There's Rob Milanese, and then there's a bunch of other guys.
Everybody knows about Milanese, the 5-foot-10 baby-faced speedster who is prepared to crack just about every important Penn football receiving record this season in his fifth year with the program and fourth as a starter.
But none of the other four wide receivers projected to play -- Erik Bolinder, Jonathan Robinson, Joe Phillips and Daniel Castles -- have ever garnered a significant amount of playing time.
This inexperience on the flanks, combined with a brand-new quarterback and running back, showed in Friday's scrimmage against Widener. Penn's less-than-cohesive offensive unit bobbled balls and committed five turnovers, as the Quakers defense clearly carried the load.
Still, even with new faces throwing and catching the pigskin, there is reason to be optimistic about Penn's passing game for the upcoming 2002 campaign.
And believe it or not, the Quakers' wide receiving corps may very well turn out to be the Red and Blue's strongest and most experienced unit.
Away from the spotlight and the coach's ire, a bunch of second-teamers have been running tireless routes and countless patterns for some time now.
Mike Mitchell, the backup quarterback in 1999 and 2000 and the projected starter this season, feels comfortable throwing to Bolinder, a fifth-year senior, and juniors Robinson and Phillips.
As second-teamers the past few seasons, they have quietly waited in the wings, and are prepared now to step into the very big shoes that were left behind.
"On any football team, it takes the offense longer to gel than the defense," said Bolinder, who suffered a high ankle sprain against Princeton in Penn's opening scrimmage last season, and subsequently missed the entire 2001 season. "The offense can do a lot more than we showed in the scrimmage. All the guys like Mike [Mitchell] a lot. Our chemistry is great."
It's hard to argue that point.
This summer, Bolinder, Robinson and Milanese spent a week at Mitchell's house in Orlando, taking in some sun, working out and perfecting passing routes.
With the consistency and pure dominance of Kris Ryan gone from Penn's offensive playbook, the Quakers must lean heavily on their receivers if the offense is to excel.
And there are some early signs that Penn's air attack will indeed survive in the post-Gavin Hoffman era.
Turnovers aside, Mitchell showed good arm strength, a quick release and poise in the pocket in Friday's scrimmage. Bolinder, Robinson and Castles all made some nice catches. (Phillips missed the game with a shoulder injury, but is expected to return to practice today.)
Castles, a sophomore and the youngster of the group, opened some eyes with an impressive 12-catch, two-touchdown performance, and was clearly one of the stars of the game.
"We're definitely excited to see him get on the field this year," Robinson said.
The exciting thing about this group of wideouts is that there is a healthy mix of size and speed.
Milanese and Phillips are the quicker guys, the players who have the potential to make a big play after the catch.
Castles and Bolinder, six-foot-three and six-foot-two respectively, are the bigger players, who the Quakers hope will be their possession receivers.
"We can use our bodies to go up and catch a post or fade," said Bolinder, a converted quarterback.
As for Robinson?
"I'm kind of in-between -- a mix between both," the junior said. "The last two years, I played on the outside, but this year I'm moving inside in the slot."
And what's even more exciting is that these guys are ready to mix the standard wide receiver screen and crossing pattern with the occasional long bomb.
"Gavin was more conservative, but Mike will take some shots deep," Robinson said.
And who knows? They've been playing together for so long, it might just work.Comments powered by Disqus
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