In the next week, NittanyNation will be taking a glance at different positions and their outlook for next season.
Who: Some players have taken to referring to Penn State as "Tight End U," and after one season, that's not much of an exaggeration. Kyle Carter received Mackey Award consideration and this group of tight ends was among the most utilized in the nation. Jesse James became more effective as the year wore on and Matt Lehman also evolved into a solid target. Early enrollee Adam Breneman is a versatile guy with the ability to block, and he should be recovered from a torn ACL in time for the season. (He's still likely to redshirt, however.) As long as he does redshirt, rising redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson could get playing time. Garry Gilliam is also the best blocker here, and it would surprise no one to see him lined up in goal-line sets.
Strengths: Carter has the best hands on this team -- and he's actually the smallest target at tight end. James stands an impressive 6-foot-7, and Lehman and Gilliam are both 6-6. This group created a lot of matchup problems with their height and hands, and the tight end was Matt McGloin's No. 2 target behind record-breaker Allen Robinson. Carter finished second on the team in receptions, while Lehman finished No. 4. This is a great group to have in the red zone -- James had five TDs on 15 catches -- and it will be depended upon again in the upcoming season.
Weaknesses: Gilliam's great at blocking, but PSU needs to improve overall a bit in this department. Carter's a great receiving tight end, but he needs to work on consistently being able to block well. The main concern here, though, is Carter's health. Bill O'Brien said he's not sure if Carter, whose arm remains in a cast, will be back in time for spring practice. Carter was a breakout player, and PSU needs him to rebound from this injury for it to boast an effective passing attack again. His progress in the spring will be closely watched.
Surprise player: Wilkerson. He's the wild card of this group, the tight end who will make his first appearance to PSU fans at the Blue-White Game. He's a tough player who was projected at defensive end when he committed to PSU last season, but he's already left his mark on this coaching staff. "Brent Wilkerson really impressed us on the practice field," O'Brien said Monday.
Overall: If Carter wasn't injured, it would be easy to say that this group would be ready to take a giant step with everyone returning. James was a force in the last few games, and Lehman really came out of nowhere to earn playing time. But the success of this group will likely come down to just how well Carter rebounds from his injury. He's this offense's best receiving threat outside of Robinson, and his freshman season could just be a warmup for what's in store. He could still make spring practice and, even if he misses it, he'll still be able to practice in the preseason and train during the offseason. Carter will likely be fine in the end -- but injuries like this are always a concern.