UNIVERSITY PARK - Move over, Smurfs. The big boys are coming.
Penn State's corps of speedy, undersized wide receivers remains intact, but if Saturday's Blue-White game demonstrated anything, it's that good things don't always come in small packages.
When the Nittany Lions line up for their season opener against visiting Florida International on Sept. 1, look for bigger involvement - literally as well as figuratively - in the passing game from such receivers as sophomore tight end Andrew Quarless (6-5, 252 pounds), sophomore wideout Chris Bell (6-2, 210), senior Terrell Golden (6-3, 217) and redshirt freshman Brett Brackett (6-6, 241), a converted quarterback.
Bell, who caught only five passes for 66 yards and had two rushes for 18 yards as a true freshman in 2006, scored two of the game's four touchdowns. The first was on a 22-yard reception from Paul Cianciolo, the second on a 74-yard grab from Daryll Clark.
He might have had a third TD, too, had not redshirt freshman quarterback Pat Devlin not fallen after having his foot stepped on while dropping back on a third-quarter pass play.
"Chris was open," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno noted, wryly.
A year ago, Penn State had three players - Deon Butler (48), Jordan Norwood (45) and Derrick Williams (40) - with 40 or more receptions for the first time in school history. Williams, at 6 feet and 203 pounds, is the tallest and heaviest of the three; Butler and Norwood both are 5-10 and weigh less than 175 pounds.
Also in the mix is 5-7, 187-pound Brendan Perretta, who hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Cianciolo in the White's 30-6 victory before a school-record spring crowd of 71,000, many of whom donned the maroon-and-orange of Virginia Tech in tribute to the 32 students and faculty members who were killed on that campus last Monday by a gunman.
Don't expect anyone to post eye-popping reception numbers in the fall as the plan is to alternate a steady stream of receivers, the better to create favorable matchups.
"We have a lot of guys we can move around," Paterno said in acknowledgment of one of the team's areas of greatest depth.
"If we could just use two or three footballs on every play, we'd be all right. That's the main thing . . . to get everybody involved as much as possible."
Paterno remembered hearing grumbling from some fans because no receiver stepped forward a year ago as quarterback Anthony Morelli's go-to receiver.
"There was a lot of talk that this guy didn't have that many catches, that guy didn't have that many catches," Paterno said. "Well, they're probably going to be saying the same stuff again. We're not going to have one guy with 75 catches. We have too many people and too many things that we're trying to do. But you know what? I think it's more of a problem for opposing defenses than it is for us."
Look for a lot of three- and four-wide receiver sets in the fall, but maybe not with the little guys all on the field at the same time.
Golden, who received the Red Worrell Award as the team's most improved offensive player this spring, caught only six passes for 120 yards a year ago, but he has made a strong case to take on an increased role, as has Bell, one of the most heavily recruited players in the country after his senior season at Granby High in Norfolk, Va. Between them, they had eight receptions for 165 yards on Saturday.
And then there's Brackett, who might have been sixth on the depth chart if the Lions carried six quarterbacks on their roster now instead of five. He had two receptions for 23 yards for the victorious White team, but barely missed on a couple of jump-ball throws into the end zone.
Brackett spent most of last season on the scout team as a wide receiver, turning a temporary assignment into what appears to be a permanent position change.
"It was right before the Notre Dame game," he recalled. "The coaches needed somebody to play the role of Jeff Samardzija [the Fighting Irish's 6-5, 218-pound All-America wideout]. They asked me to do it, so I did it.
"I guess I did a lot better than they thought I would, so they kind of left me there the rest of the year. It was tough, learning how to run routes and when to come out of breaks, but I'm getting better at it."