NCF Nation: Devon Smith

Allen Robinson's turning point at Penn State might have been the low point for everyone else.

The transfers of several key Penn State players both before and after the NCAA leveled sanctions against the program in July was labeled charitably as a setback and, seemingly more realistically, as a disaster. Arguably no position group suffered more than wide receiver. Top target Justin Brown bolted for Oklahoma. Devon Smith, a returning starter, left the team in June before the sanctions hit and eventually landed at Marshall. The team's top returning pass-catcher was Shawney Kersey with five receptions in 2011 -- and he, too, would eventually depart the team.

Many wondered who would catch passes for Penn State in 2012. Robinson knew the answer. It's why he viewed Penn State's summer turmoil as something different -- an opportunity.

[+] EnlargeAllen Robinson
Rich Barnes/US PresswireAllen Robinson went from three catches as a freshman to tops in the Big Ten in TD grabs this year.
"As the sanctions and everything else happened, my expectations for myself got a little bit larger," Robinson told ESPN.com. "We had Silas Redd leave, Justin Brown leave. We didn't have that many guys [left], so I definitely knew I'd have a bigger role.

"I just wanted to produce when my number was called."

Has he ever. Robinson not only has cemented himself as Penn State's No. 1 wide receiver, but he's also quite possibly the best in the Big Ten.

The 6-foot-3, 201-pound true sophomore leads the Big Ten in both receptions (57) and receptions per game (6.3) -- nearly a full catch more per game than any other player in the league. He also leads the league in touchdown receptions (8) and trails only Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis in receiving yards per game (76.6). Robinson also holds the team record for receptions by a sophomore and needs just seven receptions to break the Penn State single-season record of 63 held by both Bobby Engram (1995) and O.J. McDuffie (1992).

While senior quarterback Matt McGloin is the most pleasant surprise in Penn State's suddenly potent offense, Robinson, who had just three receptions as a freshman in 2011, isn't far behind.

"I knew I would have to step up for this team if we wanted to win some games," Robinson said.

Robinson notes that the transfers, particularly Brown, increased his ability to make an impact. First-year Lions coach Bill O'Brien sees thinks differently.

"He knew whether Justin Brown was here or not," O'Brien said, "that he was going to be a major part of this offense."

O'Brien knew before anyone else what type of season Robinson could have. Robinson immediately caught O'Brien's eye during winter workouts, weeks after the coach had taken the Penn State job.

"You could see right away that he was a big kid that had very, very smooth athleticism," O'Brien said. "He could come in and out of cuts real well."

Spring practice only increased O'Brien's confidence in the young receiver. O'Brien brought in his offense from the NFL's New England Patriots, but Robinson was a quick study.

Robinson showed the staff he could play both outside receiver spots as well as the slot, unique versatility for such a tall receiver.

"He caught the ball real well in the spring," O'Brien said. "We knew going into the summertime that we had a guy there who had a chance to be really productive for us."

O'Brien tabbed Robinson as a co-starter with Kersey on the post-spring depth chart. Brown and Smith also were named starters at receiver.

Robinson spent much of the summer working with McGloin, named in June as the Lions' starting quarterback. They built a chemistry that has repeatedly shown up in games, particularly in the red zone. Between Sept. 8 and Oct. 20, Robinson caught touchdown passes from McGloin in five of six games, including three against Navy and two against Northwestern.

"Matt has thrown that ball that you guys see in games to me hundreds of times [in workouts]," Robinson said. "Matt definitely trusts me in those situations to go get it, and I definitely trust and believe in him that he's going to make the throw."

Robinson has embraced the detail-oriented approach needed to succeed in O'Brien's offense. While the Lions might not be perfect on every play, "we can try," Robinson said.

O'Brien oversaw one of the NFL's top passing offenses with the Patriots, but he hasn't had many weapons quite like Robinson.

"We had guys in New England that were about 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10 for the most part," O'Brien said. "We had Randy Moss there, but obviously Randy Moss is a Hall of Fame player. Allen is a tall guy, he runs well, he can jump, he's got really good hands, he's very smart. He can do a lot of different things on the route tree. He's not just a vertical threat. He can run underneath things. He can catch screens.

"So he's got a very unique set that really I haven't been around in my career."

Robinson saw a big opportunity after Brown's departure, but he was sorry to see Brown go. Brown took Robinson under his wing when Robinson arrived at Penn State, and the two roomed together on road trips during the 2011 season.

They still talk regularly, mostly not about football, although Robinson noted Brown's strong performance for Oklahoma in last week's victory against Iowa State.

"Justin is still a really good friend," Robinson said.

Brown made his choice, while Robinson opted to stay at Penn State. Not surprisingly, Robinson and other Lions young standouts such as defensive end Deion Barnes have been asked frequently whether they'll stick around State College after the season. Robinson has consistently affirmed his commitment to the program.

"Hearing [questions] about transferring and things like that, it does kind of overwhelm us sometimes, but you have to deal with it," he said. "Coach O’Brien always tells me the opportunities to make big plays are definitely going to be there.

"It definitely gives you some insight on what I could potentially do here."

