UNIVERSITY PARK - In his press conference preceding the Blue-White Game, Nittany Lion football coach Joe Paterno turned a question about his receiving corps into a statement about his entire team.
It sounded a bit like Forrest Gump talking about a box of chocolates.
"There's a lot of talent on this football team,'' Paterno said. "We don't know where we're going yet.''
Penn State running back Evan Royster signs autographs for fans. Royster sat out the annual spring game.
The response that ended the venerable Penn State mentor's presser was an ideal lead-in to the Nittany Lions' spring game. Once the players got on the field Saturday at Beaver Stadium, they showed flashes of potential but also that a considerable amount of work needed to be done - particularly on offense - as they try to follow up last year's 11-2 finish.
The Blue emerged with a 17-3 victory.
"Both offenses and defense need work,'' freshman outside linebacker Gerald Hodges said. "Both offense and defense are going to keep working hard to be the best they can be.''
"That's the beauty of having spring practice and a spring game,'' junior tailback Stephfon Green, who rushed for 10 yards on 10 carries, said. "You get the nicks and knacks and get into the film room and get it all together for the fall.''
There will plenty of room for improvement. The two unproven quarterbacks who are the co-frontrunners vying for the job vacated by graduating team leader Daryll Clark - Kevin Newsome and Mike McGloin - were a combined 15-for-35 passing. Neither got their team into the end zone, and McGloin was picked off twice.
They each had their bright moments, too, as Newsome got on a roll in the first quarter where he completed three passes in a row for 40 yards, and McGloin showed surprising agility and an ability to improvise.
In fairness to both, their cause wasn't helped by something of a patchwork offensive line that has had several of its members moved around this spring. The result was that Newsome and McGloin were rushed and/or forced to scramble on numerous occasions.
"I think the coaches are just trying to get the right fit for the team,'' said Doug Klopacz, who worked as the first team center, while last year's starter at the position, Stefen Wisniewski, moved over to guard. "I think we played pretty well as a unit. Hopefully, we can just progress off that and see what happens in the fall.''
There were five sacks allowed, including two by Eric Latimore.
"We need to instill confidence in [the quarterbacks], so they know we'll be there and they don't have to do everything,'' Klopacz said.
Klopacz and Quinn Barham are first-time starters. Lou Eliades, who started every game last season at right guard is being tried at right tackle, and DeOn'tae Pannell is at left guard, where he started the last three games of 2009 after being pulled out of the starting right tackle spot earlier in the season.
"On the offensive line, you can't have four guys doing the job and one guy not. Obviously, there's that chemistry we need to have,'' Eliades said. "I think we're only going to get better in time. Chemistry will develop. I think, by September, we'll be ready to go.''
There were reasons for optimism, too. The biggest highlights were provided by a pair of freshmen, quarterback Paul Jones and receiver Shawney Kersey.
Although most of his action came against reserve defenders, Jones, who in December was still a senior at Sto-Rox High School in Pittsburgh, looked very sharp in his brief appearance. He connected on 5-of-8 throws for 67 yards.
"I like him a lot,'' senior wideout Brett Brackett said of Jones. "He's just one of those guys that loves playing football. He's got a great arm. Once he starts understanding college defenses, I think he can develop into a really fine quarterback. He's got all the skills, and, for a freshman, he's got a lot of poise.''
Jones tossed a pair of 18-yard touchdown passes, both to Kersey, a redshirt freshman from New Jersey. One the second, Jones placed the ball perfectly in the back of the end zone. Kersey managed to bring it in while making sure his feet were in bounds, even though the defense was called for interference.
"It just comes down to making plays. Kersey's a ton of athletic ability. The kid just looks like a player. He just needs an opportunity to make plays. He got that today and look what happened,'' Brackett said. "He can be a dangerous weapon for us in the fall.''
Kersey will add to a very deep group. The Lions return their top two receivers from last year, Derek Moye and Graham Zug. Freshmen Curtis Drake and Justin Brown made impacts and were seeing more and more plays as the season progressed.
There'd actually been consideration to play Kersey on defense heading into the spring.
"For the fall, I just want to be able to contribute to putting a few points on the board for the offense and helping out the team,'' Kersey said. "If they had needed me on defense, I would have played there, but I really love offense, and I want to learn how to play receiver.''
The defense seemed like it was just fine even without Kersey. The respective offenses managed 357 yards combined.
It looked like a talented unit, even considering four of its members - tackle Jared Odrick and linebackers Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull - were drafted by the NFL over the last three days and starting safety Drew Astorino and highly-regarded linebacker Mike Mauti sat out the game healing from an injuries.
"I think we have a real athletic bunch. It's just that a bunch of the athletic kids are younger. It was important in the spring to get them reps, to see what they can do,'' said junior cornerback D'Anton Lynn. "I think we're more athletic than last year, just without the experience.''
In addition to Latimore, Kevion Latham lived in the opposing backfield and was credited with a sack. Redshirt freshmen Hodges, Derrick Thomas and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong knocked down three passes apiece. Redshirt junior Nate Stupar shared game-high tackle honors with 2008 recruit Mike Yanich, checking in with seven.
In spite of the numerous rough spots on display Saturday, Stupar, like most of his teammates, was upbeat.
"They had the same questions last year. How's the offense going to do? Is the quarterback going to do well? And the offensive linemen?'' Stupar said. "We had the same questions last year, and look at how well our season turned out. I don't have any doubts in our defense or our offense. I think we'll have a really good year.''