Penn State Wide Receivers Poised For Breakout Year Under New Offense
Following the departure of KJ Hamler and the introduction of two new coaches, Penn State football’s wide receiver room has remained one of the biggest question marks ahead of the season.
Bringing in offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and wide receiver coach Taylor Stubblefield could hamper a team that’s had limited practice hours due to the coronavirus pandemic. Or, it could result in a fresh, explosive offense for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions. Sean Clifford and his wide receivers corps certainly think it’s the latter.
“I think that these guys are extremely hardworking,” Clifford said. “I think they’ve done a very good job of being responsive to me, Coach Ciarrocca, and all the other quarterbacks about what we need to get done to win games here.”
Although Clifford is happy with the work the offense has put in over quarantine and during the offseason, he recognized that it’s been an unorthodox way to learn a new scheme. Not knowing whether they’d even play took a mental toll on him and his teammates.
Clifford said the offense needed to play “catch-up,” but Ciarrocca’s communication skills made it easy. The two would text each other clips of film over the offseason and talk through certain plays or scenarios. Even without seeing the practice field, Clifford was able to establish a relationship with his new offensive coordinator.
But what will this new offense look like exactly? Penn State hopes it will look much sharper than in years past. Wide receivers Daniel George and Cam Sullivan-Brown both noted that Clifford has greatly improved on his accuracy over the offseason. Combine that with Ciarrocca’s detailed-oriented coaching style and you get a decisive, quick offensive scheme.
“Coach Ciarrocca demands success. Those little details…he makes sure every day that we know what we’re doing,” wide receiver Jahan Dotson said. “He doesn’t accept it any other way, so that’s a good thing to have in your back pocket: someone who’s gonna push you to your limits becuase they know what you’re capable [of].”
“He’s gonna get on your ass,” Clifford added about Ciarrocca. “That’s kind of been the name of the game with this offense right now: Details are the most important thing because a) it’s a new offense and b) we’re battling the clock.”
You can also keep your eye out for the deep ball in Penn State’s offense this year. Ciarrocca certainly focused on this explosive playstyle at Minnesota, leading quarterback Tanner Morgan to an impressive 30-touchdown, 3,253-yard campaign.
“With coach Ciarrocca and Sean Clifford, I do see [the deep ball] being a bigger factor this year,” George said. “I think that last year and maybe in the years past we hadn’t really had much of a deep, deep threat other than KJ [Hamler]…I think that’s definitely something that we’ll use more this year.
With Hamler gone, George will likely need to help lead this unproven group of wideouts. Sullivan-Brown noted that George, Dotson, and himself have already stepped up as leaders of the room and are helping to build an identity around the younger receivers.
“I think we’re starting to be more explosive,” Sullivan-Brown said. “We’re starting to come into our own and build our own personality I feel like, and that’s our biggest asset right now.”
The veteran guys will lead a room full of younger guys like redshirt freshmen TJ Jones and John Dunmore as well as true freshmen like KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Parker Washington, Malick Meiga, and Jaden Dottin.
“They all got different styles and different flavors to their game,” Sullivan-Brown said about the younger receivers. “Parker’s quick, KeAndre’s competitive as hell, Malik’s physical, and Jaden’s fast — he’ll go up and get the ball. I like all of their different styles.”
George added that Lambert and Washington are especially poised for a breakout season.
“Those guys are some ballers right there, some studs,” he said.
Despite this talented receiving group being relatively inexperienced, George thinks Ciarrocca is the perfect guy to make all the pieces fit.
“He’s really good with putting these players in a position to be successful and do their absolute best,” he said. “He’s showed that through practice, through meetings, he communicates with us…I’ve had so many conversations with him that have helped me grow as a player that it’s crazy.
Following a whirlwind of an offseason, it seems like Ciarrocca and his players are eager to put together Penn State’s offensive puzzle on the field.
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Kotelnicki’s hiring was first reported Thursday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions survived a late Minnesota comeback attempt to split the series.