Penn State has used an abundance of tight ends this season, but none more so than Kyle Carter.
The redshirt freshman stayed on the field against Ohio State long after the game had gotten out of reach for the Nittany Lions. In fact, he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, but injured his left ankle on the play. He limped into the locker room a few minutes before the rest of his team.
Whether he’ll run out with them at Purdue this Saturday remains to be seen.
Coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday that Carter is day-to-day, and the coaching staff will assess his status at the end of the week to see if he can “cut and do certain things.”
Carter is second on the team with 35 receptions and 441 yards. He leads the Lions with 12.6 yards per catch.
Penn State has four tight ends who are actively involved in the offense. Carter is the ‘F’ tight end, which is the closest to a wide receiver.
Matt Lehman is more of a traditional tight end, who has good hands for shorter routes. Garry Gilliam, the ‘Y’ tight end, has been used primarily as a blocker this season. True freshman Jesse James, as quarterback Matt McGloin puts it, “can do a little bit of both.”
If Carter is out or even limited Saturday, these three guys will try to compensate for his lost production at the ‘F’ position.
“It’s only Wednesday, hopefully Carter can get healthy for Saturday,” McGloin said. “If he cannot go, I have no doubt that one of those guys will step up and fill that position. Being a tight end here, you need to know all the routes, the blocking assignments.”
O’Brien added that the ‘Y’ and ‘F’ positions are interchangeable, so Gilliam, James and Lehman are all qualified to step into Carter’s role.
“Those are two difficult positions in our offense to learn, second only to the quarterback position, because you’re involved in all facets of the game,” he said.
Even though Gilliam, Lehman and James combined can’t match Carter’s total receiving yards, they’ve all proven their ability to catch the football.
Just last week, Gilliam had a solid 16-yard reception, with most of that yardage coming after the catch. Lehman has taken hit after hit this season, but he secures the football almost every time. Even the rookie James has a pair of touchdown catches and averages more than 10 yards per grab.
“We have talented guys in that position,” O’Brien said. “That’s a luxury to have three guys there, you have four total with Kyle, to play the bulk of those snaps. If one goes down you still have three. That’s a pretty good deal.”
McGloin’s said his gameday mindset doesn’t focus on finding Carter for passes. Rather, Carter just gets open a lot. If the freshman’s potential replacements can do the same, McGloin said he’ll find them.
“If he’s a part of the read and he’s open, I don’t care if he’s dropped 10 balls before or caught 10 balls, I’m going to throw him the ball if he’s open and does his job,” McGloin said. “That’s the way I approach the game, that’s the way I play the game. It’s not my job to catch it or make plays. It’s just my job to throw it to the guy that’s open.”