DeAndre Thompkins chewed his blue mouthpiece like a stick of gum Saturday, while some of his teammates jawed and laughed after the Blue-White game. Thompkins didn’t say much on the field; he just smiled.
The soft-spoken redshirt junior let his play do most of the talking.
No running back, tight end or receiver recorded more total yards (84) than Thompkins on Saturday. And his 50-yard, over-the-shoulder catch in the third quarter set up the scrimmage’s first touchdown and was the most electric play all afternoon. But Thompkins didn’t seem to want to talk about just how good that performance was after players cleared the field.
“I’m happy with the job I did, but I’m always expecting to do more,” he said. “Things that go good can go great. So I ask myself to do everything great, and not just good and get away with it.”
Thompkins is hoping to achieve “greatness” this season, especially with the departure of projected second-round NFL draft pick Chris Godwin. Thompkins and the Nittany Lions know receivers have to step up to fill Godwin’s All-Big Ten numbers (59 catches, 982 yards, 11 TDs) — but they also know there are no shortage of options, either.
Teammates, including Thompkins, have raved about redshirt sophomore receiver Juwan Johnson. James Franklin once labeled Irvin Charles — who’s been quiet this spring — as one of the best receivers he’s ever coached. DaeSean Hamilton was an All-Big Ten selection before Godwin broke out, and tight end Mike Gesicki is an obvious candidate for the Mackey Award.
That’s not even a full list of all the contributors. It’s difficult picking out just one, even for the Nittany Lions themselves. After the game, safety Ayron Monroe paused at the entrance to the locker room while trying to thoughtfully answer just who the toughest receiver to cover was.
“In my opinion, it would have to be either — well, Juwan’s really killing it right now,” he said, thinking aloud but not settling on Johnson. “Maybe even Irvin Charles. ... Man coverage? I’ll say, hmm, DeAndre Thompkins runs good routes ... Shoot, pretty much all our starters are good.”
Thompkins knows it’s not going to be easy to stand out among the Lions’ deep receiving corps. When Franklin rattled off five receivers/tight ends trying to fill Godwin’s shoes, he even left off Thompkins’ name — but Thompkins isn’t about to settle.
He said he learned from receivers coach Josh Gattis to set high expectations, and that’s been a focus of his every day. Whenever he turns a corner — even on his way to class — he sometimes pretends he’s running a route. In his room, sometimes he’ll pretend he’s getting off a press release. During free time during the day, he might spend some extra time with the jugs machine.
“Chris was a big part of our offense,” Thompkins added. “But he’s gone. So we have to put that behind us.”
Johnson agreed, saying he feels this corps can be better even without Godwin because of all the returning depth and experience.
“All our guys can make the same impact as Chris, or me,” Johnson said. “But we’re all trying to fill that role of what Chris was and make the same production as before, and even better.”
Penn State doesn’t necessarily need a player in the same mold as Godwin, someone who can leap up for a 50-50 ball but still come down with it 80 percent of the time. (It might still have that in Johnson.) But, Franklin said, someone could instead just be a speedster that blows past coverage — or maybe someone is just supremely physical and dominates.
Franklin is still awaiting that one superstar. On Saturday, Thompkins put up the best numbers — but several others weren’t far behind. Tight end Jon Holland finished with a game-high eight catches, Johnson boasted 81 yards (just three fewer than Thompkins) and Hamilton tied Thompkins with five receptions.
That distribution seemed just fine with Thompkins.
“It’s a group effort,” he said. “We’re stepping up as a group, not individually. We’re not singling anybody out — and that’s our goal next season. Attack it as a group.”