Penn State Nittany Lions: Shawney Kersey
Robinson was a consensus two-star prospect in high school. He caught three passes as a college freshman. And, before his sophomore season, the media focused on players such as Alex Kenney and Shawney Kersey as possible stars.
Robinson hears all the chatter; it just doesn’t bother him. He has been here before.
“My whole life has been sitting around waiting,” he said after Penn State’s Tuesday pro day. “So whatever round I go in, it is what it is. But at the same time, when I get to my team, I’m going to grind and earn my spot.”
The Michigan native, who caught high school passes from four-star recruit Rob Bolden, knows some have criticized his breakaway speed, or lack thereof. (NFL.com’s profile of him lists that as his main weakness.) The concern is he’s too slow to be a productive NFL wideout, that he’s a solid college wideout whose NFL stock dropped considerably since running a 4.6-second 40.
That’s not news to Robinson, but he has made a career out of proving doubters wrong. He centered a lot of his training around improving that 40-yard dash in time for Tuesday’s pro day. And, according to Robinson, scouts approached him afterward and told him he clocked a sub-4.5.
He also finished with a 42-inch vertical, a three-cone time of 6.53 seconds and a broad jump of 10 feet, 11 inches. All of those numbers were improvements from the NFL combine numbers.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in myself,” Robinson said. “I feel like I made the best decision I could’ve made [declaring early], and I’m comfortable with that.”
Robinson doesn’t know where he’ll go in the draft. Maybe he’ll surprise the analysts and be picked in the second round, or maybe even the first. But, wherever he goes, he said he wouldn’t be disappointed. And wherever he goes, no one is counting him out this time around.
“Everyone’s dream is to go in the first round, but I can’t control that,” he said. “So wherever I end up going, God has blessed me with being picked by a team. All I can do is stay prepared and ready and, once my name is called, show those guys what I can do and earn my spot on the field.”
Not stressing out: Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones might be the first Penn State player taken in next month’s NFL draft, but he’s trying not to think about that.
“You really don’t know until the draft so, right now, I’m not really stressing about it,” said Jones, who has been projected to go as early as the second round. “All I can do now is take care of my body.”
Jones weighed in at 324 pounds, a six-pound gain since the start of last season, and stood at 6-foot-3. He said teams have approached him as both a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive tackle, and he’s fine with either.
“Everyone’s going to multiple defenses,” he said, “so you’re going to play either/or no matter where you go.”
High risk … high reward?: Tight end-turned-offensive tackle Garry Gilliam was present for pro day, and it’s a good thing he was. A lot of NFL scouts didn’t even know he declared.
“They actually said they didn’t know I was coming out,” said Gilliam, who had one year of eligibility remaining and declared late. “So it was huge to come out here.”
Gilliam probably could have benefited from another season at Penn State. He played only one season as an offensive tackle after bulking up last offseason. But, at 23 years old and with two degrees already, Gilliam felt it was time to move on.
He came in Tuesday at 6-6, 306 pounds and ran a sub-5-second 40. But his upper body strength has teams worried, as he did between 19 and 20 reps on the bench press.
“I think they know I’m a raw player and they need to develop me,” he said, “but I think they’ll take a shot to do it.”
Disrespected: Middle linebacker Glenn Carson didn’t receive an invitation to last month’s NFL combine. And he doesn’t plan to forget that snub anytime soon.
“I definitely came in today with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I felt as if I should’ve gotten a combine invite, and that’s why I had to go out there and impress people today.
“I felt like I was a little underappreciated, but all you have to do is put your head down and work. And that’s what I did for these past three months.”
Carson could wind up as a priority free agent, but he’s not expected to be drafted. Still, he felt as if he improved his stock on Tuesday and said several scouts complimented his performance and how he played “smooth.”
“It would be awesome to get drafted,” Carson said.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With signing day just a day away, all the focus will be on the four-star talent and the big-name players. But it's not always the elite recruits who contribute most.
