Penn State Football: With Top Receivers Gone, Sophomore Robinson Looks to Make an Impact
In mid-June, Penn State appeared to have a plethora of depth at wide receiver.
But within a span of 45 days, Devon Smith was dismissed from the team shortly after facing drug-related charges and Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma following the harsh NCAA sanctions levied in wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse allegations.
The losses of Brown and Smith, who has since transferred to Marshall, were big blows. Both were two-year starters and were to be the top two receivers on the roster after combining for 60 catches, 919 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
Now, with the Sept. 1 opener against Ohio just around the corner, first-year coach Bill O’Brien faces the unenviable task of having to replace the Nittany Lions’ top seven pass-catchers from a year ago.
And don’t forget, another former receiver, Bill Belton, is now the Nittany Lions’ No. 1 tailback.
As it stands now, Penn State’s top three receivers heading into the opener appear to be sophomore Allen Robinson, redshirt junior Shawney Kersey and redshirt sophomore Alex Kenney, a native of State College.
But senior Evan Lewis, who opened last season as the kicker, and freshman Trevor Williams are pressing for playing time.
“Allen Robinson clearly has had an excellent camp,” O’Brien said Tuesday. “He's an outside receiver who’s made a lot of big plays for us in camp.
“Shawney’s been out a little bit with an ankle injury, but hopefully, he’ll be back to practice here soon. I haven’t see a whole lot of him lately.”
The Robinson-Kersey-Kenney trio has combined for nine career receptions for 139 yards and no touchdowns, and Kenney played in just two games last year while working mostly at cornerback.
Even though Robinson had just three receptions for 29 yards in limited playing time a year ago, he showed lots of promise and was just one of four true freshmen to see game action.
At 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, he very well could become the primary target in O’Brien’s pass-happy offense, which is led by fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin.
"I'm really looking forward to this season, it's definitely an exciting role I have," Robinson said. "It's what I worked for, and playing a little bit last year helped prepare me for this.
"I was a little surprised that Justin left, but at the end of the day that's the decision he made. All of the guys that left, it was their decision, and now we just have to move on as a group."
Robinson appeared in 12 games for the Nittany Lions last season and earned his first career start in the regular-season finale at Wisconsin. He was on the field a total of 93 plays last year.
He snagged 44 passes for 720 yards and 10 touchdowns as a high school senior two years ago and was a teammate of former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden at St. Mary’s Prep in Orchard Lake, Mich. Bolden recently transferred to LSU.
Robinson is confident that he has the physical makeup to battle the best defensive backs in the Big Ten Conference and shrug off would-be tacklers.
"My strength is down field possession and getting down field, and my height helps me once I get there," he said. “I've improved a lot on getting in and out of my routes, too, and that's something I've worked on with coach O'Brien, (wide receivers) coach (Stan) Hixon, the other wide receivers, and myself.
“Regardless of who was here before, I was going to have to be in my playbook, be ready to step up when my number is called. So, I think (the pressure to produce) is the same."
Despite losing several key receivers, McGloin refuses to use that as an excuse for Penn State’s lean wideout pool, which lacks game experience.
"Experience-wise, we don't have a lot of guys who have played a lot of games," McGloin said. "Allen has played, and Kersey has played, so we know what to expect. The younger guys, we really don't.
“But at the same time, as long as they can go out and we can get comfortable with what we're doing, we'll be fine."
Robinson’s first reception of the season from McGloin likely will come 10 days from now in the first Penn State season-opener without Joe Paterno on the sideline since 1965.
Robinson can’t wait.
"I've made decent strides, and just try to improve off that every day to get ready for Sept. 1," he said. "The great staff here made it an easy decision to stay.
“There aren't too many staffs with this much experience, and now it's time to get ready for the next chapter in our book."
Robinson hopes to play a pivotal role in orchestrating a happy ending for the new batch of inexperienced receivers.