PSU's Brown still considering transfer

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
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Senior wide receiver Justin Brown said he was still mulling a transfer Wednesday night and wasn't sure whether he would remain at Penn State.

"I haven't made a decision yet," he said in a brief telephone interview. "I just don't know."

Brown said he doesn't have a timetable for his decision, although preseason practice starts Monday. His high school coach, George Kosanovich of Concord (Del.), said Brown fielded calls from about three or four schools, including Cincinnati, Illinois and Oklahoma.

As the Nittany Lions' top returning wideout, Brown's decision could prove critical to Penn State's offensive success -- especially without starting tailback Silas Redd, who announced his transfer to USC on Tuesday.

If Brown leaves, unproven receivers Shawney Kersey, a redshirt junior, and sophomore Allen Robinson -- who combined for just eight catches last season -- would battle for the top spot.

Brown finished last season with 35 receptions, 517 yards and two touchdowns.

Five Penn State players have already announced their intent to transfer since the sanctions: Redd, linebacker Khairi Fortt, safety Tim Buckley, defensive lineman Jamil Pollard and tight end Kevin Haplea. Quaterback Rob Bolden was released from his scholarship prior to the sanctions, according to a source.
Penn State hasn't suffered a great deal of attrition during the transition to new head coach Bill O'Brien.

But wide receiver Devon Smith's departure on Friday accentuates the need for more offensive playmakers to emerge. O'Brien announced Smith has left the team for personal reasons. It's unclear whether Smith's departure relates to the March incident where police allegedly found evidence of marijuana use in Smith's apartment. Smith was charged in April and has applied for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program as a first-time offender. He has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Smith finished third on the team in both receptions (25) and receiving yards (402) in 2011. He averaged 16.2 yards per reception, but he wasn't a major difference-maker in Penn State's pass-challenged offense. Smith might be best known for running into Joe Paterno at a practice last August while on a pass route, causing injuries to the then-Lions coach.

While Smith wasn't a star, he started seven games in 2011 and had been listed as a starter on Penn State's post-spring depth chart, despite missing much of the spring with a foot injury. Penn State returns only one starting receiver in Justin Brown, and will need players like Alex Kenney, listed as Smith's backup on the most recent depth chart, to step up. Like the diminutive Smith (5-foot-7, 147 pounds), Kenney is a smaller receiver (6-foot, 193) who boasts very good speed.

The Lions will be much more reliant on their tight ends in O'Brien's offense, but they still need to build more depth at wide receiver for top quarterback Matthew McGloin. Unproven wideouts like Allen Robinson and Shawney Kersey need to have big summers.
Penn State opens spring practice without Joe Paterno for the first time in decades Monday. New coach Bill O'Brien, who's won some supporters by the way he has recruited and carried himself of late, will conduct his first official practices. I recently caught up with O'Brien for a brief preview of the Nittany Lions' spring:

Are you settled in now as the Penn State coach?


Bill O'Brien: I'm settled in. We had a good winter, and we're ready to go for spring. We've got a bunch of really good kids want to be coached and want to play well and win. So I'm settled in.

We'll get to spring practice in a second, but first I wanted to ask you about how well you've recruited the past couple of months. I know you can't talk about specific recruits, but how have you been able to sell the program through some difficult times?


O'Brien: We just talk about Penn State. We talk about our vision for the football program here. We talk about the university. There are 16 majors to choose from here. It's just a great college town, we have a 108,000-seat stadium, a tremendous football facility, a great, brand-new weight room, and a great indoor facility. We just sell Penn State, and there's a bunch of things about Penn State to sell. The student body, the coaching staff here, the players on our football team here. So all we do is talk about Penn State.

How has the reception to that pitch gone?


O'Brien: We feel good about the reception. Again, this is a special place that obviously people recognize and have great respect for, so we've gotten a good reception.

What are your main objectives this spring?


O'Brien: We want the kids to understand how fast we want to play, the tempo we want to play at. We want to get in our base systems on offense, defense and special teams, and we want these guys to understand how we want them to play football. We want them to play fast, play hard, play tough, be situationally smart. So those our are goals.

The players have been doing things this offseason to learn the offense, so how far along do you expect them to be when you get started?


O'Brien: It will be baby steps. We'll put it in one day at a time. We're not in a rush to get a bunch of things in. We're just in a rush to find out who our best football players are, so that's what we'll begin to do on Monday.

How much do you really know these players?


BO'B: I really know them from winter workouts and just speaking to them in my office. I've been very impressed with this group. We have about 124 guys on the team and we have a bunch of hard-working guys. I've been very impressed and proud to be associated with them.

Let's talk about the quarterback situation. Is it a true open competition this spring?


O'Brien: Yeah, its definitely an open competition. Every position on the team is an open competition. Now, obviously guys who have experience have the upper hand because they've played, but nobody has a starting position right now. Guys are going to get a bunch of reps, we're going to play fast and we'll evaluate the roster as we go along.

What are you looking for in a quarterback?


O'Brien: He's got to be a good decision-maker. He's got to be accurate when he throws it. He's got to take care of the football. He's got to have really good knowledge of defensive alignments, the coverages and fronts and pressures. He's got to be a good leader. He's got to mentally tough and physically tough. That's basically what I'm looking for.

