There are 14 wide receivers on Penn State’s roster and five more tight ends.
Believe it or not, with what the Nittany Lions are hoping to see out of their offense this season, there just might be enough footballs to go around.
In new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s uptempo spread, receivers are going to be in and out of games like hockey players climbing over the boards.
“We’re really excited to see what we can do with it in games on Saturdays,” redshirt junior DaeSean Hamilton said. “Everybody’s really hyped up for it.”
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While the quarterback may be new this fall, nearly all the targets will have experience when the season opens Sept. 3 against Kent State. All six receivers who caught at least one pass last season are back this fall.
The class is headed by Chris Godwin, whose 1,101 receiving yards are second-best for a season in program history, and just the fifth time a Nittany Lion had surpassed 1,000 yards. He racked up that total on 69 receptions. Hamilton also was busy, catching 82 passes — also No. 2 in a single season in team history – for 899 yards.
The new scheme installed by first-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead figures to help those receivers chase numbers like that again.
Senior Gregg Garrity is confident no matter who is sent the ball, they can all be game changers.
“You look at the list, from top to bottom there are guys that can make big plays,” he said. “In practice everybody makes big plays, and it’s no surprise when we do make big plays.”
The scheme includes the likes of Godwin, Saeed Blacknall and Juwan Johnson, among others, working the outer boundries while Hamilton and Garrity are among those taking on the linebackers and safties in the slot, looking to exploit matchup disparities.
“We have outside receivers in Saeed and Chris, and slot receivers with DaeSean and some of the other guys,” Moorhead said. “They’re just prototypes for the system. Certainly with their athletic ability, playmaking skill, we expect big things from the receiver corps this year.”
Hamilton is looking forward to the work up the seams, even if it means he will have to tangle with, and take a few extra hits from the linebackers. Garrity noted the necessity for the slot guys to be quick, shifty and smart to avoid the big collisions in the middle.
“I’ve taken a few hits already,” Hamilton said. “That’s just another assignment for me, another task for me to go out there to achieve and do my best at.”
But it’s also a matter of depth with the planned tempo. If they are going to be snapping the ball every few seconds like they hope, it’s not like those receivers can continually run sprints down the sideline.
It’s up to guys like Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins, who had a combined nine catches last season, to step up their game. Throw in a pair of big, young athletes in redshirt freshmen Johnson (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) and Irvin Charles (6-4, 219), nicknamed “the Twin Towers,” and there is more relief in sight.
Johnson said during the recruiting process a lot of schools saw him as a tight end, and he knew the change was still a possibility. But receivers coach Josh Gattis was against the switch, according to Johnson.
“I definitely heard that a lot coming out of high school,” Johnson said. “Kind of prove people wrong, that I’m not a tight end, I’m actually a wide receiver, and I can do things that a wide receiver can do and not a tight end.”
Johnson will have his opportunities to prove people wrong. He also will have the chance to show how well conditioned he is.
“It’s pretty tough,” Hamilton said. “But that’s what we’re trained for, that’s what we signed up for, what we’re built for. To be honest, all of us are built for this. Being able to keep up the pace, really, the defense is going to have to keep up with us rather than us keeping up with our own tempo.”