In the words of our good friend, Lee Corso (wink,wink)..."Not so fast, my friends"!
Today, we continue our series of position previews with a look at our tight ends. Let me tell you right now, they are as strong and ready to rock as they have ever been!
SO LONG, OUTLAW
First, the bad news. Perhaps the single greatest name in college football has left the friendly confines of Happy Valley. Despite another year of eligibility, three year starter Jesse James has moved on to the greener ($$$) pastures of the NFL.
In April, the Pittsburgh native became the 5th round draft pick of, you guessed it, the Pittsburgh Steelers. And so, the legend of The Outlaw continues in the state of Pennsylvania, and we all wish him the best moving forward!
THE FOUR HORSEMEN
Returning in 2015 is a unit that could be destined to give headaches to any defense that tries to stifle it. You can stop one, but you simply cannot stop them all. In 2014, it seemed like they stopped themselves more often than not. Expect that to change drastically in year two of the James Franklin era.
Kyle Carter has a lot to prove heading into his final season as a Nittany Lion. The 2012 Big Ten Freshmen of the Year has seen his numbers decrease every year since. Some of that was by no fault of his own, but Carter is hell-bent on ending on a high note. His touchdown catch in overtime of the Pinstripe Bowl proves that there is plenty left to contribute. Look for a renewed dedication and focus from the last remaining member of the "SupaSix".
My pick for breakout player of the year, (not just for Penn State and the Big Ten but for all of college football), is none other than sophomore Mike Gesicki. Mike was forced into duty as a true freshman and performed admirably under the circumstances. The New Jersey native heads into this year taller, stronger, faster, and carries with him a ton of swagger. Already a team leader, I fully expect him to create match-up problems that will give opposing linebackers and defensive backs nightmares.
Gesicki was forced into play because of Adam Breneman’s injury. The redshirt sophomore opted to sit out in 2014 and let his reconstructed knee fully heal. By all accounts, Breneman is 100% and ready to pick up where he left off. The former 5-star recruit finished his freshman season with 3 touchdowns over the last 3 games. Adam is an enormous talent, with high character, who has already proven himself on and off the field. The reemergence of Adam Breneman in 2015 will definitely be a story to follow.
A name that may not be all too familiar, but one that has been in the program since the JoePa days, is that of Brent Wilkerson. Injuries and overall talent at this position have unfortunately kept Brent buried on the depth chart. During Big Ten Media Days, Anthony Zettel singled Wilkerson (along with Hackenberg) out as the two most competitive players on the team. Injury-free now for the past two years, expect to see him in the rotation and provide an adequate replacement should any of the others need relief.
Two names to remember, just in case, are those of Jonathan Holland and Nick Bowers. Both are members of the heralded Class of 2015, and come to Penn State as tight ends with tremendous upside. Unless we have a rash of injuries, do not expect to see either one on the field this season. A redshirt year under Dwight Galt's tutelage in the weight room, should put them both in position to make an impact down the road.
I am of firm belief (if you couldn't tell by the opening paragraph) that there is a common misperception going around the halls of Nittany Nation. The misperception being that with the departure of O'Brien, we were left with a void in the Tight End production. That is simply not true. Much like the other skill positions, it is difficult to gauge James Franklin's offensive vision solely based on what we saw during year one.
The Tight Ends were forced to stay at the line of scrimmage and provide help, as much as they could, to the boys in the trenches. Because of that, they rarely had the luxury of being able to take off and make plays downfield. With more depth and more options along the O-Line, this unit should be able to be used more for their athleticism and playmaking abilities, rather than just their blocking skills.
The trio of Carter, Gesicki, and Breneman will prove to be a triple threat that no defense will truly have an answer for. And that, my friends, you can take to the bank!