Keeping in line with getting the tough love out of the way first, next up on the 2019 Lions Pride Position Previews: the Receiving Corps. Unlike the shroud of unknown still surrounding The Big Uglies on the O-Line, the look back promises to be much tougher than the look ahead when it comes to this year’s collection of wideouts and tight ends. As much of a head-scratcher as it was to watch at times last year, there’s just way too much speed and talent to expect anything less than a major upgrade moving forward.
Ironically, it was exactly a year ago that I proudly rolled out the same preview by tagging them ‘The Good Hands Crew’ or something to that effect. Boy, was I ever wrong on that one, but who can blame me really for those elevated expectations? After all, Juwan Johnson had already created a legacy with that walk-off home run snag at Iowa and DeAndre Thompkins had a penchant for making one-handed grabs heading into his senior year. For whatever reason, the ‘good hands crew’ we all expected was non-existent and for better or worse both men I speak of have moved on to greener pastures, literally, as Johnson hopped the transfer portal all the way to Oregon and Thompkins is currently fighting for a roster spot wearing Eagle green in the NFL.
So put the blame on me if you want for last season’s druthers in the passing game, since I seemingly slapped a big ol’ jinx on them before they even got out of the gate. Blame it on the lack of an Allen Robinson/Chris Godwin/DeaSean Hamilton-type we (and Trace McSorely, more importantly) had become accustomed to. You know, the kind that could reach for the stars and pull magic out of thin air. Although Johnson was supposed to take the reins. Or maybe, point your finger at the awkward staff shuffle that occurred once Ja’Juan Sieder came on board and took over the Running Backs. I find it hard to believe that one coach can cause as severe a case of the dropsies as we had in 2018 but there’s no question there was at least some animosity between David Corley and James Franklin once he got moved from RBs to receivers. Could it have been straight-up sabotage on his part? I guess we’ll never know and probably best we just let it go.
Ones you simply cannot place the blame on for the lack of productivity, under any circumstances, are the trio of rising sophomores KJ Hamler, Pat Frieirmuth, and Jahon Dotson. KJ immediately let us all know why the ‘The Human Joystick’ was such an appropriate nickname coming out of high school. Frieirmuth slowly but surely cast aside the huge shadow Mike Gesicki left behind at tight end, and Dotson provided a major level of stability as the season wore on. As young as they are, those three represent the foundation of leadership at the skill positions on a roster brimming with talent across the board.
At wideout, all eyes are on Justin Shorter as the 2018 No. 1 ranked receiver looks to rebound from a freshman campaign that never got off the ground due to a dislocated kneecap. Mac Hippenhammer, Cam Sullivan-Brown, and Daniel George (owner of the Penn State record for pass TD) proved more than capable in spot duty last year. Azuzs-Pacific transfer Weston Carr is an intriguing option as he, track star Dan Chisnea and Isaack Lutz represent the old dogs in the room, as both former walk-ons earned scholarships this past spring. Former Pitt-flip Nick Bowers came on strong at the end of last season and is looking to go out with a bang as the second option at tight end, as youngsters Zack Kuntz and Breton Strange look to prove themselves.
Of course, all the talent in the world means nothing unless you can coach them up and Gerard Parker was brought into the fold after a successful stint at Duke. The weight of transforming a unit that was one of the leaders in dropped passes into the ‘good hands crew’ we all expect rests squarely on his shoulders. With all due respect to those that have moved on, this team belongs to The Human Joystick and a stable full of young guns now, where drops aren’t even in the vocabulary!