Two spots that were hit hard by graduation were the secondary and the offensive line. What's the outlook like for those positions this spring?


O'Brien: I feel good about both those positions. I made a couple of position moves to move some guys over to the secondary, and you guys will get that when we start spring practice. So we've got better numbers over there. And I feel good about the offensive line. We've got four guys on that offensive line that are dean's-list students. We've got smart guys guys that play hard and love Penn State, and so I feel good about both positions.

How about the receiver position, where Derek Moye was the No. 1 guy last year?


O'Brien: It's tough to replace a guy like Derek Moye, and I wish he had more eligibility. But we feel very good about our receiving corps. We've got Justin Brown, Shawney Kersey, Devon Smith, Brandon Moseby-Felder and Christian Kuntz. We've got a number of guys with good size that can run. And they've got two jobs: get open and catch the ball. So we'll see how that goes as we go through spring.

You're going to be very involved on offense, so how will you split your time this spring in practice?


O'Brien: We've got a great staff on offense and on defense, so I'll be able to be involved with every facet of the football team, absolutely no problem.

Have leaders emerged yet from this offseason?


O'Brien: There's a lot of leaders. There really are. We have a lot of good kids. Once you come back and ask me that after spring, I'll have a better feel. But I think we've got the potential to have a lot of strong leaders on this team.

How do you replace Devon Still on defense? Can you do it with just one guy?


O'Brien: It's hard to replace a guy like Devon Still. He's a potential first round draft pick. But we feel really good about our defensive line that exists right now with Jordan Hill, DaQuan Jones, Pete Massaro, Sean Stanley, James Terry, C.J. Olaniyin. I could go on and on. We're deep up front.

How much will we be seeing you use the tight ends in your offense, even in spring practice?


O'Brien: Yeah, we'll definitely be using the tight ends quite a bit.

Lastly, how do you think the team has responded this offseason during winter workouts and other activities?


O'Brien: I've been very impressed with this football team, just with their work ethic. I'm proud to be their coach. Now we've got to put it out on the field and see how it translates to playing football. But to this point, I've been very impressed with them.
National Signing Day is barely a week away, and Big Ten teams will be stockpiling for the future (and, in some cases, the present). Today we'll take a look at the recruiting needs of each Big Ten team, starting with those in the Leaders division. These needs are based on current rosters and anticipated departures in the near future. And to save you some email time, we do realize teams have already addressed needs in compiling their 2012 classes.

Let's get started ...

ILLINOIS

Wide receiver: The Illini lose A.J. Jenkins, who accounted for 90 of the team's 226 receptions in 2011. No other Illinois player had more than 26 catches, so there certainly are opportunities for young players to emerge and make an immediate impact for the new coaching staff.

Linemen: Illinois loses two starters from an offensive line that struggled down the stretch of the regular season. It's important to build depth there going forward. Despite Whitney Mercilus' early departure to the NFL draft, the defensive line returns some talented players. Still, defensive end Michael Buchanan is entering his senior year, and defensive tackle Akeem Spence is a bona fide NFL prospect who could enter the draft with a strong 2012 campaign.

Safety: The Illini defense didn't have many weaknesses in 2011, but safety was a liability at times. The team returns experience for 2012, but will lose some key players after the season. An impact defensive back or two in the 2012 class would really help.

INDIANA

Defensive back: This has been a primary recruiting need for the past few seasons, and it remains a pressing concern after Indiana surrendered a league-worst 8.5 yards per pass and a league-high 26 passing touchdowns in 2011. Indiana needs impact players and depth among the back four to be able to limit Big Ten offenses.

Defensive front seven: Sense a theme here? Indiana needs defenders in the worst way, and the front seven is a huge piece to the puzzle. The Hoosiers return some experience at defensive tackle, but lose top linebackers Jeff Thomas and Leon Beckum. The coaches showed in 2011 that they're not afraid to play young players, and they need more contributors on the defensive side.

Quarterback: Starter Tre Roberson returns, but Indiana needs bodies here after Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker both opted to transfer earlier this month.

OHIO STATE

Offensive line: Three multiyear starters depart at center, left tackle and right tackle, so Ohio State's offensive line will have a very different look in 2012. The Buckeyes could use some immediate-impact linemen, like center Mike Brewster in 2008, and they'll look to build depth here.

Defensive end: Ohio State appears loaded at defensive tackle for 2012 and beyond, but the team needs some more pure pass-rushers on the edge. John Simon, who had four more sacks than anyone on the squad in 2011, will be a senior this coming season.

Wide receiver: The Buckeyes lacked reliable receiver options in 2011 and had their best wideout, DeVier Posey, for only three games because of suspension. Posey departs and Ohio State needs to build depth and increase competition in what should be a more wide-open offense under Urban Meyer.

PENN STATE

Quarterback: New coach Bill O'Brien might be the quarterback whisperer Penn State has waited for, but he also needs to upgrade the talent on the roster. Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden both must make significant strides, and while Paul Jones is an intriguing player, we've yet to see him in a game. Penn State needs more options here.

Wide receiver: Top target Derek Moye departs, and Penn State returns only two players with decent but not great production in Justin Brown and Devon Smith. Brown looks like a potential impact player in 2012, but Penn State needs more options in the passing game.

