Penn State football: Anatomy of a position group — The tight ends
Starting this week, Blue White Illustrated will begin a new series breaking down each Penn State position group and how it was constructed, also touching on its outlook ahead of the 2021 season and looking further forward. We continue the series with Penn State's tight end unit.
2021 Penn State Tight End Outlook
Change is the major theme within the Penn State tight end room heading into 2021.
Ty Howle took over as the Nittany Lions' tight ends coach following the departure of Tyler Bowen, who left to join Urban Meyer's coaching staff with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Additionally, Penn State now moves on from Pittsburgh Steelers draft choice Pat Freiermuth, who had been a figurehead at the tight end position for the Nittany Lions before an injury forced him to the sidelines midway through last season.
Freiermuth's absence provided a window for analysis of his presumptive replacements for both the Penn State staff and fans alike.
Theo Johnson and Brenton Strange stepped into Freiermuth's sizable shoes, giving fans plenty of reasons to be excited.
"Brenton Strange has done a great job — and Theo too — of stepping in when Pat left," Howle said this winter. "He's gotten better and better every day."
There were also plenty of positive reviews for redshirt freshman tight end Tyer Warren during Penn State's spring camp, and it doesn't seem out of the question that he could carve out a role for himself within this unit.
The staff is effusive in its praise for the options Penn State has here, but anytime a player of Freiermuth's caliber walks out the door, it's going to put pressure on his replacements.
Despite what we saw from them last season, when Strange and Johnson combined for 220 yards and two touchdowns, the tight end position feels like a question waiting to be answered heading into 2021.
Can the Nittany Lions produce yet another fantastic tight end? Stay tuned.
Looking Ahead at Penn State's Tight Ends
The positive aspect of having unproven players at any particular position is that there will be plenty of room for them to grow.
Strange is entering his third season on campus, where we often see players make a big leap. It's clear Johnson has great potential as well with his size and athleticism, and we know that the staff likes what they saw from Warren this offseason.
Khalil Dinkins, a three-star prospect at tight end, joined this group over the summer, and the Nittany Lions will sign four-star Class of 2022 tight end Nick Cross, who stands at 6-foot-6 and is the No. 11 tight end prospect in his class nationally.
Knowing how Penn State feels about Warren, and considering the raw talent evident within both Johnson and Strange — who figure to be the two battling it out for the starting job in 2021 — the cupboard appears well-stocked for the Nittany Lions at tight end.
The future for how Penn State approaches the position could be shaped by new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who shared his thoughts on the tight end position exclusively with Blue White Illustrated this summer.
"Tight end, to me, is a very, very unique position and one that can be utilized very well," he said. "What things factor into how do you utilize them are matchups. How does the defense match up against your personnel changes? How do they match up in man-to-man coverage? If they're in zones, how do they line up in certain formations to where you can get an advantage in the run game. Those are very important things to ask, and as you game plan to try to figure out and try to gain an advantage through there. So the better your tight end and the more unique they are in their skill sets, that those give you different opportunities to take advantage of those as long as those parallel one another."
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