ALTOONA (WTAJ) — Since Bill O’Brien walked into Happy Valley bringing his tight end friendly offense to Penn State, the Nittany Lions have had a run at the position. Today, four Penn State tight ends play in the NFL: Nick Bowers, Jesse James, Mike Gesicki and Pat Freiermuth and earlier in the season James Franklin called his tight end room the best he’s ever had.
“First of all, I called Franklin after that,” joked Freiermuth who took some exception to Franklin’s comments, after all, he shared a tight end room with Mike Gesicki.
Franklin’s praises say something considering the run of talent in Happy Valley. Sunday Jesse James caught a touchdown pass for the Bears, Gesicki is among the NFL’s leaders in receiving among tight ends, and Feiermuth, a rookie for the Steelers, has emerged as a draft steal and made of the of the league’s best receptions in Sunday’s win over the Browns.
“We drew it in the dirt the play before,” Freirmuth said. “He (Ben Roethlisberger) didn’t tell me what to run, so we’re running out on the field and I was like ‘what do I run’ and he (Ben) was like, ‘run to the back of the end zone’ and I was like ‘alright.'”
Penn State’s tight ends haven’t met the raised bar Franklin set in the preseason. Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren have combined for just 25 catches for about 330 yards, or one-half what Jahan Dotson has done himself. Key drops have also left fans wanting more. But Penn State is no stranger to its prized tight ends facing ridicule for drops. Gesicki struggled at times at Penn State. Feiermuth remembers what Mike taught him about blocking out the noise.
“Mike did a great job of not reacting to the fans when he made those great plays, and not reacting to the fans when he makes the bad play and the same with myself,” he said. “I think that’s what I’d try to tell them, when you make a touchdown you’ll go on Twitter and everyone loves you and that stuff. When you drop a ball everyone is going to say you’re the worst football player in the world… Stay even regardless.”
Converted quarterback Tyler Warren has emerged as the team’s ‘Wild Lion’ quarterback and has rushed for two touchdowns this season.
“At the end of the day, like I said, it’s just another play, Warren said earlier this fall. “It may look a little fancier, but at the end of the day we’re doing our jobs just the same.”
Strange and Johnson have flashed at moments and give credence to the potential that sits near the surface.
“Those three guys, Brenton, Theo and Tyler are very good athletes. They’re so different from each other they’re great collectively,” said Freiermuth.
“Each one has embraced whatever they’re doing that week, and exceled at it,” said quarterback Sean Clifford. “Whether it’s tight end set, 11, 12 or 13, and then also when Tyler comes in at quarterback I think that’s a great package as well and there is a lot of stuff in that package we haven’t done yet.”