Penn State’s wide receiving corps was expected to look a little different this year with DaeSean Hamilton heading to the NFL, but don’t look for Brandon Polk to be the slot receiver next season.
Polk, who was listed as Hamilton’s backup last season at the ‘H’ wide receiver spot, said Tuesday he moved to the ‘Z’ wide receiver position this spring. The Penn State staff approached the redshirt junior about the move a couple weeks before spring practice, and Polk said he’s enjoyed getting to play the spot he didn’t play at all in his previous years at Penn State. He said he’s worked exclusively there during spring practice.
“There’s been a new chance, a new opportunity to widen my experience and my level of play just from not being inside and being able to play inside and outside,” Polk said Tuesday. “It’s been pretty good for me.”
The Z was where DeAndre Thompkins played last year, so that could open the door for more opportunities for spring ball darling KJ Hamler to work in the slot this season. Perhaps this means the staff has other plans for how to use Thompkins, one of Penn State’s top performers last season. Regardless, it gives Penn State’s receiving corps more flexibility as Thompkins and Polk have the chance to contribute at multiple spots.
Hamler’s explosiveness has made him a standout during spring ball, and while Polk is working to figure out how to get free off of press man — a transition he said he hadn’t dealt with since high school — he said playing the Z is something he actually likes a lot better now that he’s far enough into the transition.
“It’s truly a blessing to kind of be the guy out there at Z that they feel comfortable putting out there,” Polk said. “I’ve been working for this moment since I pretty much got here and it feels pretty good for them to actually have that confidence in me.”
He’s also had help from Thompkins, Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall, who all played Z in the past. He’s also looked to the pros to examine the releases of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.
“I hadn’t experienced that in a long time. So the press, at first, was the most difficult because it’s just been a long period of time where I hadn’t had to deal with that,” Polk said. “But I think now that I’ve been able to figure out like DBs going to press-jab me or he’s going to motor or here I need to rake. I’ve got more understanding of what to do in those situations.”
Hamler is doing his part to ensure the staff has confidence in him too, and while his speed and explosiveness has turned heads, he’s also been praised by James Franklin and by teammates for his blocking. One wouldn’t expect a 5-9, 172-pound redshirt freshman to be praised for his blocking on the perimeter, but Hamler has excelled there too.
Fellow redshirt freshman Mac Hippenhammer also will be one to keep an eye on in the spring game as the Lions look to have a plethora of options who can bounce around at the Z and the H.
“KJ’s been having a really, really good spring,” Polk said. “Just creating explosive plays, he’s blocking, he’s doing everything that the coaches are asking him to do and he’s doing it out there at 100 percent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him out here jogging, slacking. He’s out there basically like, ‘I want this job.'”