Penn State football
Penn State football James Franklin typically gives praise to each of his position groups entering the season, but in an August practice just about a week prior to the opening matchup with Wisconsin, Franklin called the Penn State tight end group the deepest he had ever coached.
That depth, though, had not been put to the test in Penn State’s first two wins.
That changed on Saturday night, as the Nittany Lion tight ends proved to be critical in a 28-20 win against a ranked SEC opponent in Auburn.
All three players in Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren found ways to make an impact, not just catching the ball.
Start with No. 3 tight end Tyler Warren, who had not seen much game action this year but had confidence from all of his teammates that he could do something special when his number was called upon.
On Saturday, that moment came — not on a pass but on a designed wildcat run up the middle that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown for the redshirt freshman.
Warren said the bond the three tight ends share goes far beyond the football field, as they feel they’re always there for each other no matter the situation.
“Those are really my boys, not just at practice. I can hang out with them whenever I want,” Warren said after Penn State’s 28-20 win. “We always just get each other and we’re really close. I’d say it’s a big factor when we’re playing and practicing together.”
But of course, they make each other better each day with an iron-sharpening-iron mentality, growing from each other and elevating the play of everyone in that room.
“I think we make each other better in practice,” Warren said. “If one of us messes up, the other two will coach [them] up. I think that’s helped us get better throughout the spring and the summer and then I think it’s showing up in the season.”
While this group has formed some significant chemistry during their time together, they also have the responsibility of carrying on the newfound tradition of “Tight End U” at Penn State.
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Brenton Strange, who caught four passes against the Tigers, feels that having a deep group boosts the entire offense.
“Tight end is a very important position,” Strange said. “Sometimes it gets overlooked and to have three good tight ends is very important, and it helps our team out a lot.”
Strange also said while the tight end group hadn’t truly broken out until this week, a new positional room could do it each game, as there are just too many capable players in offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s unit.
“We got a lot of playmakers, that’s all I’m gonna say,” Strange said. “There’s a lot of guys that can make plays on this team and we’ve been showing that over the last few weeks.”
The impact of these tight ends allowed the offense to not just succeed but climb to a level it had yet to reach under Yurcich.
The three ended up totaling 132 total yards and provided their normal contributions in the blocking game as well.
It’s something Franklin and the offensive coaching staff would like to continue in the future, but getting every position involved can be a challenge on a week-to-week basis.
If these three can contribute anything close to what they did tonight against some of the premier Big Ten teams, the sky could be the limit for this offense.
“I think our tight ends had 130 yards as a group,” Franklin said. “I don’t want that to be one week on, one week off. I think we got a really talented tight end room/ We want to keep them involved.
“It’s really difficult when you’ve got receivers making plays, you’ve got tight ends making plays, you’re able to run the ball, when you’ve got that type of balance.”