Penn State's nickname has long been "Linebacker U," but under Bill O'Brien, another nickname could be forthcoming: "Tight End U."
"I've heard the Linebacker U, of course, over the years, but I don't know who's calling it Tight End U," Nittany Lions tight ends coach John Strollo said Thursday. "If they are, that's great, it's wonderful. Maybe I'll make up a T-shirt or something."
As expected with O'Brien coming from the New England Patriots, the tight end has become a much bigger part of Penn State's offense. Kyle Carter has 36 catches, and combined the tight ends have 73 receptions this season. Last year the total was 15.
Strollo addressed the success of the tight ends and other topics during this Q&A.
Q: How much will the success of the tight ends this year help with recruiting that position?
A: I think that anybody who plays tight end would be interested in what we're doing here. That's something that's fairly obvious. We've gotten some good input from kids.
Q: What was your reaction when Bill O'Brien approached you about becoming the tight ends coach?
A: It was a great honor, number one, to be asked, and number two to be asked to come to Penn State. I knew that it would be an exciting learning experience.
Q: Do you consider this a dream job?
A: I don't know who wouldn't.
Q: How much has the tight end position changed in football, and do you think it will continue to evolve into a bigger factor?
A: If you remember a guy named John Mackey, played for the Colts when they were the Baltimore Colts, I don't think there was a big revelation. I think what Coach O'Brien and the Patriots and now Penn State have done, we've used anybody that has unique talents and just let them use those talents.
Q: What do you look for when recruiting a tight end?
A: A tight end by definition is a guy that can block and catch, so that's what we look for. Any football player needs to have an explosive component and speed, of course they need size. I think to qualify as a tight end you need to be tall enough and big enough. I think what you're really looking for is a guy that's productive and playing at a high level of competition.
Q: How would you evaluate Kyle Carter's season, and how has he handled things mentally after enduring a season-ending hand injury?
A: We knew Kyle was a pretty productive and exceptional kid. You see him in games make some catches, you should see the things he does in practice. And he's got to work on aspects of his game, too, he knows that. ... But we thought he was going to be very productive. ... As far as his injury goes, Kyle has got a tremendous attitude on life, and he has a tremendous drive. So I think he's going to handle whatever hand he's been dealt and go on. He's going to move forward with it. What we talked about [Wednesday] was the fact that he could really, really concentrate the next couple months on his academics, and he's a very strong student to begin with. ... He's not the kind of kid that lays around and moans about his circumstances.
Q: What did you see on Matt Lehman's fumble play at the goal line at Nebraska, and what could he have done in terms of ball protection there?
A: You're talking about a guy or guys that are trying to win football games, and he tried to make a play. Some people say he made the play, some people say he didn't. The people that counted are the refs, and they said he didn't. So we're not worried about that, we're worried about Indiana.
Q: How important are the relationships you form with people throughout the state in recruiting, especially with potential walk-ons who might be interested in other schools where they could get scholarships?
A: The one thing that's so impressive about Penn State is how important it is to the people in Pennsylvania, at least that's the impression I get. I think no matter who you talk to in Pennsylvania, no matter what the opportunities they have, they're interested in coming to Penn State in some way, shape or form. I don't blame them. This place is remarkable.
Q: What has it been like working with O'Brien?
A: The number one thing is he's a fun guy to be around. The second thing is -- I'm no expert -- but the minute we started working together I saw him as an exceptional talent. Quick-minded, quick-witted, a guy that sees things, understands that you have to make quick decisions but usually makes the right one. He's a very talented individual, and I feel lucky to be here with him. I think he's going to do everything in his power to continue Penn State with the winning tradition that they've had here.