Defensive back: Penn State loses all four starters, although returning players like Stephon Morris, Malcolm Willis and Adrian Amos have logged playing time. Still, the Lions need some more players here to build depth and increase competition.

PURDUE

Offensive line: This is one of few areas where Purdue loses a decent amount of production from 2011, as tackle Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek both depart. Two more starters exit after the 2012 season, and Purdue wants to be a run-based offense. It's important to build some depth up front with the 2012 class.

Kicker: Purdue loses the bionic-legged Carson Wiggs, who did more than make field goals from ridiculous distances. He also kicked off and served as a backup punter, attempting 45 punts over the past two seasons. The versatile Wiggs leaves a major void, and Purdue must address the specialist spot.

Defensive back: The Boilers say goodbye to both of their starting safeties from the 2011 team. They also will lose starting cornerback Josh Johnson after the 2012 season, while Ricardo Allen might be an early entry candidate with a big junior year. While this isn't a pressing need right now, it could soon become one.

WISCONSIN

Quarterback: Russell Wilson saved Wisconsin in more than one way in 2011, and his departure is significant. The team's most experienced signal callers, Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips, both are coming off of major injuries. Wisconsin typically doesn't play younger quarterbacks, but needs more options after a season where Wilson showed what the offense could be.

Wide receiver: The Badgers typically get by with 1-2 good wideouts and an excellent tight end or two, but they could use more depth at the receiver position. Top target Nick Toon departs, and Wisconsin is pretty thin at receiver aside from Jared Abbrederis.

Defensive speed: Oregon makes a lot of teams look slow, but the Rose Bowl spelled out what the Badgers must do to take the next step as a program. Wisconsin needs to upgrade its speed at all three levels of the defense, particularly the back seven, to prevent explosion plays. Michigan State also exposed Wisconsin's defense, so the need for speed certainly is there.
After Penn State's Week 2 loss to Alabama, coach Joe Paterno refused to pile on his beleaguered quarterbacks, saying the signal-callers "didn't get much help."

Although Paterno seemed to be dodging the obvious problem at the time, he wasn't lying, either. Penn State's receivers needed to step up for quarterbacks Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden. Devon Smith dropped a perfectly thrown pass on the Lions' first play from scrimmage, and senior standout Derek Moye also had a case of the dropsies.

[+] EnlargeJustin Brown
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJustin Brown is one of the receivers who has stepped up while Derek Moye is on the sideline.
Moye responded well the next three weeks, recording at least six receptions against Temple, Eastern Michigan and Indiana while racking up 335 receiving yards and three touchdowns. But two days after Penn State's win against Indiana, the senior slipped on the stairs at his apartment and broke a bone in his left foot.

A Nittany Lions offense already with its share of concerns would be without its best pass-catching weapon for at least two weeks. How would Penn State's other receivers respond?

Pretty well, in fact.

In Penn State's first game without Moye, Justin Brown caught four passes for a career-high 86 yards as the Lions outlasted Purdue. And then Smith, the diminutive sophomore best known for accidentally running into JoePa at a preseason practice, emerged last Saturday night at Northwestern, recording career highs in receptions (six) and receiving yards (110) in a 34-24 win.

Both Smith and Brown recorded touchdown receptions against the Wildcats.

"Smith had a really good game," Paterno said. "He's got great speed. He's come to the front. Brown has always been a good receiver. He's been in the shadows of Moye, but Brown in his own right is a big-time receiver.

"So we're still in pretty good shape there."

Smith, often underestimated at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, admitted he did some soul searching after the Alabama game, questioning his ability to succeed at this level. He rebounded two weeks later with a 71-yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan and then had the big night against Northwestern.

The Lions' receivers knew they'd be needed during Moye's absence.

"Basically step up, that’s what we had to do," said Smith, a speedster who also plans to run track for Penn State's indoor team next season. "Step up for the team and the offense. ... Everybody's getting to showcase their talents more since Derek is gone. We're improving with that."

Brown, a 6-3 junior who should be Penn State's No. 1 receiver in 2012, has recorded at least three receptions in each of the past seven games. The Lions will lean on Brown and Smith -- and ideally, several others -- this week against Illinois as Moye remains out.

Penn State hopes to get Moye back after a bye week for a Nov. 12 showdown against Nebraska.

"Moye, obviously we're going to miss him because he's a leader," Paterno said. He's made catches in the clutch. He understands what it is to be in a tough football game. Some of these don't. Brown does. Smith is starting to get it. The more these kids play, the better they're going to be."
The Penn State offense already had problems moving the ball and finding the end zone. And now it must make do without arguably its best weapon.

Wide receiver Derek Moye will miss at least the next two games after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot when he slipped on some stairs at his apartment. Nittany Lions officials say Moye could return for the Oct. 29 game against Illinois, but a broken foot is never a good injury for receivers. Who knows how quickly Moye will recover, or whether he'll be able to resume his full quickness and cutting ability.

