Kersey looks to lead green Lions WR unit

When Justin Brown announced he was transferring from Penn State to Oklahoma, Shawney Kersey remembers thinking two things.

First, he was sad to see Brown go, as the two were close friends who had played together at wide receiver during their entire careers. But there was also a positive point in there.

"I thought, this is the opportunity for me to become the player I've always been," Kersey told ESPN.com.

One thing is very sure about the Nittany Lions' receiver position: there is plenty of opportunity.

Brown's departure -- along with the graduation of Derek Moye and the dismissal of Devon Smith and Curtis Drake -- leaves the Penn State passing game in very green hands. Kersey, a senior, is now the leading returning receiver. He made all of five catches last year, none after the Big Ten opener against Indiana.

So Penn State has little choice but to rely on some younger, inexperienced players to catch the ball. Kersey wants to be one who benefits from the severe losses at his position.

"I feel like I've got to be the leader and -- not carry us, because other guys have to grow on their own -- but show them that this is how we're going to do it, this is how to get it done," he said. "We've got some really good guys, so we'll be fine."

Kersey pointed to sophomore Allen Robinson, junior Brandon Moseby-Felder, junior Christian Kuntz and redshirt freshman Matt Zanellato as players who could thrive with the increased opportunity. True freshmen Eugene Lewis, Trevor Williams and Malik Golden will also try to make an early impact.

Head coach Bill O'Brien said he's not fretting about the receivers because of the way they've played in practice.

"Nobody sees what we see," O'Brien said. "Specifically with that position, we have Shawney Kersey, Allen Robinson. These guys are 6-foot-3, they both can run, jump, they have great hands. They're good competitors. They're tough ... .

"These guys are going to go out and battle and show up. I've got a pretty good idea they'll make some plays."

On the optimistic side, many of the Penn State receivers were standout players in high school. They might not have been ideally served by the old-fashioned offense of the old regime or the lack of any continuity at the quarterback position.

O'Brien and his staff are expected to field a much more modern passing offense that could allow the skill players to show off more.

"This is a better opportunity, not just because Justin left but because of the way the offense is," Kersey said. "The offense is based more on what you do best, that's where [O'Brien] puts you, instead of maybe just putting you somewhere and trying to make you something you're not."

So there is hope for the Penn State passing game. But that hope only turns into reality if some very inexperienced players make major leaps forward.

"The next person has to step up now and try to do their thing," Kersey said. "We've got to step up faster and we've got to become better quicker."