Confidence Is Key For Penn State Football’s Wide Receivers Entering 2019 Season
There’s only one goal in everyone’s mind for Penn State football’s wide receivers entering the 2019 season: catch the damn ball. Wide receivers coach Gerad Parker is working towards achieving this simple, but supremely important goal entering his first season on James Franklin’s coaching staff.
Last season, drops were a significant issue for the Nittany Lions’ group of pass-catchers. Players like Juwan Johnson, Brandon Polk, and DeAndre Thompkins all took significant steps back at the forefront of this problem following strong performances in 2017.
All three of those veterans, however, are no longer with the team. Thompkins was a senior, but Johnson and Polk both got much-needed changes of scenery via the transfer portal. Rising redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler, true sophomore Jahan Dotson, and redshirt freshman Justin Shorter are currently projected to take on the team’s three starting receiver jobs in 2019.
Their new wide receivers coach is working towards eliminating a certain dreaded five-letter word — drops — from his young group’s collective game.
“My job is to make sure these guys can handle the bad. And what is the bad as a wideout? It’s the ugly word that we don’t want to say. They’re going to happen,” Parker said Wednesday. “Our guys have got to be able to say, ‘Hey, I know what I’m doing wrong — my eyes were late, my hands were down, I’ll fix that, I’m gonna go get the next one.’ If we can get them wired like that and hungry to just fix it, we’re going to be just fine.”
Hamler was perhaps Penn State’s best wideout in 2018. He showcased his skills as one of college football’s most explosive players with a team-leading 754 receiving yards and 43 catches. The redshirt sophomore scored five touchdowns last year, including a 93-yard score in the White Out game against Ohio State.
Dotson and Shorter’s volume of work weren’t as large as Hamler’s, but they both showed flashes of their high potential in a reserve role. The rising sophomore made 13 catches for 203 yards, and Shorter made three catches for 20 yards. Despite that low output, the former five-star recruit impressed at practice, particularly in the buildup to the 2019 Citrus Bowl.
“The month Justin Shorter had, in my mind, was the best month I’ve seen from any of [Penn State’s freshmen],” Trace McSorley said following his team’s loss to Kentucky. “He grew leaps and bounds in that last month.”
Penn State’s three starters at wideout will be important, but the position’s depth is also going to be crucial in 2019. Parker will expect guys like Mac Hippenhammer, Daniel George, and Cam Sullivan-Brown to take on larger roles as bench options after combining for 12 receptions and 264 yards in 2018. John Dunmore, a highly-touted class of 2019 recruit from Florida, is an intriguing option who is definitely in contention to see the field as a true freshman.
During the offseason, the receivers have worked on gaining the necessary confidence and mindset in order to bounce back from dropped passes. That said, Parker thinks they still have some strides to make.
“I think we’re halfway home,” Parker said. “I think we haven’t endured enough bad yet together to get them through to the other side to say we’re there, but I think we’re halfway home.”
As of right now, Penn State has 15 wide receivers to work with entering the 2019 season. Only four of them have at least two or more years of experience under their belt, and that goes to show just how young this group really is.
With the work that Parker has been doing with his receivers to mentally and physically prepare them for this season, Penn State’s wideouts could take college football by storm in 2019.
“Confidence going in[to a new season] allows you to [find success] more, so I think we’re going to have a group that’s going to walk into August knowing, man I feel different, I’ve acted different, I have done all these things differently, I am ready for success,” Parker said.
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