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Penn State copes with drop in tight end stats

| Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, 10:57 p.m.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Bill O'Brien sent two tight ends to the Pro Bowl during his final season as an NFL offensive coordinator. During his first season as a college head coach, he not only turned a freshman into an all-Big Ten honoree at tight end, but he also signed the player who was rated by many as the top high school recruit at the position.

Even if his team hasn't been leaning on the position nearly as much this season, O'Brien insists Penn State remains a tight ends' haven.

“The tight ends,” O'Brien said, “will always be a big part of what we do at Penn State.”

Kyle Carter's reception on third-and-goal from the 15 on Saturday in overtime was the winning score against Illinois. It was Carter's first catch in 21 days and just his 14th of the season. Contrast that to 2012, when Carter was second on the team with 36 catches in only nine games.

Carter's numbers mirror those of Penn State's tight ends. Last season, Nittany Lions tight ends accounted for 83 receptions for 1,097 yards and 10 touchdowns. With two-thirds of this season complete, tight ends have combined for 39 catches, 440 yards and two touchdowns.

Last season, tight ends accounted for 30 percent of the Nittany Lions' receptions, 33 percent of the team's receiving yards and 42 percent of its passing touchdowns. In 2013, the tight end shares — almost all of which has come from Carter, Jesse James and heralded freshman Adam Breneman — have fallen to 22 percent (catches), 20 percent (receiving yards) and 14 percent (passing TDs).

“We talk about it all the time, just getting the ball thrown to us more,” Carter said. “We just know that whenever it is thrown to us, we've just got to catch it so that (quarterback Christian Hackenberg) will throw us the ball again.”

There are plenty of reasons for the lack of production from tight ends, including the efforts of Allen Robinson. After his third 11-plus catch performance Saturday, the junior is second nationally in receiving yards (130.4 per game) and tied for eighth in catches (8.3).

Another contributing factor for the downtick in tight end production is Matt Lehman's season-ending knee injury in the opener against Syracuse.

Carter has spent most of the past calendar year at less than 100 percent health. A dislocated right wrist in the Nebraska game ended his season early and kept him out of spring practice. Then, a Syracuse player fell on his left elbow Aug. 31.

Although he didn't miss any games, Carter couldn't lift weights properly, and the lack of ability to push left him virtually useless in the blocking game. It wasn't until the Indiana game Oct. 5 that, Carter said, he was 100 percent.

“Everybody that catches the ball, you know, gets a little frustrated (when they aren't getting as many catches),” Carter said. “But as long as we're winning games and as long as my friends are doing their thing, I'm definitely happy.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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