Moye, a 6-foot-5 senior, is one of the best deep threats in the Big Ten. He's far and away the best receiver Penn State has, and he'll finish his career ranked among the best wideouts in school history. He has 28 catches for 485 yards and three touchdowns this season, numbers which would surely be better if the team's quarterbacks were playing more consistently well. Matt McGloin seemed to look for Moye and have a much better connection with him than Rob Bolden.

Only one other receiver on the Penn State roster has more than eight catches this year, and that's Justin Brown (19 for 225 yards). The junior will now be asked to take on a larger role in the offense as the No. 1 target in the passing game. Devon Smith and Bill Belton might have to increase their contributions as well.

For sure, it's a big setback for an offense that has averaged just 21.5 points per game and has scored a total of 29 points in its first two Big Ten games (albeit both were victories). Penn State must hope that the performance of its offensive line last Saturday against Iowa was a good sign of things to come and that it can rely heavily on its running game with Silas Redd. Tailback Brandon Beachum, out the past three games with a sprained foot, is also expected to return from injury this week, so that helps.

The Nittany Lions will remain favorites against Purdue, but the Northwestern game on Oct. 22 looks more challenging now. As poor as the Wildcats' defenses looks, their offense can put up points on most people behind Dan Persa. And if Moye isn't full go for the Illinois game, that could be a big problem, too.

Penn State is 5-1 this season based on its formula of outstanding defense combined with just enough offense. It may need to lean on that defensive side of the equation even more for at least the next two games.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Two games into the 2011 season, the most important question surrounding the Penn State Nittany Lions hasn't been answered.

It isn't whether or not coach Joe Paterno will retire after the season (keep on asking, folks).

It isn't even who should start at quarterback, although that question is closely related. But the issue goes deeper than Rob Bolden vs. Matthew McGloin.

What is Penn State's offensive identity?

"It's definitely still a work in progress," McGloin said. "Today was definitely a football game to be able to see we're at offensively. In my opinion, we're not where we want to be yet."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesPenn State quarterback Rob Bolden (1) split time with Matthew McGloin against Alabama.
That much is clear after a 27-11 loss to No. 3 Alabama. But how can Penn State's offense expect to make progress without a clear identity?

"Offensive identity?" receiver Derek Moye said. "Honestly, we don't have one. I don't know. We've got to get one."

Other players remain just as mystified.

"It's still early, we've still got a lot of games," running back Silas Redd said. "I really can't tell you what our identity is."

Asked to identify Penn State's offense, guard DeOn'tae Pannell offered a hopeful answer.

"Untapped potential," he said.

Pannell paused.

"We don't really have an identity."

You can't beat the No. 3 team in the country -- and quite possibly the best defense in the country -- without knowing who you are on offense. And you certainly can't pull off the upset on a day when that team figures out who it is on offense.

Alabama's offense isn't a finished product, but the Tide know who they are and who will lead them in the coming weeks. Coach Nick Saban made the decision to go with AJ McCarron at quarterback, and the sophomore came through with a solid, mistake-free performance in his first career road start.

Penn State's coaching staff could take a cue from Saban when it comes to Bolden and McGloin.

Make. A. Decision.

The coaches had all spring to evaluate the quarterbacks and all fall camp. They also had the season opener against FCS Indiana State. And yet there's still no decision on a starter.

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said the plan was to give Bolden two series Saturday and then give McGloin two series. And that's exactly what Penn State did.

The rotation continued throughout the game: Bolden, McGloin, Bolden, McGloin.

Like a blinking light for an offense stuck in neutral.

"It would be good to have one quarterback, yeah," Redd said. "But both of those guys are good. That's no excuse for us."

Both of them are good, at least in practice, according to Jay Paterno. One hasn't separated himself. They continue to push each other. The competition is good for both and for the team.

The neck-and-neck race Monday through Friday has spilled over into Saturday.

"When they're both practicing really well," Jay Paterno said, "it's kind of hard to tell one to sit down."

But you have to in order to help the offensive identity take shape.

Although neither quarterback lit up Alabama, Bolden appeared to separate himself Saturday. He led both Penn State scoring drives, accounted for 11 of the team's 12 completed passes and all 144 of its passing yards. While he was intercepted once and nearly had other passes picked off, he made some good throws and showed some decent mobility, diving into the end zone for a two-point conversion.

McGloin's line: 1-for-10 passing, zero yards.

"I wish I could have just went back-to-back-to-back, but it's Joe's decision and I have to do what he does," Bolden said. "If I was running things, I would be the only guy out there."

Joe Paterno remains the man in charge. Paterno didn't put Saturday's loss on Bolden and McGloin.

"I thought the quarterbacks played a pretty good football game," Paterno said. "They had one or two throws I'd like to get back, but [the receivers have] got to catch the ball from them. ... The kids handled themselves well, didn't get a lot of help."

Paterno is right. The receivers and tight ends could be helping Bolden and McGloin.

A diving Devon Smith couldn't corral a beautifully thrown ball by Bolden on the first play of scrimmage. The normally sure-handed Moye couldn't come down with some catchable passes. Penn State lost momentum for good in the second quarter after tight end Andrew Szczerba fumbled the ball after catching a pass from Bolden.

"As a receiving corps, we've got to make some more plays," Moye said.

