Penn St. looks for latest replacement at receiver
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Nearly three weeks into the season, Penn State's new-look offense is still seeking an identity at key positions.
And that's on top of the turnover the Nittany Lions endured before the season even kicked off.
Indeed, injuries could leave Penn State (0-2) without its starting left tackle and top two running backs when Navy (0-1) visits Beaver Stadium this weekend. And starting receiver Shawney Kersey won't be pulling on a blue and white uniform, either, after leaving the Nittany Lions this week for personal reasons. A team spokesman said Wednesday that Kersey remains enrolled in school.
A revamped offense already lacking in experience at the skill positions besides senior quarterback Matt McGloin may have to rely on more young players to fill the latest void.
One of new coach Bill O'Brien's favorite phrases, "Next man up," resonated again with his players Wednesday.
"It was definitely a surprise for me, but at the same time we can't focus on what people decided to do," McGloin said about Kersey's departure. "We have to focus on people who are here now ... There's no doubt that one of our other wideouts will step up and do a great job."
That was supposed to be Kersey's goal this year.
He does have a checkered past, though, and problems may have surfaced again. Last season, Nittany Lions interim coach Tom Bradley also cited "personal reasons" for leaving Kersey home from the 30-14 loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl. But Kersey worked his way into the receiving rotation in an offense revamped by O'Brien this summer, and it appeared like he was a fit.
His new role, of course, came in part due to necessity. After all, Justin Brown's departure to Oklahoma - after he took advantage of an NCAA exception for an immediate transfer in light of the strict sanctions on the program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal - created a void.
The turnover at receiver also included the graduation of Derek Moye and the departure of Devon Smith for off-field reasons. He has since transferred to Marshall.
Kersey had just five catches all of 2011 - but that still left him as the team's leading returning receiver given all the other exits.
Sophomore Allen Robinson has stepped in nicely as a featured target for McGloin with 19 catches, 186 yards and a touchdown. And redshirt freshman Kyle Carter has taken advantage of O'Brien's tight end-friendly schemes with 10 catches, 107 yards and a score.
Kersey's departure could put more pressure on speedy sophomore Alex Kenney (five catches, 71 yards) to emerge as a playmaker. McGloin also said seldom-used junior Brandon Moseby-Felder could replace Kersey in the lineup. Freshmen Trevor Williams and Eugene Lewis have also impressed O'Brien at points in recent weeks.
Williams and Lewis "don't have a ton of experience but a lot of ability," McGloin said. "Hopefully they understand the position that they're in and they have a chance to make something happen."
Penn State could also be without left tackle Donovan Smith following an apparent right ankle injury suffered last week. Center Matt Stankiewitch said Smith hadn't practiced this week, and Smith was standing off to the side while his teammates stretched during a 30-minute portion of practice open to media Wednesday.
Plus, the Nittany Lions could start their third running back in three weeks Saturday with Bill Belton (left ankle) and Derek Day (left shoulder) also considered day-to-day.
Belton and Day did light running during position drills but didn't see action in the limited snaps during the open practice period.
Six-foot-1 running back Curtis Dukes, a 245-pound junior, might get the call.
Dukes, who ran for 30 yards on 10 carries last week against Virginia, was one of the backups last year to star tailback Silas Redd - who also took up the NCAA's transfer exception to go to Southern California.
O'Brien hinted this week he could go with a bruising running back rotation if Belton and Day can't go. Sophomore Zach Zwinak and senior fullback Michael Zordich - both of whom are listed as at least 232 pounds - may also see more carries. Zwinak and Zordich were 1-2 in the open practice time Wednesday.
"That's a pretty solid position," O'Brien said Tuesday. "And we've just got to keep grinding away with those guys."
The results have been so-so thus far for the new offense, modeled around the New England Patriots' attack that O'Brien used to run.
Penn State has shown dominating flashes, like the 17-play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the Virginia game, or the two-minute drill orchestrated with ease by McGloin to get the Nittany Lions in range for a potential game-winning field goal.
But Sam Ficken's kick went wide left from 42 yards in a heavy drizzle as time expired, one of four missed kicks for the sophomore.
"We have to keep our attitude up, our morale high and look forward to the next game," Stankiewitch said. "What's in the past, we can't change, but what we can do is prepare for the future."
O'Brien had Ficken focusing on technique in practice this week, while the offense was trying to perfect its play in the red zone.
Ficken was 5 for 5 in field-goal attempts in the open practice period Wednesday, prompting a coach to yell "There you go Fick!" as the Nittany Lions jogged to their next set of drills.
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