I love Jared and Nick. They're both good men. Good, honest, hard-working men who, like all people, are occasionally wrong about stuff. For instance, Jared thinks that Penn State's best position heading into 2015 is defensive tackle. Nick, on the other hand, thinks it is wide receiver.
While I certainly agree that those positions are stacked heading into this year, neither of them are as loaded as Penn State's top unit: tight end. This statement is in no way trying to take away from how awesome the Nittany Lions' defensive tackles or wide receivers are going to be in 2015, but rather, it is an endorsement of just how freakishly talented and deep Penn State's group of tight ends are.
This group can be broken down into five parts. All of them are crucial to the success of the team, and all of them complement each other due to the particular set of skills that each one possesses. They are broken down, thusly:
The Established Fifth-Year Senior Who Specializes In Pass Catching: Kyle Carter
By now, we know that Carter's career has featured several small setbacks due to lingering injuries. It's unfortunate that some people remember him for that, and not for his monstrous freshman campaign, in which he caught 36 balls for 453 yards and looked like a dynamic threat/matchup nightmare in the passing game.
Fortunately, with some other guys available to perhaps take some of the load off of Carter and let him rest whenever he gets a knock, he can focus on what he does well, namely running routes and catching footballs. Remember when he scored the game-winning touchdown during the Pinstripe Bowl? That was cool.
That play was a great example of what Carter brings to the table. He was lined up in the slot as to play to his ability as a pass catcher (he's, in a way, an oversized wide receiver, but that's the title I used for the next guy). He ran a route that required pristine timing and a penchant getting past a defensive back, which he did. He then used his size and strength advantage to pluck the ball away from the defender, and his soft hands reeled the ball in.
I anticipate that we'll see a lot more of this out of Carter this year. I really want to see more of this out of Carter this year. If we do, he's going to play on Sundays. A lot.
The True Sophomore Who Is Essentially A Gigantic Wide Receiver: Mike Gesicki
You should listen to Nick talk about fellow New Jersey native Mike Gesicki. It's like listening to a child discuss his favorite comic book hero. This is probably fair, because Gesicki may actually be superman. Consider that he is 6'6", 255 lbs., runs like a gazelle and can jump out of a building and you have, quite possibly, the biggest matchup nightmare in the conference. This is especially true when you remember that the young man possesses soft hands and has the ability to reel in just about anything thrown his way.
I'm more excited to see how the staff uses Gesicki than any other non-DeAndre Thompkins player on offense. I anticipate that he will play all over the field, and the staff will use his incredible mix of size and athleticism to its advantage in a really unique way. If he doesn't at least double his 11 catches and 114 receiving yards from last year, I'll be shocked.
The Redshirt Sophomore Who We All Kind Of Forget Is The Best All-Around Tight End On The Roster: Adam Breneman
The injury gods are a horrendous bunch. If it wasn't for them, we would have seen Adam Breneman build on a really nice 15 catch, 186 yard and three touchdown freshman campaign. It was obvious, especially towards the end of the year, that he possesses some kind of inherent chemistry with Christian Hackenberg, which is crucial for any tight end. He may not be as fast or agile or athletic as Carter or Gesicki – which isn't to say that he's not an athletic guy, they're just really good athletes – but he's big and strong, which lends to his best asset, his ability as a blocker.
Blocking is something that was missing out of the tight end position last year. Jesse James, Carter and Gesicki were much better pass catchers than they were blockers. Unfortunately, the team's best blocking tight end was Breneman, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Now, he is back, and not only is his blocking a huge deal because it will help along the offensive line, but it should free up Gesicki and Carter to run all over the field and focus on the passing game.
This isn't to say that Breneman isn't a great pass catcher, he very much is and should make a major impact in that regard once he's used to game speed, but his ability as a blocker is more important right now. Still, he's probably the best all-around tight end on the roster, which is a lot of fun.
The True Freshman Who May Not Play But Is Intriguing For A Variety Of Reasons: Nick Bowers
Of course, we're operating under the assumption that Bowers will play in 2015. There is nothing to indicate that he will redshirt, but there's nothing to indicate that he won't, either.
So basically, Bowers is an intriguing prospect because he's a really good athlete for his size – 6'4", 235 lbs. – right down to the fact that he lined up at quarterback occasionally in high school. He needs to work on his blocking, and with the glut of talented pass catchers Penn State has at tight end, that could ultimately be the reason why he redshirts. Still, he is a talented enough pass catcher that he very easily could make some kind of an impact as a freshman in a limited role.
The Guys Who Can Fill Small Roles Across The Board: Tom Pancoast, Dominic Salomone, Charles Idemudia, Brent Wilkerson
Pancoast and Wilkerson have always been tight ends in Happy Valley, while Salomone (RB/FB) and Idemudia (FB/LB) are recent additions to the group of tight ends. These guys have all been in the program for a while, and I'd be surprised if none of them get time this year. Even if they fill specific needs as blockers/situational pass catchers, I think most (if not all) of them will suit up and see the field at some time this year. I base this on nothing other than "depth and guys who can help as blockers are good things."
So yes, I would say that Penn State is comically loaded at tight end, so much so that it's the Nittany Lions' best position this year. Do you agree?