Wilkerson Bolsters Tight End Corps

The redshirt freshman brings strong pass-catching skills to Penn State's deepest position. They were on display when he scored a touchdown in the Blue-White Game.

Ask anyone familiar with the Penn State football program about the tight end position, and they'll likely gush about the development of the position under second-year head coach Bill O'Brien.

Kyle Carter this, Jesse James that, Matt Lehman over there; there is no question that a spot often forgotten about before O'Brien and company came to town has skyrocketed to the top of the list of intriguing Penn State positions. And the newest intrigue is Brent Wilkerson.

A redshirt freshman, Wilkinson learned the ins-and-outs of the position during his first year on campus after four years at DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.). And the learning is still ongoing for the 6-foot-3, 239-pounder.

Saturday, though, was about turning what he already knows into production. And if his one catch in the Blue-White Game -- a six-yard touchdown grab in the back of the end zone -- was any indication, the learning is going quite well.

“It's great, you know, doing all the winter workouts and meeting with the tight ends and Coach [John] Strollo, and coming out in spring ball and getting better every day,” Wilkerson said. “It was a good feeling being out on the field and playing in front of the fans and stuff. It's just like the hard work finally paid off, so it was a good experience.”

Fitting into the elaborate tight end picture, which features the aforementioned group plus true freshman Adam Breneman, is no easy task.

Wilkerson talked Saturday about how his speed and strength have improved in strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald's program, noting he feels bigger and stronger even if his listed weight is the same as it was a year ago.

But he quickly added that blocking is an area he still needs to improve, because though there is plenty of catching in O'Brien's scheme, the old adage “stick your hand in the dirt and block” hasn't changed, either. It's the area he focused most on during his time on campus. He has picked up some tips from his teammates, too.

“I still have a long way to go, but that year off helped me prepare myself a little bit better for the defensive ends that are bigger and stronger,” Wilkerson said. “We learn from each other. Jesse and Lehman are great blockers and also great route-runners, but Kyle is a great runner and knows how to get open and catch the ball.

“You can take little pieces from everybody's game,” he continued. “Breneman is a great route-runner as well, so you can just take little pieces of each person's game and what they do well, and try to mold it around yourself.”

With the spring over, his progression will now move back to the weight room and the player-organized workouts. The goal is to best prepare himself to contribute in the fall.

The competition is no doubt fierce at one of the most highly used positions in Penn State's offensive attack. At the same time, the tight ends are supportive of one another, which leads to the players “keeping each other up and making everyone work hard.”

Another positive, as far as Wilkerson is concerned, is that while the coaching staff wants the tight ends to be well-rounded, the coaches also understand each man has different strengths.

“It's more dynamic, and lets your skill and your catching and all the other versatile things you can do show on the field,” he said. “Coach O'Brien has opened up where we can run routes and catch passes and stuff like that, so I like where it's going.

“We're working hard, and trying to be more versatile for [the season opener] Aug. 31.”

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