After a brief respite for the Christmas holiday, we are back to resume our look at the PSU roster, and our grades for the 2012 season. So far we have gone through the offensive line, running backs, and wide receivers. Up next is a position that was largely forgotten in the years (and decades) leading up to this season, the PSU tight ends.
Under Coach Paterno, the tight end position was largely viewed almost strictly as a blocker, and occasionally as a pass catching option. Nearly 20 years ago, Kyle Brady was a crucial piece in as potent an offense as college football had seen. More recently, Andrew Quarless used his superior size and athleticism to become a more dependable pass catching threat. However, neither was ever a focal point of the offense.
From the time Bill O’Brien was announced as Penn State’s 15th coach, much speculation centered around the tight end position. It was evident from O’Brien’s time running the high octane Patriots offense that the tight end position was very much a weapon in his offense. BOB also had Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with him in New England, and it was not apparent going into the year if the Lions had those kind of players at that position. Blue chip recruit Adam Breneman came on board early, but would not be on campus until 2013. O’Brien needed to find a answer from the guys on the roster. Kyle Carter, Gary Gilliam, Jesse James, and Matt Lehman would need to provide the answer. Did they ever.
Kyle Carter announced his presence early on, catching 6 passes for 74 yards in his first collegiate game vs. Ohio. Carter proved to have the size, athleticism, and great hands required of a tight end in O’Brien’s offense, making his way onto the John Mackey Award (top collegiate tight end) watch list. He was the only freshman to appear on the list. Carter’s season was cut short, missing the Purdue game with an injury, before returning to make 1 catch vs. Nebraska, only to miss the season’s final two games.
Junior Matt Lehman arrived at PSU in 2011, by way of Shippensburg and the Penn State Harrisburg campus. After not seeing any action in the 2011 season, Lehman emerged as the 2nd leading tight end in 2012 with 24 catches for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Freshman Jesse James is one player that O’Brien had mentioned a lot of leading up to the season, especially in regards to the upside he saw. James’ first season continued the theme of beating expectations, hauling in 15 passes for 276 yards, and whopping 5 touchdowns. Heading into the offseason, BOB was already talking up how much better James can get.
Junior Garry Gilliam came into the year as the only PSU tight end that had seen action. While he only collected 7 catches for 65 yards, Gilliam’s contribution, especially on the leadership side for a very young group of players, cannot be discounted.
As we turn the page to 2013, all eyes will be on Adam Breneman, as he will be enrolling at PSU in January, and continuing his rehab of the torn ACL he suffered in the summer of 2012. Another newcomer, Brent Wilkerson, will have an opportunity to make his mark after redshirting this past season. With all 4 tight ends that saw significant time in the 2012 season returning, competition will be fierce. Carter and James figure to be the focus, but if this past year proved anything, it’s that Bill O’Brien is going to find a way to get the ball to the tight end. With a new quarterback under center this fall, the experience at tight end will be a huge benefit as that QB adjusts to the starting role.
For a position with so many unknowns, and with so much expected of it, the Nittany Lion tight ends surpassed virtually all expectations. Are there things to improve, certainly, but this group deserves nothing less than an A.
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