For a man with only two career catches, Andrew Szczerba casts quite a shadow.
The now-senior tight end was sorely missed last season as he battled back problems. In the wake of his troubles, then-freshmen Kevin Haplea and Garry Gilliam were pressed into service to replace him at the starting tight end spot for the Nittany Lions, and the experiment didn't go particularly well as both struggled to make an impact.
With Szczerba's injury still giving him trouble this spring practice, Haplea and Gilliam sit atop the depth chart once again for Joe Paterno. A year older, wiser and more experienced, however, perhaps 2011 is the year one or both break out and begin making an impact on offense.
Gilliam's contributions were very limited in 2010. Beyond his one catch for 21 yards against Temple on Sep. 25, Gilliam added little to the passing game before tearing his ACL on Oct. 2 against Iowa. This season, first and foremost, he needs to get healthy and make sure he's ready to go when his number is called. After that, if he can get more involved catching passes across the middle, he'll be a tremendous help for the offense. Gilliam wasn't a bad blocker at tight end in his playing time early last season. He was just never a weapon for Robert Bolden as he tried to establish himself as the starting quarterback.
Haplea's stats were also very limited. He caught only three passes for 39 yards in 2010 and didn't figure into the offense much at all. Like Gilliam, he should be working on at least offering a threat to opposing defenses across the middle. This will help take pressure of Penn State's stellar wide receivers and perhaps open up room for them to make some plays.
The pair's struggles last season were understandable. They were freshman, after all, and Gilliam had a major injury to deal with. As sophomores, though, and with hopefully a clean bill of health, it's reasonable to expect them to take on larger roles. Neither has to be an Andrew Quarless-type player to be effective. Just keeping defenses honest down the middle and blocking well should be enough to get the job done.