Entering spring practice for the 2014 season the Penn State Nittany Lions are thin at several positions on the depth chart. One position that doesn’t have that problem is tight end. The Nittany Lions are loaded there, with three talented tight ends returning from 2013 and even more being added in 2014. They all can’t be on the field at the same time, so it will be interesting to watch the position battle at tight end during spring practice to see who emerges as starters.
Former head coach Bill O’Brien began to transform the role of the tight end at Penn State, taking it from a primarily blocking position to one that is important in the passing attack. That philosophy helped lure some of the best tight end recruits in the nation to Happy Valley.
New head coach James Franklin has shown no signs that he plans on changing the new role of the position, as he is blessed with a stockpile of talent on the roster.
Jesse James had the most starts last season at tight end with 11 and returns for his third season. He finished as the second-leading receiver on the team with 323 yards and three touchdowns. At six-foot-seven, James presents a big target, especially in the red zone. He’s got a great combination of size, speed and solid hands. Heading into 2014 he has to be considered to be at the top of the tight end depth chart.
Along with James, Kyle Carter has the most experience at the tight end position. He too is entering his third season and will look to rebound after a disappointing 2013 campaign. After being the best tight end on the team in 2012, he was hampered last year by an injury and never really got on track. Carter made four starts and finished with just 222 receiving yards and one touchdown. Even with the down year, Carter is a proven player with a lot of experience and should find himself atop the depth chart with James.
Adam Breneman ended last year on a hot streak and will certainly be in the mix for extended playing time in 2014. As a true freshman, he took some time to get involved in the offense, but ended the season with touchdowns in each of the last three games. He made five starts and ended with 186 yards and three touchdowns. Breneman started to develop a good chemistry with fellow freshman, quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and will look to continue that in 2014. While Breneman will likely start the year listed third on the depth chart, he’s in line to see a lot of playing time.
Brent Wilkerson entered last year as a redshirt freshman with a lot of promise. He stood out during spring practice and really impressed the coaches. He looked good in the Blue-White Game was expected to play a big role in the offense. However, an injury ended his season before it even started. He won’t be considered one of the top tight ends, but could see time depending on the situation.
True freshman Mike Gesicki, who won’t be around till summer, is a highly recruited tight end who was ranked as one of the best in the 2014 class. However, with so much depth in front of him, he could be given a redshirt this season.
With so much talent at one position, there may not be clear starters this year. Every player has his own special skill set that can be utilized in different situations depending on the matchup. As far as the depth chart, I would expect to see James and Carter listed as official starters after spring practice, but all four will likely see significant time in 2014, with Breneman being the one who end up having the best season of them all.
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