Thompkins ready for bigger role

UNIVERSITY PARK — Juwan Johnson is getting most of the attention, and rightfully so, among the Penn State receivers this preseason, but another wideout will need to have a big year for the offense to be as explosive as projected.

Senior DeAndre Thompkins says he’s ready to take his game to the next level in every way, becoming a more complete receiver who can consistently complement Johnson.

What can Thompkins do better this year?

“Everything,” he said without hesitation. “Everything that you’ve seen me do, I can do better. Everything you haven’t seen me do, I can do multiple times. So I can get better at everything.”

If he does, that should mean a much bigger role this season.

“My plate’s never too full,” Thompkins said. “I’m ready to take the role in which the coaches give me. Whatever I get I’ve earned, so I’m just going to take it with open arms and try to be the best receiver I can.”

Thompkins certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, and that’s the one area he said he’s grown the most in his Penn State career.

“Just being confident, building confidence in yourself knowing that you can play with anybody on the field is the biggest thing I’ve learned and improved on,” said Thompkins, also the team’s starting punt returner.

Johnson caught 54 passes last season, second to departed tight end Mike Gesicki, while Thompkins’ 28 catches are the second most of any returning Nittany Lion. Thompkins played in all 13 games, starting eight, and gained 443 yards on those 28 catches with three TDs.

He had a big drop late in the loss at Michigan State, failing to secure a fourth-and-3 pass from Trace McSorley with the game tied at 24. The Spartans gained possession and drove for a winning field goal as time expired.

“That’s one of those passes that, as a receiver, you have to catch,” Thompkins said following the game. “I own that mistake.”

Penn State has had other players overcome key drops and go on to make big impacts in recent years, namely Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton. Thompkins is a very confident young man and believes he can do the same.

“I’ve always had (confidence), just going out and consistently making plays against guys like Grant Haley, who’s playing for the Jets, or Troy Apke, who’s playing for the Redskins,” Thompkins said. “Making plays against guys like that and seeing them now being on an NFL team, it’s like, OK, cool. I’m going to be there one day, I’m going to be making plays against the same guys if not better.”

Penn State has a high-octane offense that has put up a ton of points the past two years, plus a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Trace McSorley.

Having a veteran quarterback who’s familiar with and works so well with his veteran wideouts such as Johnson and Thompkins is a benefit for the entire passing attack.

“It makes everything fun,” Thompkins said. “To have a guy that you’ve been with for a while who’s a veteran guy who’s been through the ropes, little things like even just looking at each other, you can have so much conversation during the middle of a game.

“To have that fun camaraderie with him — me, Juwan, we all have that connection with Trace because it makes the game more fun, and you have less to worry about.”

Thompkins isn’t just confident in his own abilities, he said everyone on the offense knows the unit is capable of doing explosive things.

“Everybody that’s here believes in themselves and believes in the team and knows that we can do great things. You can see it,” he said. “It’s crazy to see the confidence in our team and know that we can make plays and win games.

“I’m just excited to see how we battle through some of the tough times and some of the hard games, how we look at each other to get through it.”