UNIVERSITY PARK - Tight end terminology typically hasn't been a big focus of Penn State's offensive attack, but with Bill O'Brien in charge, all fans need to start getting used to the letters Y and F.
The Y tight end is the traditional big, bulky guy who sets up at the line of scrimmage and primarily blocks. The starter there for PSU is Garry Gilliam (6-foot-6, 262 pounds).
The F is the flex tight end, who's usually a little smaller, quicker, more athletic and a better receiving target. The Lions' starter is Kyle Carter (6-3, 247).
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State tight end Garry Gilliam speaks with the media recently.
One thing O'Brien likes to do that could make Penn State's offense confusing for defenses is to have all the tight ends learn the Y and F positions.
"As a tight end you've got to be able to do both here. ... It just all has to do with matchups," Carter said.
"Many of those guys, like Kyle Carter and Garry Gilliam, are interchangeable," O'Brien said. "They can play the Y or the F. ... They've all got a chance to play for us."
Penn State won't be confused with what O'Brien coached in New England, where Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are two of the NFL's best tight ends. But PSU also no longer will be an offense that largely ignores the tight ends, which often was the case in recent years.
The Lions' tight ends had 15 catches last season - 12 by Andrew Szczerba, three by Kevin Haplea - and that number should at least double if not triple this year.
Carter, as the F tight end, figures to be a key receiving target, which begs the question of how did the redshirt freshman come from seemingly out of nowhere to land such a prominent role.
Carter was only a two-star recruit by Rivals and didn't play tight end until his senior season at William Penn High School in Delaware. He redshirted last year for PSU and said he was third or fourth on the depth chart when O'Brien took over in the spring.
"I was a redshirt freshman, and they didn't have no real tape on me," Carter said. "It was just about every day me trying to improve my stock with the coaches and close that gap between me and the starter."
How did he do that?
"I'm just a smart player, I stay in my playbook, I'm a great catcher," Carter said. "Coach O'Brien, he liked me from the get-go, and I just knew whenever I had the chance I had to step up."
Carter knew at the end of spring drills he would be atop the depth chart, but seeing his name there when O'Brien released it in early June was a surprise to many.
"It was just nice for everyone else to see that I was a starter and just to get it out there on paper to the media, to the fans to everybody," Carter said. "It was great for me to just kind of get a little bit of vindication for all the hard work I've been putting in."
Haplea had been projected by many as a starting tight end after getting a lot of playing time in 2011, but Carter surpassed him. Haplea transferred to Florida State two weeks ago.
When Carter committed to PSU, he said he had some Facebook messages with former Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless, who's now with the Green Bay Packers.
"He was just telling me to 'ball out,' and he said, 'All you've got to do there is just stay out of trouble and do what you can do and you'll be fine,'" Carter said.
In New England's scheme, Hernandez is the F tight end and Gronkowski the Y, although Gronkowski fills both roles better than most tight ends in NFL history. Carter said he has "both of their highlight tapes favorited on my YouTube page."
Gilliam, who had been starting for the injured Andrew Szczerba early in 2010, tore the ACL in his left knee at Iowa and missed the rest of that season and all of 2011. He's now atop the depth chart at the Y tight end spot and will be counted on to block plus catch passes.
"None of us are just restricted to blocking," Gilliam said.
The Lions have been working on formations with three tight ends on the field at the same time, and on occasion they even have four.
"It gives us a great advantage," Gilliam said of the different looks. "There's me, Jesse James (6-7, 264) and Matt Lehman (6-6, 258), we're all about 6-6 and 260. You have three of us bunched out on one side, I think a lot of defenses are going to be a little shook [up] about that."
Gilliam said he enjoys watching Patriots film to see how Gronkowski and Hernandez go about their work. He's watching everything, too, from their footwork to where their hands are at and all other aspects.
"Just watching what they're doing, whether it's making mistakes or doing good stuff, just trying to learn the way that they read the defenses," Gilliam said.
Penn State's offense is coming together "really well," Gilliam added, and there's "a lot better understanding" of the new schemes than when it was installed in the spring.
At this point, just being able to play and talk about football is a breath of fresh air given everything the team has been through with the scandal.
"It's nice just to get out there and play football and not have to worry about whatever else is going on outside of our field and practice facility," Gilliam said.