Last week in This Space, we talked about some of the issues Penn State faces as the 2020 truncated season nears. Especially at the wide receiver position.
This week, we offer some potential work-arounds:
Throw to the tight end(s): When Lou Holtz was at Notre Dame, he joked that when he met alumni and friends of the Fighting Irish, normal greetings like, “Hello,’’ or “How are you?” were replaced by, “Why don’t you throw more to the tight end?”
Might be a question to ask in Happy Valley. Junior TE Pat Freiermuth is one of the country’s best, but his numbers - 43 catches for 507 yards and seven TDs last year - haven’t been quite as impressive as his apparent potential.
But we’re not talking about just featuring Freiermuth. Penn State has used two-TE formations often enough under James Franklin, but mostly to get an extra blocker in the ground game.
Why don’t you throw more to the tight end? It worked for Bill O’Brien in Happy Valley; O’Brien actually divided tight end into two separate positions. It works for Philadelphia Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson.
It’s a way to create mismatches, run pass plays from what defenses may read as run formations, and take some onus away from a wide receiver group still finding itself.
Penn State appears to have the athletes to make it work. Zack Kuntz, a redshirt sophomore from Camp Hill, seems ready for his close-up. Kuntz looked like the basketball player (he’s 6-7) and hurdler he was in high school when he got to Penn State. Now he’s over 250 pounds.
There’s also a true freshman worth mentioning: Theo Johnson, a 6-6, 258-pound Canadian that Alabama, Michigan and Georgia wanted. Johnson’s reportedly been having impact in practice.
Throw to the running backs: RB might be the team’s best position-group, both in quality and quantity. Only two of them had double-figure catches last year, and one of those, Ricky Slade, transferred out.
The other, Journey Brown, had 15 catches even though he didn’t start until halfway through the season. (Unrelated but tantalizing fact: Brown has had only one career game with double-figure carries in which he didn’t gain 100-plus yards.)
Devyn Ford, the sophomore elite recruit RB with obvious talent who hasn’t really taken off yet, has a leaner, willowy body. He looks like a receiver. Just sayin’.
Minnesota, where new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca was last year, threw to the RBs even less than Penn State did, but it’s not like Ciarrocca can’t figure it out.
Screens and wheel routes for everybody.
Young WRs emerge: There was a setback in this area when Franklin confirmed last week that R-freshman John Dunmore, a 4-star recruit who chose Penn State over Ohio State, Notre Dame, Georgia, Florida, et al, left the program for personal reasons.
But on Penn State’s most recent depth chart, Dunmore was backing up another R-freshman, T.J. Jones, who’s around the size (6-1, 205) that is somewhat missing from the WR group.
Also in that size range, true freshman KeAndre Lambert was an elite recruit and has been getting traction. Lambert seemed to be featured in some practice video the program released Thursday.
Yes, that’s where we are: looking for clues in practice B-roll.
College football is coming to Central Pa. Honest.