STATE COLLEGE — This was one answer that was unanimous. Asked to name the most impressive performers through the first two weeks of spring practice, a group of Penn State players speaking on Wednesday all had Allen Robinson right at the top of their lists.
The reigning Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year was the main attraction in the Nittany Lions’ overhauled offense in 2012. Robinson commanded the most attention from defenses in the fall and from reporters before Wednesday’s practice at Holuba Hall.
And, at the start of the month, from nervous fans who follow him on Twitter.
Yeah, about that last one…
Robinson and good buddy Bill Belton put a brief scare into some of their Penn State followers in the late hours of March 31. The pair — with a little help from roommates Adrian Amos and Kyle Carter — took to social media to announce they would be transferring to new schools.
And then midnight struck. April Fools?
“I guess it was funny to a few of us,” Robinson said. “But it wasn’t that funny.”
Now imagine explaining it to Bill O’Brien.
“Well,” Robinson said with the slightest of smiles, recalling the little discussion he had with his head coach. “He didn’t take it as bad as I thought he would.”
Fortunately for Robinson, he said there was no punishment in the form of running or extra work in the weight room. It’s been back to business, including catching a touchdown from Steven Bench despite tight coverage during a hurry-up drill at Wednesday’s practice.
O’Brien said Robinson has been instrumental in helping out Bench and fellow quarterback Tyler Ferguson as they vie for the starting job for the fall.
“Really well,” O’Brien said. “Allen has made a lot of plays out here, and he’s made plays in the passing game from both quarterbacks. You’d have to say they’ve connected pretty well this spring.”
That’s a start if Robinson wants to improve on his Big Ten-leading marks in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,018) and touchdown catches (11) from his sophomore campaign.
To get going down that path, Robinson has spent some extra time watching film and working on the technical aspects of his game. He has the benefit of a head coach and a position coach who have worked with receivers in the NFL.
O’Brien, of course, ran the New England Patriots offense. Receivers coach Stan Hixon held the same position with the Buffalo Bills and Robinson said he has watched plenty of film from both teams. In particular, he has been studying Bills top receiver Stevie Johnson.
“It helps fine-tune route-running and you learn to do different things that make cornerbacks uncomfortable,” Robinson said. “I try do that all the time and stay in the film room.”
Robinson also did plenty of work with Amos over the winter, as the two have continued a friendly competition that follows them from the practice field to the weight room to video games.
“We go at it a lot,” Robinson said. “We’re definitely good friends, but when we get out here and compete, we try to make each other better. It’s good for us and good for the team.”
Amos, the Lions’ top defensive back, agreed.
“It makes us hold each other to a high standard,” Amos said. “So when we’re out there competing, we know that if we consider ourselves two of the better players, we have to perform at a high level.”
During recent practices, the two friends haven’t gone one-on-one as much as they did in the winter because Amos has spent most of his spring at safety instead of corner. But the two still manage to keep a running score in their heads.
So who comes out on top?
“Of course I’m going to say me,” Amos grinned.
“Nah,” Robinson said. “I do. (It’s about) 70-30.”