April 4, 2010

Blue-White Countdown 2010: Tight Ends

Previous entries...
1: Special Teams
2: Defensive Backs
3: Linebackers
4: Defensive Line
5: Offensive LineCan Andrew Sczcerba (80, in blue) give another strong performance in the Blue-White Game? With thin ranks at tight end, Penn State needs individuals to step up and take the lead this spring.

That's right, folks. We're coming in on Sundays now, as we continue our weekly countdown to the 2010 Blue-White Game. Over the next few weeks, I'll go through all the major positions, trying to give the most reasoned explanation of who we could see come out big, and why. In today's edition, we serve up the tight ends.


Since Isaac Smolko matriculated to the NFL following the 2005 Big Ten Championship run by the Nittany Lions, Penn State's tight end position has been dominated by two players--Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, Jr. The problem with their "domination" was that neither actually took the reigns to claim the position as their own.

Quarless had all the natural ability in the world (after all, he was "God's Gift," no?), but just could not stay out of Joe Paterno's dog house. Many had assumed that after Quarless had wowed the fans and coaches with a fantastic freshman season, he would be the hands-down star tight end the next four seasons. It took three seasons, but we finally saw that star last year, as Quarless is preparing to be a mid-round NFL Draft pick.

Shuler was the hard worker of the two. But with a guy of Quarless' ability always in the mix, Shuler was constantly plugged into a starting roll, only to be pulled when his counterpart got his head on strait for a while. Shuler might not get taken in the draft, but should enjoy a chance to play as a free agent.

Penn State entered 2009 with the best set of tight ends in the Big Ten, if not the entire nation. But what was possibly the Nittany Lions' greatest strength last season has now devolved into one of the least-experienced and unproven positions in the offense.

Tight Ends

Here is where Penn State stands as spring football starts. There are four scholarship tight ends on the spring roster, two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. The leader in career receptions is Andrew Sczcerba, the junior, who has all of two catches for 15 yards over three seasons. He's the leading receiver because, well, he's the only one who's actually caught a pass in any regular seasons for Penn State. Scary.






High School


Mark Wedderburn
Upper Darby/Cardinal O'Hara
Dan Algeo
Andrew Szczerba
Wilmington, Del./Salesianum
Bill DiNardo
Garry Gilliam
Carlisle, Pa./Milton Hershey
Bob Gayer
Kevin Haplea
Annandale, N.J./North Hunterdon
John Mattes

Of all the positions, this is the biggest enigma. As mentioned earlier, Sczcerba is most likely the only name any casual fan has remotely heard of. The redshirt junior has spent the majority of his career on the second and third teams, picking up two catches over that time. Considering who was ahead of him on the depth chart (Quarless and Shuler), it's amazing he's been able to produce any stats at all. From what I (and probably a few of you out there) remember about Sczcerba's performance at the 2009 Blue-White Game, standing over 6'6", he's quite athletic for his size and catches very well. He easily surprised anyone at the game last year, forcing thousands to flip through their game programs to find out who that No. 80 kid was. So far this spring, the coaches have hinted that Sczcerba could end up being a better blocker than the previous starters. We'll have to find out more over the next few weeks, but it could be assumed the job is Sczcerba's to lose this spring.

The only other somewhat experienced tight end on this team is Mark Wedderburn, a redshirt sophomore with no catches to his credit. He's seen some time on special teams. Behind Wedderburn are two freshmen--one redshirt, one true frosh.

Garry Gilliam is a former two-way player who's been pushed to the offensive side of the ball this off-season, mostly due to the lack of any real depth at the tight end position. Gilliam is in the same mold as Wedderburn and Sczcerba, towering around 6-foot-6. With Gilliam in the freshman eligibility class, Kevin Haplea came down with a case of mono earlier this semester, but has been cleared to fully participate in spring practice. Haplea is a bit shorter at 6-foot-4, but comes in highly-rated and the coaches have had great things to say about his potential.

Between the offensive line and tight ends, it'll be an interesting spring along the offensive front.

Next: Receivers

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