James Gang Shooting for First TD

Explosive in 2012, Penn State's tight end corps has yet to reach the end zone this year. But sophomore standout Jesse James is not concerned.

Heading into this season, tight end was an area of the Penn State football team where there appeared to be few question marks. The group was expected to build on its outstanding 2012 campaign, seeing as it had more experience and greater depth.

Unfortunately, the eye-popping success has yet to come. Injuries have been a problem, as senior Matt Lehman has been lost for the year due to a torn ACL and redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson has yet to play due to back issues. And All-Big Ten redshirt sophomore Kyle Carter was slowed early on by an arm injury.

As a result, through four games, the Nittany Lions' tight end corps has yet to log a touchdown pass and has come through with only one catch in the red zone. The one consistent threat has been sophomore Jesse James, who is third on the team with nine catches for 106 yards.

But in James' view, there is no reason to panic.

“As a group, we're not changing anything,” James said. “We're on top of it and doing the same stuff we did last season. It's been receivers pounding the ball in there and the same with the running backs. We have opened up opportunities for other players to get the ball down in the end zone. I'm sure it will come together eventually and one of us will score. It's not really a concern, because in the red zone area we've had a great percentage (as a team).”

When will it come together for this group? Most likely, James and his gang will make it happen this weekend in the 2013 Big Ten debut at Indiana. While the IU offense is having its fair share of success by leading the Big Ten in passing offense and total offense, the Hoosiers rank 106th out of 123 FBS teams in total defense.

James, a now healthy Carter and freshman Adam Breneman should find themselves in the middle of the offensive action. James would not be surprised if the group's first TD is set up by the run, though.

“The play-action pass helps a lot,” said James. “Most of the time when we're around the ball we're just blocking. But on play-action, we sneak out and get open. We've done well with it.”

Though the tight ends' collective receiving numbers are down, that has not resulted in any sort of drop-off in blocking. In fact, blocking has been a focus of position coach John Strollo all season. James, who is being asked to block even more than usual with Lehman out, has seen the dividends of Strollo's approach.

“The whole tight end unit's blocking has improved,” said James. “Coach Strollo works with us every second he can when were not doing team stuff and focuses on individual drills. It's really helped us a lot with improving from week to week.”

For James, it will be nice if a PSU tight end finally finds the end zone Saturday. But he's more concerned about the offense in general scoring enough points to win.

“We're looking forward to putting it out on the field, especially since it's the first Big Ten game,” said James. “Offensively, I think we can score points. Coach (Bill) O'Brien prepared us well this week so we're excited.”


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