Morelli ready to step in and take control of Nittany Lions

There are few players in the Penn State camp who doubt the ability of Anthony Morelli to step in and lead the Nittany Lion offense beyond what it accomplished during last season’s 12-1 march, even though the junior quarterback has never made a start and has attempted only 33 passes in his two-year career.
At the head of that list is Morelli himself.
As the focal point of Penn State’s annual Media Day at Beaver Stadium on Saturday Aug. 12, Morelli looked and sounded like he’s ready to take over for departed starter Michael Robinson, whose play-making ability in 2005 helped to resurrect the Nittany Lion’s program with a Big Ten championship and Orange Bowl victory. He confidently addressed hundreds of questions from the throng of reporters that descended on Happy Valley – smiling, reflecting, answering directly with eye-to-eye contact – while his teammates backed him up with praise for his leadership, work ethic and natural ability.
“Anthony looks great,” said sophomore Derrick Williams, who as a freshman sensation rejuvenated the Lions‚ offense with his electric open field abilities. “He can deliver the ball on time and throw from anywhere on the field.”
“The biggest thing is his hunger to be a winner,” said Deon Butler, who led Penn State receivers last season as a redshirt freshman with 37 receptions for 691 yards. “He’s going to do his all to win. His arm strength, his ability to read defenses, that comes next, but the biggest thing he possesses is heart and a willingness to win.”
Before coming to Penn State as one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects in 2004, success was all Morelli knew. One of the most heavily recruited players in his high school class, he threw for over 5,000 yards in his career at Penn Hills before committing to the Nittany Lions.
He arrived on campus as a pro-style quarterback with a cannon arm, but bided his time for two seasons behind Zac Mills and Robinson. And while his insertion as the starter seemed eminent at times when the Lions‚ offense struggled – with Internet message boards often clamoring for him to either receive more playing time or take a redshirt – Morelli was little used in his first two seasons. Even in the 2004 Wisconsin game when the Lions, playing without Mills, saw Robinson taken from the field in a stretcher, the coaches went with third string quarterback Chris Ganter rather than play Morelli.
Now the job is all his – Joe Paterno included him in a small group of players who were a lock at their positions – and Morelli is excited for his era at Penn State to begin.
“Everything is progressing as I thought,” Morelli said. “We’ve only had three practices plus the spring, but so far, so good.”
Morelli will give the Lions offense a different look than it had from last season, when Robinson used his athleticism and game-breaking ability to carve something from nothing and make even the mundane plays look spectacular. Morelli is much more of a drop-back pocket passer who will use quick reads and a speedy release to find the open target.
“With my ability to drop back and throw the ball – that’s what a quarterback is supposed to do,” Morelli said. “That’s what I do best, and that’s what I’m going to be doing this year.”
That’s something his talented receivers can appreciate. Along with Butler, Penn State also returns Williams, back from a broken arm that kept him out of the final five games of last season, as well as Jordan Norwood and Terrell Golden.
Combined that group caught 100 passes in 2005 for 1,632 yards and 11 touchdowns. That affords Penn State the luxury of using four-wide-receiver packages that can spread the defense and make Morelli’s job like shooting ducks in a pond.
“If you ask him, he probably wants (four wide receivers) every down. He wants to throw the ball,” Butler said. “He’ll handle that well. He’s come a long way as far as leadership and taking command and knowing where someone is supposed to be.”
“You don’t have to worry about throwing the deep ball to put points on the board with these guys,” Morelli said. “You can just give them the ball and they make plays. They can take a little pass and turn it into a big gain, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Still, even with an abundance of talent around him, mastering his job will be a process for Morelli, according to receivers coach Mike McQueary, who himself took over a talented offense in 1997 and was forced to start basically from scratch, with little big-game experience.
“It’s the first year where he’s going to play a lot of football and speaking from experience, that can be an adjustment at times,” said McQueary. “We certainly are looking forward to having a good offense, but I wouldn’t want to say we’re going to have a more prolific offense than last year. Mike Robinson was awfully good at the helm for us in a lot of different ways. Anthony’s his own guy. He’s certainly going to be a good football player, and we’ll just let him grow into that.”
Williams said that the work the receivers put in with Morelli over the offseason will allow them to develop quickly as a unit.
“Anthony and us as a receiving corps worked out grueling nights just trying to work on timing and working seven-on-seven just with placement of the ball,” said Williams. “So I think Anthony’s going to be great at that.”
In his press conference, Paterno agreed that Morelli could give the Lions offense a dimension it lacked under Robinson.
“Morelli’s a bright kid. He’s got a lot of confidence and he’s been a leader. He’s not going to do some of the things Michael Robinson could do, but he will do some things Robinson couldn’t do,” Paterno said. “He’s probably got a better release and a stronger arm.”
All he lacks is meaningful experience, which he’ll get plenty of without delay. After opening the season at home against Akron on September 2, Penn State travels to South Bend to face No. 3 Notre Dame on September 9, and two weeks later faces Ohio State in Columbus.
For his part, Morelli likes that kind of challenge, but his responses to questions about some of Penn State’s top-name opponents were tempered with the kind of even-keel answers one might look for in a starting quarterback.
“We’ll probably get some respect if we do good against one of those teams,” he said. “But we just have to worry about Akron first. We have them at home and they won their conference last year. We don’t want to overlook them.”