Penn State needs all its offensive position groups to step up and form an identity. But figuring out the quarterback is a vital step in the process.

Can an offense have an identity with two quarterbacks?

"Yes," Jay Paterno said. "We had it in '99 with Rashard Casey and Kevin Thompson. We were a very, very good offensive football team that year."

Penn State also had one of the nation's most talented teams in 1999. It opened the season by thumping No. 4 Arizona 41-7 in the Pigskin Classic. The Lions haven't beaten an Associated Press top-5 team since that day.

Times have changed. Penn State is no longer a nationally elite program, as Saturday showed.

Joe Paterno said he still feels he has a good team, a message echoed by his players. Penn State's defense showed some good signs Saturday, particularly in the front seven.

"We've got a lot of big goals this season," Pannell said. "Whichever way can lead us to a Big Ten championship, that's what I want done."

Can Penn State get to Indianapolis with a two-quarterback system?

"I've seen it done," Pannell said, "but not much."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State has spent a decent amount of time in Alabama territory today and also in last year's game.

But the Nittany Lions haven't been able to hold onto the ball.

After committing three of four turnovers in plus territory last year in Tuscaloosa, Penn State has twice given up the ball in Alabama's half of the field today. Any chance for a late rally seemingly went away when Devon Smith coughed up the ball on a reverse.

Alabama's defenders are terrific at stripping the ball, but Penn State continues to squander great scoring opportunities.

While the Lions defense has performed admirably today, the offense hasn't given this team a chance to win, period. Alabama still leads 20-3 midway through the fourth quarter.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Points likely won't come easily today, and Penn State just worked extremely hard for three of them.

It took 16 plays, three timeouts and 7:27 of clock, but the Lions are on the board and lead No. 3 Alabama 3-0.

The timeouts could come back to hurt Penn State later in the half. Quarterback Rob Bolden has to do a better job getting the ball snapped. Bolden for the most part looked good on the drive, making a nice throw to Justin Brown. (He had another dropped by Devon Smith).

Silas Redd provided a nice spark for Penn State, making several nifty moves. But the Lions couldn't get the big play they needed against the talented Tide defense.

While Penn State didn't commit the mistakes in Alabama territory that cost it last year, the Lions wanted to get in the end zone.

The good news is Penn State's defense looked strong on the opening series.

Rob Bolden starts again for PSU

September, 10, 2011
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As expected, sophomore Rob Bolden made his second consecutive start at quarterback for Penn State against No. 3 Alabama.

Bolden, who started the opener against Indiana State, had been listed as a co-starter with junior Matthew McGloin on this week's depth chart. Bolden completed 6 of 12 pass attempts last week.

He made a perfect throw to Devon Smith on his first attempt, but Smith couldn't pull the ball in.
Good news on the Joe Paterno front as the Penn State coach has been released from the hospital and will return to practice Wednesday.

The 84-year-old Paterno was released late Tuesday morning after undergoing tests on his injured arm and hip/pelvis. Paterno will not need surgery, which is a relief for everyone, especially speedy wide receiver Devon Smith, who ran into the legendary coach during Sunday's practice. Paterno's son and Penn State assistant Jay Paterno told ESPN's Colin Cowherd that Smith was running a corner route when he struck Paterno, who was looking down at his notes while watching the defense.
"It's time for everyone to turn the attention to the team," Paterno said in a statement. "We have a lot of hard work ahead in order to be as good as we think we can be."

A person close to Paterno tells colleague Joe Schad that Paterno will have a golf cart at Wednesday's practice as a precaution. But otherwise, it's full speed ahead for Paterno.

Here's hoping JoePa avoids any further mishaps on the field or on the sideline this fall as he enters his 46th season as Penn State's coach.
Penn State might not have settled on a quarterback yet, but there's no doubt who the eventual starting signal-caller's favorite target will be. Derek Moye has firmly established himself as Penn State's top receiver and as one of the best in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeDerek Moye
Maxwell Kruger/US PresswireDerek Moye, 6, says he's not Penn State's only talented receiver.
While Moye's name has been all over preseason awards lists, he says the Nittany Lions' wideouts are more than just one man.

"A lot of people out there, whether it be media or fans or whatever, are kind of disrespecting some of other receivers besides myself," Moye said. "A lot of people believe I'm the only capable receiver here, and that's not the case at all. We have a lot of talent. And if teams playing us are thinking like that, then we're going to make them pay."

Moye says we need to watch out for Justin Brown, who had a breakout season as a sophomore before struggling mightily in the Outback Bowl. Brown, Moye says, has used that bowl experience to push himself harder than ever. Small but lightning fast Devon Smith is a threat, too, and Penn State hopes Curtis Drake can come back from another injury.

Still, the unquestioned leader of the group is Moye. He proved his big-play ability last season with 53 catches for 885 yards and eight touchdowns, finishing second in the league with a 16.7-yards per catch average. The 6-foot-5 senior is a difficult matchup for any cornerback because of his speed and leaping ability. Moye had 775 receiving yards in 2009 and is clearly trending upward as he approaches his final season. A 1,000-yard campaign seems well within reach.

