Thursday, November 29, 2012
Position review: Tight ends
By Josh Moyer
Every day during the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.
Up today: Tight ends
Bill O'Brien tried to temper expectations in the preseason, labeling any kind of comparisons to New England's offense -- Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski -- as unfair to Penn State's players.
Kyle Carter smiled and said he welcomed those comparisons. And this corps of tight ends didn't back down. Few teams in college football utilized tight ends as much as Penn State, and Carter showed he might just be Penn State's best tight end since Kyle Brady roamed the campus in the early 1990s. He quickly became Matt McGloin's No. 2 target.
Carter boasts the best hands on the team, and he was versatile enough to line up wide on some plays. But he wasn't the only bright spot here. Former walk-on Matt Lehman and true freshman Jesse James became staples of this offense once the conference season began. Garry Gilliam was relegated to mostly blocking but, as a whole, four tight ends contributed heavily to this position -- something almost unheard of in the NCAA.
NittanyNation rating: A
Season highlight: Oct. 20 at Iowa. With Allen Robinson having difficulty getting open for any meaningful receptions, the tight ends stepped up in a big way. Carter caught six balls for 85 yards and made a play destined for the highlight reel. On 4th-and-3, he leaped over an Iowa defender and picked the ball out of the air for 34 yards.
James complemented his performance with three catches for 52 yards -- including a 31-yard touchdown catch for PSU's first score, which set the tone in what would become a lopsided victory.
What was missing at this position? Nothing, really. PSU had height in James (6-foot-7) and speed in Carter (6-3). If PSU could add one element to this position, however, it would probably be improved blocking. Gilliam was solid, but Carter needs to get a little better in that department and become more well-rounded. Outside of that, though, this unit seems very strong. There are no glaring weaknesses.