| Sports

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Tight ends crucial to PSU's offensive success

Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson (8) and tight end Jesse James (18) celebrate James' first-quarter touchdown against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, earlier this season. AP

College Football Videos

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Glorified blockers no more

Here is a statistical look at Penn State's tight ends a season after the group combined for all of 15 catches.

Rec. Yards Avg. TD Long

*Kyle Carter, Fr. 36 453 12.6 2 34

Matt Lehman, Jr. 19 228 12.0 3 24

Jesse James, Fr. 11 144 13.1 4 35

Garry Gilliam, Sr. 6 60 10.0 0 16

*Will miss final two games because of a wrist injury

By Scott Brown
Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 7:24 p.m.

The loss of Kyle Carter to a season-ending wrist injury won't diminish the importance of tight ends in Penn State's offense.

The Nittany Lions are still deep at the position, particularly with the emergence of freshman Jesse James, who is second on the team with four touchdown receptions.

James, Matt Lehman, who walked onto the team after transferring from Shippensburg, and Garry Gilliam will help make up for the loss of Carter, Penn State's second leading receiver and the only freshman to make the Midseason Watch List for the Mackey Award.

All three should play prominent roles Saturday, when Penn State hosts Indiana in a noon game. The Nittany Lions lead the country in receptions by tight ends with 62, and the group could be even more prolific next season.

Gilliam, who is used primarily as a blocker, will be the only loss to graduation, and reinforcements are on their way in Brent Wilkerson and Adam Breneman.

Wilkerson is a highly regarded freshman who is redshirting this season, while Breneman is a senior at Cedar Cliff High School and may be the top tight end recruit in the country. Breneman, who gave a verbal commitment to Penn State last spring, didn't play this season because of a knee injury, but he is expected to be 100 percent by the start next season.

“Anybody who plays tight end would be interested in what we're doing here,” tight ends coach John Strollo said.

Tight ends were an afterthought in Penn State's offense last year, but it was inevitable they would become a big part of the passing game after Bill O'Brien was hired as the Nittany Lions' coach.

New England picked tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the second and fourth rounds of the 2010 draft. O'Brien, as the Patriots' offensive coordinator in 2011, consistently created favorable matchups for New England with the two tight ends. The two combined for 169 catches for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns while helping the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl.

O'Brien said he knew from the first time he saw Gronkowski, a Woodland Hills graduate, and Hernandez at minicamp practices in the spring of 2010 that the rangy and athletic tight ends would create problems for opposing defenses.

That helped shape the philosophy he also has applied to Penn State's tight ends.

“I think we have a great group of tight ends here,” O'Brien said. “They are smart, tough, they can do both, they can block, run routes, catch. Some guys are better blockers than route runners, some are better route runners than blockers. But they all work hard.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Steelers QB Roethlisberger not targeting Oct. 25 return
  2. Rossi: Time for Pirates to take next step
  3. Fleury’s demeanor helps keep Penguins loose, him playing his best
  4. Steelers notebook: Tomlin not worried about Jones’ lack of sacks
  5. How the Pirates put together another postseason contender
  6. Penguins rally in wake of Dupuis injury
  7. Cubs’ Arrieta, Pirates’ Cole leave batters with little margin for error
  8. NL wild-card game notebook: Pirates understand hype surrounding Cubs
  9. Penguins make moves in advance of roster deadline
  10. War party targets Putin & Assad
  11. Experience, familiarity giving Canevin girls soccer a boost