"To be honest, that's definitely a goal of mine," he said. "At the same time, if I get 500 yards and we're undefeated, it's no big deal to me. I'm a team player first and an individual second. If we're 7-6 and I have 1,000 yards, I don't really want that."

For the Nittany Lions to improve their record, they're going to have to become more consistent and explosive on offense. Right now, they're not even sure whether Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin will be their quarterback. Moye said each guy is getting equal reps in summer workouts and it's not a distraction. But there is occasionally some confusion.

"Sometimes I catch myself expecting a Bolden-type ball when McGloin is in there," Moye said. "But it all comes down to concentrating on the ball and catching it."

Moye said that's one of his big offseason goals. He felt like he dropped a few easy catches last season. He doesn't want to leave any plays out there his senior year as he hopefully leads a much better offense.

"We've got a lot more experience and guys who are used to being on the field in big situations now as an offense," he said. "We're expecting a whole lot this year. If we don't go out there and produce, it will be a big disappointment to us."
Our preseason position ranking series comes to an end today with everybody's favorite group: special teams.

For this ranking, we're going to consider punters, kickers and returners only. No offense to the long-snappers or the punt-team gunners, but things like kickoff coverage units are hard to forecast. We'll give a little extra weight to teams that have returning and proven players at these spots, because it's difficult to know how new punters and kickers will fare when the pressure of real games begin.

As the guys in these positions would say, let's kick it:

[+] EnlargeDan Conroy
Andrew Weber/US PresswireDan Conroy was nearly perfect on his field goal attempts last season.
1. Michigan State: Kicker Dan Conroy made 14 of his 15 attempts last year, and Keshawn Martin led the league in punt return average. They will miss punter Aaron Bates and will have to improve their kickoff return game. And you know you always have to watch out for the fake when the Spartans line up for a kick.

2. Wisconsin: The Badgers are set at both punter and kicker, with seniors Brad Nortman and Philip Welch, respectively. Both are third-year starters who can be relied upon. Wisconsin will need to find a replacement for primary return man David Gilreath.

3. Penn State: The Nittany Lions bring back punter Anthony Fera and punt returner Devon Smith, who finished just behind Martin in yards per attempt last season. Chaz Powell and Stephfon Green are dangerous kick returners. Fera could move over to handle field goals this season if incoming freshman Sam Ficken doesn't win the job.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a veteran punter in senior Ben Buchanan and two threats to take a kick to the house in Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry. Sophomore Drew Basil is expected to take over at place-kicker. Special teams are almost always a force in Columbus.

5. Purdue: No one in the league has a bigger leg than Carson Wiggs; the questions is whether he can consistently harness it. Punter Cody Webster averaged 43.3 yards per attempt last season, second best among returning punters. The Boilermakers' return game needs to improve.

6. Illinois: Derek Dimke was a Lou Groza semifinalist last season and broke the school record for points by a kicker. He nailed two 50-plus yarders. Ray Guy semifinalist Anthony Santella is gone, though return man Troy Pollard is back.

7. Northwestern: Brandon Williams improved at punter as his freshman year went along last season. The Wildcats at long last have an elite return option in Venric Mark. But place-kicker was a concern this spring, with Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty competing for the job.

8. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz's teams usually find a way to be good on special teams, so odds are the Hawkeyes will climb these rankings. But they lost a lot from 2010, including Ray Guy finalist and four-year starter Ryan Donahue, plus both primary return men. Eric Guthrie held the edge at punter after the spring. Place-kicker Mike Meyer returns after taking over that role for the final 10 games and doing a solid job.

9. Indiana: Mitch Ewald was named to the Groza watch list after a strong freshman year in which he made 16 of 19 field goals. Chris Hagerup needs to increase his punting average of 39.4 yards. The Hoosiers should have enough athletes to replace Tandon Doss on returns.

10. Minnesota: Dan Orseske's 36.1-yard average was worst among starting Big Ten punters in 2010, so that must get better. Jerry Kill must also find a new place-kicker -- NC State transfer Chris Hawthorne looks like the top option. Troy Stoudermire, one of the league's top return specialists, is back for his senior year.

11. Nebraska: Like Iowa, this is a team that will almost assuredly outperform this ranking. But boy did the Huskers lose a lot of talent and experience. It will be difficult to match the value that punter/kicker Alex Henery brought -- Brett Maher and freshman Mauro Bondi will battle to replace him -- and Adi Kunalic was a secret weapon as kickoff specialist. Top returner Niles Pau is gone, too. The Cornhuskers will likely reload, but nobody has bigger shoes to fill at these positions in the Big Ten.

12. Michigan: The kicking game looked like a disaster this spring, with neither Seth Broekhuizen nor Brendan Gibbons inspiring confidence. Incoming freshman Matt Wile might win the job this summer. This could prove to be an Achilles' heel for the Wolverines, as it was a year ago. On the plus side, Will Hagerup is the leading returning punter in the Big Ten, though he had only 33 attempts last season.
We've been ranking each position group in the Big Ten, and so far we've looked at running backs and quarterbacks. Today, let's finish off the offensive skill positions with receivers and tight ends.

The Big Ten is blessed with plenty of standout wide receivers, but remember these rankings heavily account for overall depth at the position, not just isolated star power. We're also including the tight ends in this group while acknowledging that the best ones aren't necessarily big-time pass-catchers.

