Asked to identify a couple young players who have been standing out during spring practice this year, senior defensive tackle Curtis Cothran initially directed the attention to the other side of the ball.
"On offense Juwan Johnson is doing a great job," Cothran told reporters Tuesday. "He's definitely excelled and honed into his role."
Cothran's review of the sophomore wide receiver aligns with what teammates and coaches have been saying all spring. Johnson, a native of Glassboro, N.J., who caught just two passes as a redshirt freshman despite seeing action in all 14 games, is beginning to emerge as Penn State's next receiving threat.
Head coach James Franklin said as much on the Big Ten Coaches teleconference Wednesday afternoon. Describing how Johnson has used his experience from his first two years within the program to polish his practice habits this spring, Franklin said he has seen Johnson perform near his best so far in 2017.
"He has just has taken a very mature approach, very aggressive approach all off-season," Franklin said. "It was kind of like he redshirted as freshman, played a little bit as a (redshirt) freshman and now he has had to figure it out what he needs to do be successful with our team, what he needs to do to have a bigger role, what are his strengths and what are his weakness and he's a mature guy and a smart guy. So he's really made a significant jump from the end of the season until now."
At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, Johnson entered college with the desired size to be an effective outside receiver. Throughout his first two years with the program, however, it's been about fine-tuning his skill set in order to expand his role.
It hasn't been for a lack of effort, no, as he finished second on the team in 2016 in special teams tackles. Rather, he's had to sharpen his route combinations, become more consistent with catching the ball in traffic and refine the areas in which improvement remained.
Added Franklin about this spring's progress, "It's been him identifying what his strengths and weakness are with his position coach as well as myself and saying I'm going to work hard at those areas and make those weaknesses my strengths."
And so far this spring, coaches and teammates has seen that work beginning to materialize into on-field results.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now," Franklin added. "I think we all know he has some special physical abilities and it's all starting to come together for him right now."