STATE COLLEGE — Penn State’s struggles with dropped passes last season aren’t lost on sophomore wide receiver Jahan Dotson and the rest of the Nittany Lions’ receiving corps.
The group — and first-year wide receivers coach Gerad Parker — have turned to a tried-and-true method to address the problem. Before players leave each practice, they each catch 100 footballs from the JUGS machine — a device that rapidly spits footballs out at speeds up to 75 miles per hour.
“Coach Parker really preaches owning the ball,” Dotson said following Tuesday’s practice. “The ball is everything; the ball is the game. You have to protect the ball like it’s your child basically.”
Dotson said the results of the post-practice routine have been felt both literally and figuratively.
“They’re sore, but we do this for a living,” Dotson said with a laugh as he talked about his hands. “(Coach Parker) has been fantastic. He’s been everything you want in a coach. He’s taught us the little things about everyday life, translating everyday life to the football field.”
Parker was hired from Duke in the offseason to replace David Corley. In 2016, Parker led Purdue as interim coach for six weeks. He’s had additional college stops at Kentucky, Marshall and The University of Tennessee at Martin.
Parker played receiver at Kentucky from 2000-04 and ended his injury-plagued playing career with 15 catches for 168 yards. Dotson said Parker’s experiences of playing high-level college football further enhance his influence.
“He’s given us a lot of resources and a lot of tools to win against any look we see,” Dotson said. “I feel like he’s been great for us, and just being a receiver himself, he knows a lot.”
Dotson caught 13 passes for 203 yards as a freshman last season. His 13 catches last year make him Penn State’s second-most experienced receiver entering the 2019 season, behind redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler.
This offseason, his training regimen has not only included pouring over countless hours of his own game film, but also looking at footage of NFL receivers after whom he he wishes to model his game. He lists San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen as his favorite to watch but also said he enjoys studying NFL receivers Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons), Odell Beckham Jr. (Cleveland Browns) and Antonio Brown (Oakland Raiders).
“They try to perfect the little things, and that’s something that I’m trying to do,” Dotson said. “They don’t try to perfect everything at once. They take things day by day and step by step. That’s one thing I’m trying to do — take my time with it and be patient.”
The film sessions have helped him identify deficiencies in own his game, and Parker has worked with him on tactics he can use this year to be an even more productive part of the offense.
“Moving my body and using my hands,” Dotson said. “I wasn’t very good at using my hands last year in my route running, and I’m trying to perfect that right now. In college, (defensive backs) are allowed to grab you way more than in the NFL, so using my hands to swipe away from (defensive backs) so I can break out of my cuts clean.”
Hamler produced a team-high 754 yards receiving and five touchdowns last season. While Parker has positively impacted the position group football-wise since his arrival, Hamler said Parker’s also shown a genuine interest in players beyond the playing field.
“He’s been more involved in our lives,” Hamler said. “He’s my third coach, but I think he’s been the most involved with us as a family — interacting with us. Just trying to get more of a bond with us.”