After all, where did Penn State's current starters rank when they were recruits?
For every elite prospect who falls short, there's an Allen Robinson -- an under-the-radar, two-star prospect who exceeds all expectations. The only true way to gauge the success of a recruiting class is in hindsight, by simply waiting.
So, as part of a RecruitingNation-wide series, NittanyNation took a closer look at PSU's Class of 2009. Some fifth-year seniors will have one more chance to show what they have on the field next fall. But, at this point, it's pretty safe to judge whether the class was a bust or not.
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Although he's a rising redshirt senior, he doesn't have to sit out a season as a result of Penn State's NCAA sanctions, which allow players to transfer without penalty until preseason camp opens in August.
Kersey came into Happy Valley as a high-level three-star recruit, but he struggled to find meaningful playing time. In three seasons, he played in 23 games and garnered four starts. But he finished his career with just 12 catches for 154 yards.
His absence didn't hurt a Penn State offense in which Matt McGloin finished with a school-best 3,266 passing yards and Allen Robinson set the single-season receptions record with 77 catches. He should compete for immediate playing time at Marshall, however, and becomes the third Penn State player to transfer to the Conference USA school.
Cornerback Derrick Thomas and wideout Devon Smith transferred there last year.
During the last two weeks, NittanyNation has reviewed each of Penn State's positions -- complete with summaries, grades, highlights and weaknesses.
For the final review, NittanyNation gives a quick-hitting overview of each position, along with each unit's unsung hero:
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Every day during the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.
Up today: Wide receivers.
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He disguised his routes, pulled down catches with black-and-blue Nike gloves and always seemed open back in March practices. Receivers coach Stan Hixon realized "right off the bat" Robinson would be a special player.
Brandon Moseby-Felder -- who's since become Matt McGloin's No. 3 target -- wasn't so fortunate.
The redshirt junior crumpled to the turf with a severely strained hamstring after the first week of spring practice. Unable to show Hixon what he was capable of on the field, he tried to tell him everything he could do. Over and over again.
"He's been telling me all along how good he is," Hixon said Thursday. "And with me, 'It's OK, we'll see.' "
Moseby-Felder’s ability wasn’t seen for much of the four seasons he watched from the sideline. He missed his high school senior season with a blown-out knee -- redshirted his freshman season as a result -- and seemed to pinball between the practice field and training room.
But when Justin Brown transferred and Shawney Kersey quit, Hixon scrambled to find the next man up. Moseby-Felder wasn't the obvious choice because of that lingering hamstring injury. But he turned out to be the best one.
The speedy wideout -- who claimed he ran a sub 4.4 the last time he was clocked -- has seen more passing targets every week. His stats have climbed the last four games: from 34 yards to 60, 70, and then a breakout game of 129 yards.
"We had a lot of talks over the offseason," Moseby-Felder said, referring to Hixon. "He expected me to do a lot of big things for him this year, but that kind of went down after I got hurt -- and I guess now it's picking back up."
Moseby-Felder, who enrolled as a 164-pound athlete, devoted himself to the new strength program and spent nights learning the playbook when he couldn't fine-tune his technique on the field. And, according to cornerback Stephon Morris, that hard work has paid dividends.
He said no offensive player has improved more.
"He's come a long way," Morris said. "He's been one of those kids that we haven't really noticed his first four years here, but he got the opportunity to play this year with people leaving and getting hurt and things like that. But I always knew he had it in him.
"This is the first year he finally felt confident and got back to his old form. He's a great talent and great person to be around."
He's emerged as McGloin's No. 3 target. And, with tight end Kyle Carter's injury, McGloin could look his way even more. With 25 catches so far, more than tripling his previous career totals, Moseby-Felder is already on pace for a memorable season.
Bill O'Brien remarked earlier this week how he's fine-tuned his route-running and developed into a solid blocker. Hixon said, by Week 4 or 5, his speed finally returned and he's added a dimension to this passing game. His teammates have lauded his improvement.
