

Penn State’s offense flat refuses to go under center. Ever. Never, under any circumstance. Nor will it ever use a fullback. Forget about it.

I’ve often wondered, if the offensive coaches are so unbelievably stubborn that they will never, ever try one of those fundamental football elements, then what else are they being stubborn about trying? What else do they struggle with or consider a waste of time?

Because one could make a strong case that properly developing receivers falls into that category.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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