Blue-White Countdown 2012: Tight Ends

Garry Gilliam is back from a torn ACL. (Mike Pettigano/BSD)

In case you're not an NFL fan, or haven't read an article on the type of offense Bill O'Brien is bringing to Penn State, here's a little secret: the tight end spot will be one of the most important on the offensive side of the ball. It's so important that Coach O'Brien is bringing some new offensive terminology to the Penn State fanbase.

In the past, analysts and fans would talk about the Penn State tight end play in singular terms, even if there happened to be certain formations that involved two tight ends. However, in the Bill O'Brien Era, there will be multiple two tight-end sets.

There will be the "Y" tight end, a bigger guy who is a more traditional tight end, adept at pass blocking and a stalwart across the middle. Coach O'Brien explains:

"A `Y’ is a bigger guy — a good in-line blocker, runs intermediate routes, short to intermediate routes.

"His No. 1 job is to block, and then his second job is to run short, intermediate routes and be open. He's got to have good hands; he's got to be smart. He'll be involved in protections. He'll be involved in a lot of different things in the offense.

Additionally, there is the "F" tight end, who is more of a pass catching tight end/wide receiver hybrid. The "Y" will be put in motion more often than not, and is more of an offensive weapon for O'Brien:

"The ‘F’ position is more of what we call a move guy. He’s little bit better pass receiver than he is a blocker, has good hands, is smart."

More Blue-White Countdown 2012…
Special Teams (Mike) - 4.9.12
Defensive Backfield (Cari) - 4.10.12
Linebackers (Mike) - 4.11.12
Defensive Line (Jared) - 4.12.12
Offensive Line (Devon) - 4.13.12
Wide Receivers (Jeff) - 4.17.12
Tight Ends (Jeff) - 4.16.12
Running Backs (Mike) - 4.18.12
Quarterbacks (Kyle) - 4.19.12

Tight End

Projected Starter: Garry Gilliam (RS JR) at "Y", Kevin Haplea (JR) at "F"

Both projected starters have had injury concerns in the past, so they are being eased into their new roles in spring practice. But barring another injury, Gilliam and Haplea should be the opening day starters.

Andrew Szczerba was the most productive tight end in 2011, but the similarly oft-injured Szczerba is gone, and Coach John Strollo has a number of relatively unproductive but experienced tight ends in Gilliam and Haplea.

Gilliam appears to be back from a devastating knee injury, suffered nearly 18 months ago against Iowa. He missed the rest of 2010 as well as all of 2011. Haplea has been banged up in the past, but due to injuries to Szczerba and Gilliam, has been forced into action in 25 games over the past two years, catching a total of six receptions for 60 yards.

Next In Line: Dakota Royer (RS SO), Kyle Carter (RS FR)

Incoming Freshmen: Jesse James (FR), Brent Wilkerson (FR)

Royer is making the transition from defensive end/linebacker to H-back/tight end. Carter has spent a year in the program, but that doesn't mean much with a whole new staff. And Wilkerson isn't on campus yet. Did we miss anyone? Oh yea, Jesse James.

The best-named Class of 2012 member, who actually enrolled in January, has been surprisingly productive in camp, and is pushing Gilliam for playing time at the "Y" spot. Given the staff's reluctance to push Gilliam too hard because of his past knee troubles, James is getting even more reps than normal. Because the tight end is so important to the Bill O'Brien offense, it wouldn't be surprising to see each of Gilliam, Haplea, and James make significant contributions in 2012.

Finally, obligatory Adam Breneman comment. These previews are for 2012, but Breneman is the first tight end recruit for Bill O'Brien, and will likely be the future at the "F" tight end spot. Haplea will be a senior in 2013, right when Breneman will be joining the PSU team officially.

Only two more days before the Blue/White Spring Scrimmage, and only two positions left. Mike will be by tomorrow with a running back/fullback preview, while we save the best for last (Is it quarterback, or kicker? Stay tuned!)

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