Tight ends back, feeling better than ever before 2015 Penn State football season
UNIVERSITY PARK — It was pretty clear tight end Mike Gesicki was feeling good at Saturday's Lift for Life charity event at the Penn State Lacrosse Field.
As the event began and Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" remix picked up, Gesicki threw out his long arms and pumped his shoulders, strutting a couple feet across the turf to the beat, passing Adam Breneman. His cool broke, and both sets of shoulders hunched over in laughter.
The two tight ends look — and act — like they could be brothers.
Both are tow-headed and tall, with easy smiles (though Gesicki's is a little bit more mischievous — picture a grinning New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski after a big win). Gesicki also has a couple inches on Breneman, and about eight pounds by sight. Gesicki's offseason included a weight gain of about 20 pounds (and he's dang proud of it).
They sat next to each other jawing as the charity event continued, two big twin bookends on a bench press. They were in the same place at the same time, and they could even be the same person at a glance.
But in getting to that moment and that day, which was just eight weeks away from the season opener at Temple on Sept. 5, their journeys have been very different.
Gesicki: Gesicki saw a somewhat limited role at tight end last season. His 11 catches for 114 yards were punctuated with a couple of good grabs, like his 28-yarder against Indiana, but he did suit up every game and got to at least dig his cleats in the turf and catch a ball in nine games last season.
Breneman: Breneman, on the other hand, watched.
It wasn't his fault. He needed ACL surgery his last year of high school and was a little tentative his freshman season at Penn State, although he did catch a touchdown in each of the Nittany Lions' last three games.
Then, he hurt his knee again. He had more (unspecified) surgery, and spent last season rehabbing.
He's all for this year being different.
"It's been a while since I played football," he said. "I was talking to some guys. ... When you come back from injury ... like, during spring ball I felt kind of methodical and I felt slow, and this is the point now, it's the first time in a while that I've felt like I'm good at football again.
"It's kind of a good feeling."
Breneman said he's 100 percent. His 4.63-second 40-yard dash time (confirmed by strength coach Dwight Galt) seems to attest to that, though his blocking and hands will be just as important for telling signs of his comeback.
"My man Adam," Gesicki laughed, when asked about Breneman. "He always has a positive attitude with anything that life throws at him. He's gone through some tough struggles that most guys would just throw in the towel and say 'I don't want to play football anymore, I don't feel like putting my body through this.'
"He's a great guy, he's one of my best friends on this team, and he's definitely made improvements. ... He's running a faster time than ever, he's gotten bigger, faster, stronger, and he's done a great job. I know he's going to do great things this year."
Gesicki is ready for a bigger role. So is Breneman.
They're in the same spot, now — in a race to fill the void left by tight end Jesse James, who is now on the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster.
Carter: Tight end Kyle Carter, a fifth-year senior, is also in the mix. He had 16 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown last season, and his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame is rumored to have packed on a couple more pounds. He's lanky enough to play receiver, but has the experience to execute within the position's less-glorifying task of blocking for his teammates.
Wilkerson: Then there's Brent Wilkerson, who didn't see much time last season after recovering from a back injury suffered in 2013, but has plenty of the athleticism to be a contender for a bigger role.
The tight end competition is looking a little — tight.
Not a bad problem to have, though, according to Breneman.
"We compete as much as anyone for playing time and for catches, but we're a really tight-knit group," he said. "Everyone kind of takes a leadership role with each other, we hold each other accountable. We're doing extra work with each other."
Competition: Gesicki said the communication in the offense as a whole has improved by leaps and bounds. The accountability Breneman mentioned certainly was a catalyst for it, as well as quarterback Christian Hackenberg's Tuesday sessions with the offense, during which he acts as both a teammate and a coach and takes the group through plays and directs them through potential defensive schemes they may face.
The healthy competition between the buddies, Breneman and Gesicki, may be one of the most intriguing position battles within that offense to watch this fall. The two are in the same place, after all — hungry for bigger things, and feeling better than ever.