Penn State Football

Penn State football: Nittany Lion receivers hoping to stretch field this season

DaeSean Hamilton established himself as quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s top target last season.

The Penn State wide receiver led the team with 82 catches and 899 yards receiving. But explosive plays accounted for a small fraction of those numbers as he hauled in just eight passes that picked up 25 yards or more.

“Now I just want to be able to stretch the field vertically and be an all-around threat,” the redshirt sophomore said Tuesday.

Hamilton is focused on the little things this spring. He said he’s working to keep his ball skills sharp and his routes precise as he and the rest of the wide receivers aim to develop into an elite group in 2015.

The team returns its top four wide receivers in Hamilton, Geno Lewis, Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Lewis ranked second on the team with 55 catches for 751 yards, while Godwin finished the season on a high note with seven catches for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Nittany Lions’ 31-30 win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Lewis made seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown and Hamilton had seven grabs for 51 yards and a score, contributing to Hackenberg’s 371-yard, four-touchdown performance in the bowl game.

“We have high expectations now after the performance that we had against Boston College and as a unit,” Hamilton said. “Consistency’s the main thing and also taking our game to the next level, being an elite group and obviously just coming back next year and growing as football players and springboarding off the Boston College game.

“As long as we set the bar high and we miss small, we’re going to have a great turnout next year.”

Hamilton said the receivers are competing to bring out the best in each other.

“It just takes everybody working to the type of mindset to where it needs to be an elite wide receiver and an elite group and everybody thinking the same as one another to actually achieve that,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think we’re far from that at all.

“You see Chris bringing out the best in me, you see me bringing out the best in Geno, Geno bringing the best out of Saeed and so on and so forth.”

Hamilton started fast in 2014 with an 11-catch, 165-yard performance — including three receptions for at least 27 yards — in Penn State’s season-opening 26-24 win over Central Florida. He had a program-record 14 catches for 126 yards in a loss to Ohio State.

Despite his impressive numbers, Hamilton is looking to be more consistent this year.

He said he felt his play dropped off along with the rest of the offense during the team’s four-game losing streak in the middle of the season.

Said Hamilton said: “I saw myself fall into the offense’s lackluster performance.”

Zettel, defensive line aim to improve after standout season

Anthony Zettel is looking to add muscle mass and to get faster this spring after leading Penn State with eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season. The defensive tackle earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and hopes to gain national accolades this fall.

“If I want to reach my goal as All-American next year,” Zettel said, “that’s what I have to do.”

Zettel will anchor the defensive line again with defensive tackle Austin Johnson. The pair combined with defensive ends C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes to form a dominant unit on the Big Ten’s best defense. The Nittany Lions must replace Olaniyan, who graduated, and Barnes, who left early for the NFL.

Penn State coach James Franklin listed Carl Nassib, Curtis Cothran, Torrence Brown, Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan as the potential replacements at defensive end. Sickels played in 13 games last season, while Nassib and Schwan each saw action in 12 games.

Zettel described Nassib and Sickels as productive players and said fellow defensive tackles Parker Cothren and Tarow Barney “could start at any other program in the country.”

Instead, they’ll provide depth and production behind the proven duo of Zettel and Johnson.

Zettel said Johnson gets overlooked because his six tackles for loss and one sack last season don’t jump off the page. But his play was crucial to the line’s success and he’s only getting better.

“I know he was worried about that last year, one of his issues was he sometimes has trouble getting off blocks,” Zettel said. “But if he can continue to work on that, I think there’s no one in the country that will be able to stop him.”