STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Everyone knew that Penn State would have big shoes to fill at tight end this season after Mike Gesicki ended a record-setting career full of leaping, acrobatic catches and went to the NFL.
Well, in the early going, the Nittany Lions have resorted to tight end by committee, using three players — redshirt junior Jonathan Holland, redshirt sophomore Danny Dalton and true freshman Pat Freiermuth — to replace Gesicki.
"We never really necessarily want to do things by committee," coach James Franklin said this week as the 11th-ranked Nittany Lions (2-0) prepared for Saturday's game against Kent State (1-1) at Beaver Stadium. "It's all waiting for someone to really kind of establish themselves and separate themselves from the pack."
Franklin would like to see more consistency from the tight ends in the running game. While none stacks up physically and in talent to Gesicki, he sees potential in each member of the trio.
"Mike was freakishly athletic, as we all know, in the passing game," he said. "It's no knock on them because I think they all have a chance to be really good tight ends and have great careers. I could also make the argument, because of where they are in their careers and where we are as a program, that maybe they have a chance to be more complete in college."
In his last two seasons at Penn State, Gesicki caught 105 balls for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns. This year's group of tight ends entered 2018 with four career receptions.
The position coach, Tyler Bowen, said playing three tight ends isn't "necessarily good or bad.
"I think right now it's been productive for us and I would say at this point, we're still week to week," he said. "I think all of those guys bring a different element that makes them productive in the offense. So I would say for right now, that's what we've been doing. It's week to week based on what the guys do in their preparation at practice."
Bowen added that the number of plays for each tight end evened out a little more in last Saturday's win over Pittsburgh than in the opener, based on what he had seen in practice during the week.
Holland already has four receptions, one more than his career total before this season, including a 22-yarder that set up Penn State's initial touchdown at Pittsburgh. Dalton has three catches and Freiermuth one.
Even though it's a contest for the No. 1 spot, the players are supporting one another every day.
"It's been kind of a good surprise to see all those guys be able to come in and work well together," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "I think the best thing is, we've got kind of a tight end by committee now but they all want to see each other succeed. To see them support each other in their role has been awesome to see."
The trio will be part of the passing game against Kent State but also be looked upon to assist in a rushing attack that has seen the Nittany Lions average 208 yards per game on the ground the first two weeks.
Saturday, noon at Beaver Stadium, State College
TV, radio and online streaming: Fox Sports 1; WNTP-AM (990) and WNPV-AM (1440); FoxSportsGo.com
Records: Penn State, 2-0, ranked No. 11 by the AP; Kent State, 1-1.
Coaches: Penn State, James Franklin (fifth season, 38-17); Kent State, Sean Lewis (first season, 1-1).
Series history: The teams have met only once. The Nittany Lions captured a 33-13 victory in the 2016 season opener, the first career start for quarterback Trace McSorley.
1. The game could come down to turnovers and penalties. The Golden Flashes have turned the ball over six times in two games — only one FBS team has more turnovers — and have been penalized 20 times for 188 yards. On the other hand, the Nittany Lions have lost two fumbles and had just six penalties for 55 yards.
2. James Franklin said Kent State could be the most up-tempo offense his team will see all season and there are two players in particular who will test the Lions' defense. Quarterback Woody Barrett has averaged more than 280 yards of total offense in two games. Running back Justin Rankin has 199 yards rushing this season.
3. The Nittany Lions won the special-teams battle against Pittsburgh by a wide margin and might have a chance to do it again. The big duel will be redshirt freshman K.J. Hamler, who averages 31.3 yards on kickoff returns, against a Kent State unit that limits opponents to 15.5 yards per kickoff return. The Lions' Blake Gillikin has his team ranked 21st in FBS in net punting, while the Golden Flashes rank 116th in that category.