Penn State Spring Practice Position Previews: Tight Ends

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: Alfonzo Dennard #15 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers tackles Kevin Haplea #10 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

A look at Penn State's tight end situation as the team prepares for spring practice.

As Penn State prepares to open spring practice on March 26 in Happy Valley, SB Nation Pittsburgh is breaking the roster down by position, taking a look at who the Nittany Lions have lost from last year's lineups, who they'll return and who they've added through the 2012 recruiting class. On the menu today, tight ends.

Leaving The Roster

The oft-injured Andrew Szczerba was really the only threat in the passing game from this position last season, when he caught 12 passes for 101 yards and no touchdowns. That doesn't seem like a whole lot to replace, but he did have more receptions than the rest of the tight ends combined, a true reflection of how thin the Lions are at this spot right now.

Returning Starters

Kevin Haplea saw significant time at this spot, but caught just three passes for 21 yards and a touchdown. With a crew of young guys coming in, he's going to have to use this spring to step up and show the coaching staff something. Coach Bill O'Brien comes from a New England Patriots offense that made tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez prominent threats in the passing game. It's on Haplea to show he can do similar things for the offense at Penn State.

Others Returning, Looking To Step Up

An ACL injury from 2010 cost Garry Gilliam all of 2011. It's unclear whether he's ready to get back into the mix, but if he is, look for him to push for a starting spot.

Linebacker Dakota Royer recently switched his position to tight end, so he will use the spring to show the coaching staff he can make the transition effectively. If he can, look for him to make a push for the starting job in the fall, as the lack of depth at this spot makes it easy to move up the chart quickly.

New Faces

Jesse James out of McKeesport is already enrolled and will participate in spring drills. At 6-foot-7 and 248 pounds, he has a nice frame that should allow him to compete for playing time quickly if he can show the coaches he has a grasp for the offense.

The Lions also added three-star recruit Brent Wilkerson through the process. Rated No. 17 nationally at his position by Rivals, this 6-foot-4, 245-pound prospect had an impressive offer sheet that included Clemson, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and West Virginia. Clearly, he has the pedigree to compete for playing time, but he'll have to impress at fall camp to make an immediate impact, as he's not enrolled and will not be participating in spring drills.

What To Look For In The Spring

These guys simply have a lot to prove. The returning players produced almost nothing in the passing game last year and didn't distinguish themselves as good blockers, either. The good news is mostly everyone at this spot is still young and has time to grow into O'Brien's new offense. It'll be interesting to see how quickly this unit can collectively pick things up and take some pressure off the receivers in the passing game.

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