As we prepare to overreact to the Blue-White Game on April 22, Black Shoe Diaries is previewing every position so you’ll be updated on all the roster battles heading into the 2017 season. At some positions, we can write in the starter or starters with a permanent market. At others, pencil is more appropriate.
Tight end is one of those spots where we think we know what’s going on, but there’s always the possibility of new talents emerging. In 2016, Mike Gesicki transformed from a question mark into a big-play threat that opposing defenses had to game plan for. He’s locked into a major role for the upcoming campaign, but could James Franklin introduce a second tight end into the starting lineup the way Bill O’Brien did when he ran the program? Such a change is unlikely given the talent at wide receiver for Penn State, but we’ll prepare you for a tight end revolution just in case something crazy happens.
The only tight end to catch a pass for Penn State last season was Gesicki, and there’s a good reason for that. The rising senior out of Manahawkin, New Jersey eliminated the drops that plagued him in 2015 and turned himself into a reliable target who excelled at catching the ball in traffic. That’s a great skill to have when your quarterback makes a habit of recklessly throwing the ball downfield.
With 48 catches for 679 yards and five touchdowns, Gesicki is Penn State’s top returning player in all three categories, and he’ll for sure be a key cog in the offense this fall. The biggest question about him is whether he remains a secondary target behind whoever fills Chris Godwin’s shoes or takes the next step, leads Penn State in receiving yards, and becomes one of the best tight ends in the country.
Nick Bowers (RS Sophomore) - After joining Penn State as a three-star recruit in the 2015 class, Bowers redshirted his freshman season and then missed all of last year due to injury. He profiles as a guy who has good hands but doesn’t have the speed to separate from defenders down the field. Bowers’s size should allow him to leap over linebackers for catches in the seam, but if he sees much action this year, it will likely be as a blocker.
Tom Pancoast (RS Senior) - Pancoast caught a touchdown pass during last year’s Blue-White Game, but he played mostly special teams during the season. Although he’s got an edge over the other reserve candidates due to his experience within the Penn State program, the fifth-year player is still pretty green when in comes to game action with the offense.
Jonathan Holland (RS Sophomore) - Originally recruited as a defensive end, Holland offers a good combination of athleticism and experience since he played special teams as a redshirt freshman last year. He might still have some work to do when it comes to catching passes, but as a four-star recruit in 2015, the Potomac, Maryland native is a project worth looking out for.
Danny Dalton (RS Freshman) - Dalton hasn’t yet stepped on the field in a game for the Nittany Lions, but he proved to be a great pass-catcher in high school and could rocket up the depth chart if he’s able to show off those skills in spring practice.