Moseby-Felder no longer has to tap on Hixon's shoulder or insist how good he can be. He doesn't have to say anything anymore.
Everybody already knows.
"We'll have to monitor him at the end of the week and see how he can cut and do certain things, to determine whether he can play or not," O'Brien said.
It wasn't clear whether Carter could participate in any contact drills because the practice was open for just 30 minutes. Still, the redshirt freshman was listed as "probable" on the injury report following Saturday's injury, and players said he alternated between the training room and practice the last two days.
He favored his left side Wednesday, and his left ankle was wrapped with white tape. Fully recovered or not, wideout Allen Robinson said he didn't expect to see his teammate sitting on the sidelines against Purdue.
"Honestly, I don't think that's going to be the case," Robinson said. "But if that's going to be the case, we definitely have tight ends to step up. I'm definitely confident that, if that were to happen, we'd have someone step in."
Welcome to Week 6 of NittanyNation's power rankings, a top-10 list of Penn State players who are surpassing expectations, and who to keep an eye on.
After its first victory this year over a ranked opponent, Penn State is now in the debate for the Leaders Division title. Some new players stepped up, some leaders played solidly and a few made big leaps on the list.
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The wide receivers coach told reporters that extra defenders would stalk Allen Robinson throughout the Big Ten season, that they would stick to Matt McGloin's top target better than the names on the back of their jerseys.
"We want to spread it around a little more," Hixon said shortly after Penn State's first win, "because, when we get to Big Ten play, there's going to be some double coverage -- and other guys got to come through."
Enter Alex Kenney, a wideout-turned-cornerback-turned-wideout.
With the departure of Shawney Kersey, McGloin has relied more and more on Kenney as a Plan-B receiver. In the last two games, Kenney has quietly made seven catches to Robinson's eight.
In the non-conference season, Robinson accounted for 40 percent of McGloin's passing yards. But it's clear that won't fly against Big Ten competition. Against Illinois, he reeled in just three catches for 35 yards.
"I don't think you can double-cover one guy on us," McGloin said Wednesday. "We'll just throw to someone else."
Kenney, a redshirt sophomore, wasn’t always the most likely candidate to become that "someone else." He competed mostly at cornerback last season until he was thrust into a receiving role in the TicketCity Bowl.
When Hixon first saw Kenney, he told the speedy wideout he wasn't moving back to defense. Kenney waited to hear those words for two seasons.
"It was frustrating," Kenney said about his previous moves, "and it was tough because you didn't know where you were going to be or what plays to learn because you were constantly getting pushed back and forth.
"I'm really appreciative of having a home with this staff."
In the preseason, his starting job in the slot wasn't guaranteed either. He rotated in and out of the first team with Evan Lewis. Even during Week 1, a dreaded "OR" was listed next to his name on the depth chart -- signifying the job was still open.
But Kenney ended up wrestling the start away from Lewis. Maybe it had something to do with his speed -- he still holds the state's 60-meter record in high school (6.8 seconds) -- or something else the coaches saw. Kenney isn't sure. He just knows he can't take a play off now.
"I'm just trying to make as many plays as possible and catch balls thrown my way," he said matter-of-factly.
The State College native is beginning to emerge as the No. 2 wideout, but he might not be there yet. McGloin hasn't consistently targeted him downfield -- despite being one of the fastest players on the team.
Most of Kenney's catches have come on screens and short routes, but more aggressive targets could be on the way.
"Alex is a great weapon for us," McGloin said. "He's got a lot of speed. We want to get him the ball in space."
"Adrian really didn't get his bell rung on that one," O'Brien added.
O'Brien said defensive end Pete Massaro will probably not play, but he listed Sean Stanley as "probable." Donovan Smith was also listed on the depth chart as the starting left tackle.
Punt returner: Jesse Della Valle returned three punts for 45 yards against Temple, and O'Brien called him the "special teams player of the week."
"He's got a little bit of a knack for that," O'Brien said, "and we're going to stick with him."
