|Expectations rise for Penn State QB Morelli on and off field|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 06 August 2007 13:12|
The senior quarterback tried to show during informal workouts this summer he was ready to assume a more commanding presence on the Nittany Lions' offense.
Just the kind of attitude that coach Joe Paterno and his staff like to see from a player with high expectations resting on his strong right arm. Preseason practice started Monday for Penn State.
``He walks into that huddle, and there's no question that he's in charge,'' quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. ``He walks into that huddle and there's no question that he thinks he's going to be successful and that the offense is going to be successful.''
Some of Morelli's 2006 stats were pretty good - he set a school single-season mark with 206 completions, and his 2,424 passing yards were good for third-best in school history.
But there were plenty of down moments last season, his first year as starter after succeeding the popular and productive Michael Robinson. There were breakdowns on the offensive line and the offense had trouble scoring in the red zone. Morelli threw more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (eight), even with a deep pool of talented receivers.
A solid, efficient performance in the Outback Bowl win over Tennessee in January sent Morelli into the offseason on a high note. With all of Penn State's top receivers back, Jay Paterno hopes for bigger things from Morelli in 2007.
``The biggest thing that happened at the end of the bowl game and coming into the spring, really his whole body language is different,'' he said. ``The way he carries himself, the way he walks in the huddle.''
The elder Paterno has made clear that he hopes that carries over into the locker room, singling out Morelli as one of a handful of seniors on an otherwise young squad as players that must assume a leadership role.
Fifteen starters are back on a team expected to jockey with Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State atop the Big Ten, though only four are seniors, including just one - standout linebacker Dan Connor - on defense.
What really got JoePa angry this offseason was an off-campus fight involving several players. Four Nittany Lions were thrown out of school for the second summer session, but were allowed by the university to participate in practice, and can return to campus for the fall semester. Two players - safety Anthony Scirrotto and defensive tackle Chris Baker - are awaiting trial for simple assault and other charges in connection with the fight.
There's been no public griping on the team about the punishment - the entire squad had to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity to build a house, and must clean up Beaver Stadium after home games this fall.
``There are 120-plus players ... and you can't be around to baby-sit guys all the time,'' Morelli said recently. ``But I'm going to be a leader as much as I can to keep those guys together and not single them out. Just do whatever it takes.''
His attitude is even getting ringing endorsements from the defense.
``Anth's playing,'' cornerback Justin King said of Morelli. ``He has a chip on his shoulder. He's going to come out to prove everybody wrong.''