As Penn State prepares to open spring practice on March 26 in Happy Valley, SB Nation Pittsburgh breaks the roster down by position, taking a look at who the Nittany Lions have lost from last year's lineups, who they'll return and who they've added through the 2012 recruiting class. On the menu for Wednesday, wide receivers. (Tuesday: quarterbacks.)
Leaving The Roster
The wide receiving unit is really going to miss Derek Moye. The senior caught at least 40 passes in each of his three seasons as a starter and emerged as the only real safety net for the shaky quarterbacks over the past two years. He was also the only regular deep threat this team had last season, as few others have shown they can run the long routes and go up and grab the jump balls. In short, his skill set was unique on this team, so it'll be interesting to see how the returning group compensates for that.
Justin Brown improved a lot in 2011, finishing second on the team in receptions with 35 for 517 yards and two touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, he has the most physical tools of any receiver returning in 2012, so it's reasonable to expect he has the edge to take over for Moye at the top of the depth chart. The key to his spring will be developing a solid rapport with the quarterbacks and showing them they can count on him the way they did with Moye this past season.
Devon Smith, known around the team as "Moo Moo," is a little dude, measuring in at just 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds. He's carved out a niche for himself near the top of the depth chart over the last couple of years, however, by slipping away from defenses with his speed and quickness. Last year, he caught 25 passes for 402 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest challenge this spring will be showing a new coaching staff he can continue to play a big role in this offense despite his lack of traditional physical tools.
Others Returning, Looking To Step Up
Curtis Drake's physical tools have been teasing fans since his freshman year of 2009. Leg injuries cost him all of 2010 and significant snaps in 2011, but all indications are this is the year the former highly-touted recruit will be at 100 percent and ready to become a real threat through the air. His primary focus this spring should be regaining his strength and getting back to the point physically that he can catch 20-30 balls in 2012.
Freshman Allen Robinson should also be in the mix here.
Eugene Lewis has the best chance to contribute right away. At 6-foot-2, 181 pounds, this consensus four-star recruit from Plymouth has a solid frame for a younger player and could develop into the role Moye once filled for this offense. That won't happen overnight, and it's hard to see him playing too much with the traffic in front of him, but if there's a guy whose name you haven't heard much making catches late against the cupcakes of the schedule, it'll probably be Lewis.
Malik Golden, Jonathan Warner and Trevor Williams are decent prospects, but will need some time to develop.
None of these players are enrolled yet, so they won't be practicing with the team in the upcoming drills.
What To Look For In The Spring
These guys were frequently limited by poor quarterback play last season, and a lot of turning that around is on the quarterbacks. The receivers can certainly help, though, by using the spring to build relationships and trust as much as possible. The more comfortable the quarterbacks are with the receivers, the more likely both groups will be to succeed. Building that confidence begins now, before the passes start flying for real in September.