O'Brien said secondary coach John Butler noticed Della Valle making good catches during warmups against Virginia -- so they decided to go with him then. And, after Saturday's performance, he's cemented his position.
Defensive line: O'Brien showed a lot of respect for the Illini's defensive line, which features two players on a lot of watch lists.
Defensive end Michael Buchanan (Nagurski, Bednarik, Lombardi, Hendricks) and defensive tackle Akeem Spence (Lombardi, Outland) could give Penn State some trouble, and O'Brien said he gets a sense of deja vu when he watches them.
"They remind us of what we play against every day in practice," he said.
Preparing for ... who? Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Monday that Nathan Scheelhaase remains his starting quarterback, but Penn State appears to be preparing for both.
Scheelhaase is a dual-threat, while Reilly O'Toole is more of a pocket passer.
"Both guys bring two distinct styles to the offense," O'Brien said, "so preparing for this team is very, very difficult because you almost have to prepare for two types of offenses."
Sticking with it: Wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder made a critical drop Saturday that wound up as a Temple interception. O'Brien said he exchange some words with Moseby-Felder, mainly just telling Shawney Kersey's replacement he wouldn't bench him.
"Brandon Moseby-Felder is proably one of the more improved players on our football team," O'Brien said. "When he came here in the spring, he had some injuries -- a bit of a hamstring -- but he stuck with it."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien has stressed the importance of walk-ons this season -- and today's weekly news conference was no different.
Penn State will hold open tryouts Wednesday evening at Holuba Hall, and O'Brien said he hopes to unearth a handful of contributors.
"I'd say, positionally, hopefully there's some DBs in the crowd there," O'Brien said. "That's the position right now that we're looking for. Other than that, I just want to get out there and see if we can go out and find some good football players."
Thirteen players have left the team since July 23, when the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against Penn State, and those departures have created depth issues. O'Brien has just two place-kickers on the roster following Matt Marcincin's departure last week.
On defense, true freshman Da'Quan Davis played in three games and now boasts more experience than most of the secondary's backups.
"Males or females, I'm not sure how many will show up," O'Brien said. "But we'll see after practice tomorrow."
Injuries: O'Brien remained mostly mum on injuries to his tailbacks, but he said Derek Day was slightly ahead of Bill Belton in terms of recovery. He said they're both day-to-day.
For the first time in his life, he was no longer the best wideout on the team.
Williams grew up as one of the first kids picked in gym class. He was an elite youth football player, who stood about 5-foot-9 by the eighth grade. He was one reception shy of triple-digits as a senior.
"Trevor, he was a high-profile kid," Calvert Hall (Baltimore, Md.) coach Donald Davis said."He was a guy who we knew walking in the door that, when he's a senior, he's going to be one of the better players around. He came in with high praise -- and he certainly lived up to it."
"Trevor Williams, he's a freshman and he's doing really well," cornerback Stephon Morris said Wednesday.
Williams didn't enter Penn State's summer camp as the top wideout. He didn't even appear to be the top freshman receiver. Four-star prospect Eugene Lewis was widely regarded as the gem of the class, and ESPN had Williams ranked behind three other first-year wideouts.
But Williams quickly impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and athleticism.
O'Brien often mentioned Lewis and Williams when talking about breakout freshmen. And, on the Tuesday before the season opener, the former New England offensive coordinator penciled in Williams as a possible starter, placing an "OR" next to starting wideout Kersey.
Williams was the lone true freshman challenging for a starting position.
"He's an instinctive player. He's got good speed, he can catch the ball, he's smart," O'Brien said at the time. "He picks up on schemes pretty easily, and he's got a heck of a future for us."
That "OR" was removed late Monday night, which declared Kersey the unquestioned starter heading into the Navy game. But, less than 24 hours later, that two-letter word was replaced with a big question mark when Kersey walked away from a team struggling with depth and experience.
