Penn State Football: Blue White Weekend Marks Start Of Consistency Battle For Wideouts
Only a few days into the new year former Penn State receiver Chris Godwin told teammate and fellow wideout Juwan Johnson that he was headed to the NFL.
And at that moment Penn State's lethal, explosive and occasionally wacky offense had a void to fill. Yes, the Nittany Lions still return Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, two players with varying degrees of Heisman aspirations, but no obvious No.1 target to throw to down the field.
Penn State will enter this weekend's Blue White game with the hopes of seeing that particular question at least partially answered.
The Nittany Lions still have DaeSean Hamilton but his career has been and up and down in terms of production. Saeed Blacknall is the most obvious choice as a primary target and looks physically improved, but he has a record of big plays rather than every down success.
Brandon Polk returns from injury but with questions about his overall conditioning. DeAndre Thompkins also finds himself in the mix, but struggled late in the season.
So the door has plenty of people standing at it, but none yet to walk through.
The first to do it though might be sophomore Juwan Johnson, who despite catching just two passes all season in 2016 is considered to perhaps be the team's most improved player this spring.
"He kind of has it figured out what he needs to do to be successful with our team, what he needs to do to have a bigger role, what are his strengths, what are his weaknesses," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "He's a mature guy, and he's a smart guy. So he's really kind of made a significant jump from the end of the season to now."
And Johnson looks the part as well, at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds he will be the biggest receiver for Penn State since Allen Robinson a few seasons prior.
But as Johnson noted himself on a conference call Tuesday, it will come down to consistency.
That truly will be Penn State's biggest challenge when it comes to picking up where Godiwn left off. Numbers are easy to make up for, other players can catch passes and score touchdowns, but what Godwin brought to the table was a confidence that any given pass in his direction was going to be caught.
The results were games like the one he had against USC in the Rose Bowl, a receiving clinic but also a showcase of what it means to be a reliable target in an explosive offense. The Nittany Lions have plenty of options for passing catching, but so far no proven answer to what it means to be a reliable one.
There's nothing saying that Penn State's returning receivers can't do what Godwin did, every indication is that they will. But starting this weekend the question will become "have they?" and not "can they?"