Here's how we rank them:

[+] EnlargeB.J. Cunningham
Andrew Weber/US PresswireB.J. Cunningham had the best numbers last season among a deep group of receivers and tight ends.
1. Michigan State: The Spartans may lack a true superstar, though senior B.J. Cunningham (50 catches for 611 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010) is pretty darn good. What Mark Dantonio can really count on is depth. Cunningham has good size at 6-foot-2, while Keshawn Martin is a speed-burner. Keith Nichol and Bennie Fowler fill out a solid cast of receivers, and when you throw in Brian Linthicum and Dion Sims at tight end, this group deserves the top spot.

2. Michigan: If Darryl Stonum weren't suspended indefinitely, this group might be No. 1. It's still pretty good as things stand now. Roy Roundtree leads the way after catching 72 passes for 935 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and Junior Hemingway is a strong secondary option for Denard Robinson. Tight end Kevin Koger is a third-year starter who can occasionally make big plays in the passing game.

3. Northwestern: Senior Jeremy Ebert (62 catches for 935 yards and eight touchdowns last season) was a first-team All-Big Ten performer as voted by the media. Demetrius Fields had 25 receptions last year, and the Wildcats are counting on big improvements from sophomores Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Venric Mark. Northwestern uses its superback position as a tight end, and Drake Dunsmore had 40 catches from that spot last year.

4. Indiana: The Hoosiers languish at the bottom of many of these rankings, but receiver/tight end is a point of pride. Senior Damarlo Belcher led the Big Ten with 78 catches last year on his way to 832 yards. Even with the loss of Tandon Doss and Terrance Turner, who each had more than 60 catches in '10, new coach Kevin Wilson has a solid corps behind Belcher with Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes, among others. And Ted Bolser is a highly productive tight end who had 27 catches for 407 yards and five scores a year ago.

5. Penn State: Three of the top four receivers from last year return, including No. 1 target Derek Moye (his 16.7 yards per catch average was second in the Big Ten a year ago). Justin Brown and Devon Smith need to continue moving forward. Will the Nittany Lions get anything out of Curtis Drake, who's trying to return from his second broken leg? Penn State hopes to get something out of the tight end position, where Andrew Szczerba and Garry Gilliam dealt with season-ending injuries last year.

6. Wisconsin: Once we reach the middle of these rankings, the units start to become interchangeable and a little indistinguishable. Wisconsin doesn't have to throw it too much because of its stellar running game, but the Badgers have some solid choices when they do go to the air. Senior Nick Toon has the talent to record more than the 36 catches and 459 yards he produced a year ago. Jared Abbrederis should continue to come along after a nice freshman campaign. There's potential but not much experience among the rest of the receivers. Star tight end Lance Kendricks will be tough to replace, but Jake Byrne is an outstanding blocker and Jacob Pedersen caught two touchdowns last year.

7. Nebraska: Brandon Kinnie is the leader here, and the 6-foot-3 senior isn't afraid to make the big catch. Freshmen Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell had nice springs and could add some playmaking skills to a largely unproven crew around Kinnie. Kyler Reed might be the most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the Big Ten, if not the country, after hauling in eight touchdowns and 18 yards per reception a year ago.

[+] EnlargeMarvin McNutt
Scott Boehm/Getty Images Marvin McNutt will be expected to be the No.1 wideout for the Hawkeyes this season.
8. Iowa: Senior Marvin McNutt is the go-to option after recording 861 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Hawkeyes will look to junior Keenan Davis to improve and become the No. 2 target. Just about everyone else is green. Tight end is usually a strength for Kirk Ferentz and should be again with senior Brad Herman and a group of talented backups behind him.

9. Ohio State: Seems like we write this a lot, but the Buckeyes would be ranked higher if their star player in this group were available an entire season. But DeVier Posey's five-game suspension means this is an awfully young corps, and that inexperience showed with some inconsistent play this spring. Ohio State will need talented sophomore Corey "Philly" Brown to take a big leap forward and youngsters like Chris Fields, T.Y. Williams and James Louis to contribute in Posey's absence. Tight end Jake Stoneburner might have to become a bigger presence in the passing game.

10. Purdue: The Boilermakers have some decent depth but no proven stars. Antavian Edison is the leading returning receiver with just 314 yards last year, though the junior does have good speed. Justin Siller is talented but has had trouble staying healthy. Purdue lost two solid veterans at tight end in Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay and added a couple of potential replacements, including former basketball player Patrick Bade, this summer.

11. Minnesota: Da'Jon McKnight tied for second in the Big Ten last year with 10 receiving touchdowns. But the Gophers' second-leading receiver last season was MarQueis Gray, who's now their starting quarterback. Brandon Green could help after an injury-plagued season. Tight end Eric Lair can grab a few passes, as he did 39 times in 2010.

12. Illinois: The good news: A.J. Jenkins is a reliable weapon who had 746 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The bad news: There's not much experience behind him. Perhaps Ryan Lankford, who starred in the spring while Jenkins was out with an injury, will emerge as a star his sophomore year. Evan Wilson is back at tight end after starting 11 games as a freshman.

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