James Franklin & Marques Hagans Searching For ‘Consistency’ Amid Starting Wide Receiver Battle
Over the previous two offseasons, Penn State football head coach James Franklin was tasked with replacing just one starting wide receiver from one campaign to the next, which happened to be program record-setter, Jahan Dotson.
Now, the veteran mentor and first-year wide receivers coach Marques Hagans are tasked with replacing Mitchell Tinsley, Parker Washington, and pass-catching threat Brenton Strange to recoup lost air production with a new starting quarterback at the helm.
While returning staples KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Harrison Wallace III are the likely No. 1 and No. 2 options at the position among Hagans’ deep stable of talent, the third starting slot remains up for grabs, according to Franklin.
“I think wide receiver is a position where I wouldn’t necessarily say we have a two-deep or three-deep yet, but I think we have a good number of guys that legitimately are competing for that third spot,” Franklin said during Sunday afternoon’s media day session.
So, who could end up securing the third-and-final starting spot on the depth chart? From the outside looking in, the two most potent candidates hanging in the balance are Omari Evans and Dante Cephas.
Evans took on increased on-field duties during an impressive Blue-White Game, totaling 80 receiving yards and one touchdown on seven catches. Furthermore, the sophomore also had five receptions for 55 yards and another touchdown through four appearances last go-around.
However, all of Evans’ production occurred before Cephas arrived in Happy Valley by way of Kent State this summer. The now-redshirt senior totaled 2,139 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns over four seasons with the Golden Flashes last fall.
On Monday, he was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, which honors college football’s most outstanding wide receiver. Consequently, the Pittsburgh native has unsurprisingly impressed Franklin so far.
“He’s done some really good things,” Franklin said. “He’s gotten bigger. He’s gotten stronger. The guys have a ton of respect for him.”
Franklin acknowledged that Cephas is currently enduring an inevitable “adjustment period,” which heightens the competition’s initial stages. Will the coaching staff select the veteran newcomer as the third starter or the sophomore who has displayed semblances of success in the Nittany Lions’ offense?
Although most programs would rather have three bonafide starters entering fall camp rather than fostering an open competition, the dilemma speaks to Penn State’s newfound depth at the position.
After all, Franklin’s “open competition” mantra has pleaded for fierce battles across the board, with the pass-catching room glaring as the team’s most evident back-and-forth clamor.
Hagans has echoed a similar sentiment through his first summer as the squad’s wide receivers coach, stressing the importance of pushing one another with consistent habits and technique.
“I think we have 15 guys in the room right now that are really competing hard every day,” Hagans said. “The challenge is to continue to be consistent.”
Aside from Evans and Cephas, Malick Meiga, Florida State transfer Malik McClain, and Liam Clifford offer Hagans backup insurance at the X, Z, and slot positions, respectively.
While the room isn’t necessarily carved out to specifications yet, Hagans believes shortcomings in experience can be made up in talent and practice-generated improvement.
“Guys are working hard,” Hagans said. “They’re buying in and they’re putting their best foot forward every day, and we just have to continue to do that… I think the competition will drive and push the culture forward.”
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