Nittany Notes: Tight Ends

How is the position holding up now that Quarless is out of the mix indefinitely? Get the lowdown in the latest edition of Nittany Notes.

Earlier this week broke the news that tight end Andrew Quarless was involved in an underage drinking incident for which he had been suspended from the team.

On Thursday, the story became more clear when the 19-year-old junior was charged with DUI and various other offenses stemming from an incident that happened early Sunday morning.

Which means Quarless, who was briefly suspended from the team late last summer after being cited or underage drinking, is now facing an uncertain future with the program.

And the tight end position is now confronted with at least one serious question mark heading into spring practice, which starts March 24.

Andrew Quarless.

What does PSU lose if Quarless does not return? Well, he had what many (including us) called a sophomore slump in 2007, pulling in 14 receptions for 205 yards and scoring two touchdowns. That was seven fewer catches and 83 fewer yards than he had during his freshman season.

Quarless had a rough start to the 2007 season, missing the first two games stemming from the previous underage-drinking incident.

As one observer told us, "This [latest] incident isn't the entire issue here; it's the trend, and that generally doesn't sit well with the [coaches]. I suspect Drew will be on a pretty short leash and have some work to do to once again see action."

The observer added he would be surprised if Quarless is dismissed from the team.

The tight end unit will also be without Brennan Coakley and Francis Claude in the spring. In November, Coakley sustained an ACL injury in one-on-one practice drills. This was the latest setback in a career that has seen multiple injuries. Coakley is still recovering from this injury, wearing a knee brace, and is not expected to do much if anything in the spring.

Brennan Coakley.

Claude, on the other hand, has wrapped up his career at Penn State.

Even with these setbacks, the unit still has promise in the eyes of several observers. "You have some solid, young talent. But remember, in this offensive scheme the tight end's top three responsibilities are first to block, second to block and third to catch a ball once in a while. Having said that, there are some guys here like Andrew [Szczerba] and Jon [Ditto] who have some great hands. It'll be hard for that to be ignored [by the staff]."

Mickey Shuler is now the clear veteran of the unit. The 6-foot-4, 244-pounder saw action in all 13 games last season, catching seven balls for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Mickey Shuler.

"Mick's got the ability to set some consistent blocks," according to one observer. "He's not going to dazzle you with his hands, but he could be one of those possession guys who gets hit in the flat for three or four yards and fights for the first down."

At 6-6, 257 pounds, Szczerba "looks the part." Last season Szczerba saw his practice reps at scout team tight end and "progressed well, picking up the role quickly."

As one observer explained, "He has great control for such sheer size. His burst off the line is tough to contain. The younger guys will try to jam him and just get knocked [back]."

Andrew Szczerba.

Perhaps his strongest assets are his hands, though. He's received consistent praise for his catching ability and "ridiculous hands," as one observer put it earlier this season.

We are tempted to day ditto for Ditto, but that would be too corny. So we'll just mention that Ditto is also receiving praise for his ability to catch the ball.

Ditto enrolled at Penn State in January of 2007, hoping to get a jump on his PSU career. However, an injury to his left shoulder midway through spring practice required him to undergo surgery to correct the problem.

Jon Ditto.

Like Szczerba, Ditto's hands seem to be his strength. But his smaller frame (6-3, 230) tends to make blocking a challenge. "He's giving up around 45 pounds to a guy like Maurice Evans. The way these guys fly into the pocket, there are times when he has gotten leveled. That is part of the reason his shoulder got messed up early on. He needs to add some mass to manage the pick-up better."

Penn State also recruited an outstanding tight end prospect for the Class of 2008 in Mark Wedderburn. With that in mind, observers say the staff does not intend to make any position changes to bolster the tight end corps this spring.

See our other recent winter progress reports:

  • Nittany Notes: Running Backs
  • Nittany Notes: Defensive Backfield
  • Nittany Notes: Defensive Tackle
  • Nittany Notes: Defensive End
  • Nittany Notes: Linebacker
  • Nittany Notes: Injury Report I
  • Nittany Notes: Injury Report II


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