"Of course Shawney was a great athlete," center Matt Stankiewitch said, "but it's just another chance for someone to step up and show what you're worth."
The 6-1, 186-pound rookie has seen limited time in both games this season and has been targeted just once -- on a short pass broken up by an Ohio defensive tackle. Williams' competition -- Christian Kuntz, Brandon Moseby-Felder, Matt Zanellato, Lewis -- also hasn't recorded a reception.
One day after Kersey left, Matt McGloin said he wasn't sure who would fill in for him. Although O'Brien doesn't allow true freshmen to address the media, it's safe to say Williams is hoping -- just like those old gym-class days -- that he's picked first.
"He's the best receiver I've ever coached," Davis added.
Here are NittanyNation's Week 3 storylines:
1. Another week, another running back: With injuries to both Bill Belton and Derek Day, Penn State could be forced to use its third-string tailback in Zach Zwinak. Penn State struggled with its backup tailback last week and averaged just 2.9 yards a carry. With possibly using an emergency tailback to go along with the 100th ranked rushing offense, just how much further can this run game fall?
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With Bill Belton limited because of a sprained left ankle -- seemingly wrapped with a roll of tape -- and Derek Day nursing a shoulder injury, Penn State reached down deep on the depth chart for Wednesday evening's practice.
A fourth-string tailback in April, Zwinak worked with the starters during a 30-minute practice session open to the media. Zwinak has just six career carries for nine yards.
Belton and Day were both dressed but did not participate in contact drills, and it's not yet clear whether they'll play in Saturday's game against Navy. If they can't go, it now appears Zwinak will be the No. 1 -- and fullback Michael Zordich will back him up.
Zordich practiced with the second-string, while Curtis Dukes watched from the sideline. Even with the injuries, it seems as if the 245-pound Dukes still can't climb into the starting spot -- despite leading all returning rushers with 237 yards and a 5.8 yard-per-carry average.
Shawney Kersey's departure: Without Kersey, true freshman Trevor Williams and redshirt junior Brandon Moseby-Felder split time at the outside role.
Williams is listed ahead of Moseby-Felder on the depth chart, but Moseby-Felder brings some much-needed experience to the receiving corps. Neither really differentiated himself during the 30 minutes open to the media -- but Williams will likely get the nod.
New look at TE: For the second straight week, former quarterback Paul Jones did not wear a red shirt at practice. Instead, he caught balls from Matt McGloin and new No. 2 quarterback Steven Bench.
He was split wide on the media's way out and dropped one pass about 15 yards downfield. He clapped his hands, let an expletive fly and then jogged back to the huddle.
Offensive line: Left tackle Donovan Smith was not in pads and did not practice Wednesday.
His absence in parts of the Ohio game was easy to see, and he will be missed if he cannot return in time. He was not listed on the injury report, but Bill O'Brien said Tuesday Smith has some "bumps and bruises."
Mike Farrell replaced him at left tackle, and Adam Gress started on the right.
Kickin' Ficken: Sam Ficken opened the practice by attempting five field goals between 30 and 40 yards -- and he made them all.
Yes, the same kicker who made just 1-for-5 against the Cavaliers was perfect at practice. But, as O'Brien said Tuesday, consistency is the key with Ficken.
Other injuries: Defensive end Pete Massaro and linebacker Nyeem Wartman were also not in pads.
Massaro said he's battling a shoulder injury -- in addition to a previously torn ACL that's still healing -- while Wartman has issues with his knee. Deion Barnes becomes the unquestioned starter with Massaro's injury.
Tight ends: Kyle Carter is obviously the f-tight end but Matt Lehman practiced as the starter at the y-tight end spot, ahead of Garry Gilliam.
Lehman's seen more time since a touchdown grab Week 1, and the Lions practiced one play with Carter, Lehman and Jones lined up -- definitely not something that was expected in the preseason.
Scouting report: Several NFL scouts were in attendance Wednesday, and most appeared to be watching defense.
The Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers were among the teams represented.