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Penn State teammates stoke rivalry with spirited practices

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 12:04 a.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson (8) eludes Temple Owls defensive backs Zamel Johnson (7) and Vaughn Carraway (14) on his way to the end zone on a 41-yard touchdown pass during the first quarter Sept. 22, 2012, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

When Penn State wideout Allen Robinson and defensive back Adrian Amos face off in practice, they keep score of who wins each rep. Someone's math is off.

“Of course I'm going to say me,” Amos said when asked who wins more. “I hope he says him. It's about being competitive. You're supposed to think you're better.”

Robinson thought he was better. The sophomore said he has won close to 70 percent of his matchups against Amos. Regardless of the true result, the roommates agree that their drive to beat each other this offseason has improved their on-field play.

Both rising juniors, Amos and Robinson are coming off breakout seasons in 2012. Robinson's 1,013 receiving yards more than doubled the output of any other Penn State player, and his 11 touchdowns led Big Ten receivers. Amos had 44 tackles and two interceptions.

Robinson said his and Amos' intensity resumed during their independent winter workouts, when they would practice footwork and force each other to do “extra pull-ups, extra sit-ups and extra core.”

As a result of offseason training, Robinson said he gained about 14 pounds so he could block better from the slot in run-protection schemes. He also expects the added weight and lost body fat will aid him in dealing with double teams.

“It's basically really all off the coverage,” Robinson said. “If I'm getting double-teamed then a lot of guys are going to be open, and that happened a lot of times last year.”

But Amos said it's not Robinson's physicality that makes him so difficult to defend, but his route running.

“He's very, very diverse in his routes,” Amos said. “He keeps you guessing. Other receivers, you learn where they're going. They give tips on their routes. But [Robinson] keeps the d-back guessing. He's good at playing with leverage.”

Robinson said that watching film from Penn State assistant coach Stan Hixon's tenure as Buffalo Bills wide receivers coach and from Bill O'Brien's tenure as New England Patriots offensive coordinator has helped him navigate defenses better. Robinson also added that his experience as a high school basketball player often translates to the football field when he fakes out defenders.

He's just trying not to fake out the quarterbacks. Matt McGloin generated all but 12 yards of Robinson's production last season, so the wideout has spent the last 10 spring practices building rapport with Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson.

“Allen's made a lot of plays out here, and he's made plays in the passing game from both quarterbacks,” O'Brien said. “You'd have to say they've connected pretty well this spring.”

Amos has been trying to step between Robinson and those completions. The defensive back has been getting reps at both cornerback and safety. He said he likes corner because he gets to work on his coverage with Robinson, but safety gives him a little more freedom to make aggressive tackles.

“I feel like when you worry about injuries, that's when you get injured,” Amos said of his hard-hitting defensive style.

O'Brien won't let Amos get too aggressive in practice, though. The coach has added some secondary depth, with Trevor Williams, Jordan Lucas and Malik Golden poised to play bigger roles this season. O'Brien said having these newer guys behind returning starters Malcolm Willis, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Amos will give the Nittany Lions more flexibility in using the nickel package in 2013.

But O'Brien still can't afford an injury to Amos — or Robinson — this far ahead of the Lions' Aug. 31 game against Syracuse. He said he'll let the two keep going at it, as long as they don't overdo it.

“Anytime you have two good players who want to compete against each other, it's always good for the team,” O'Brien said. “That's what's fun about spring practice.”

Dan Norton is a freelance writer.

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