Penn State sophomore wideout Allen Robinson is not only one of the breakout young stars in the Big Ten this season, with a conference-leading 24 catches for 322 yards and four scores through three games. He also happens to be quite the diplomat.
Asked how he went from a freshman season in which he barely saw the field -- making three catches for 29 yards -- to ranking among the NCAA top 10 in receiving yards per game (107.3) this year, he chalked it up to a crowded two-deep.
Last year, I think there were just a lot of depth issues, he said. We had a lot of guys that were older, like Derek Moye and Justin Brown; Shawney Kersey and Devon Smith. I think it was just about me coming into the system early on and trying to find a spot.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has a different take on the situation.
He definitely should have played a lot more last year, McGloin said. He's a great athlete, a great player, a good person. He works his tail off. I think the coaches last year didn't give him the opportunity he deserved. I saw it in him last year.
In 2011, the program's final season under head coach Joe Paterno and his staff, Penn State's passing game was abysmal. The Lions finished at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in nearly every significant passing statistic, including last in pass efficiency and passing TDs (10).
As a team, the Lions had zero touchdown receptions through three games in '11. Robinson alone had three in State's 34-7 win over Navy last week. He has four touchdowns in three games, which is as many as team leading pass-catcher Derek Moye had all last year.
Moye was lost to graduation. Brown transferred to Oklahoma when PSU was hit with NCAA sanctions. Smith was kicked off the team before the sanctions hit and landed at Marshall. Kersey left the team last week. (For the record: Moye did not make an NFL roster; Brown has six catches and no TDs at Oklahoma, and Smith had no catches and was not listed on the depth chart at Marshall.)
Though so many weapons were lost before the season even began, McGloin said he was never worried. He knew he had an ace in the hole, and said as much to new head coach Bill O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.
I remember speaking with Coach O'Brien and Coach Fisher about him, McGloin said, Just saying, 'Hey, this Robinson kid is gonna be special.' He's a great talent. He's out there every day working his tail off. The guy never misses a throwing session. You can kind of tell the type of athlete you have.
Obviously, a lot of people were probably a little hesitant to consider him having a good season because he hadn't played too much or hadn't caught a lot of balls in the past, the QB added. But my opinion is that that really doesn't matter. He has the talent and he has the ability to be great.
McGloin credited Robinson with staying determined, even when he was not playing as much as some felt he should have been. When O'Brien was hired to replace Paterno, it did not take long for the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots to realize what kind of talent he had in Robinson.
He's just a really good, young receiver, O'Brien said after Robinson burned Navy for five catches for 136 yards and three scores. He works extremely hard at the game, studies the game.
Much of that work was done with McGloin over the summer. The two began to develop on-field chemistry in the spring, and it really came on during informal summer workouts.
That's really when me and him noticed that it was starting to click, Robinson said. Me and Matt spent a lot of days out there throwing the ball and stuff like that.
In an opening loss to Ohio, Robinson had nine catches for 97 yards. A week later at Virginia, he had 10 catches for 89 yards and his first career touchdown.
He kept working his tail off, and had a great spring and great summer, McGloin said. He had a great camp as well, and it's really showing so far this season.
Teammates and coaches alike attribute much of Robinson's success to strong route running. McGloin called his routes, crisp. As for Robinson himself, he said the coaching staff wants him to get even better in that area.
They really want me to perfect route-running, because that's a big part of our offense -- getting open, Robinson said.
Added O'Brien: It's only three games for him, but he's had a very solid year to this point. But he knows and we know that he can get better.
McGloin has no doubt that will happen.
He has the talent and he has the ability to be great, McGloin said. I think he's gonna be one of the great wideouts that played here at Penn State. You're gonna see it for the rest of the season and in the future.