UNIVERSITY PARK — Last season Garry Gilliam spent Saturdays throwing blocks and catching the occasional pass. For the next two years, Gilliam will be primarily protecting the quarterback and opening lanes for Penn State’s running backs.
Gilliam, who will play offensive tackle for the Penn State football team after spending the last three seasons at tight end, was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA on Monday. Gilliam missed the entire 2011 season after a long recovery following an injury in 2010’s Big Ten opener at Iowa.
Then, Gilliam tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee blocking downfield. An infection forced team doctors to wait until May 2011 to perform surgery and as a result, Gilliam had to wait until 2012 to make his return.
When he finally got back onto the field, Gilliam’s impact was felt in head coach Bill O’Brien’s tight end-heavy offensive schemes as a valued blocker at the “Y” tight end spot. When called upon, Gilliam was able to provide an intermediate receiving threat, catching seven passes for 65 yards. He played in every game last season.
“I’m very excited to be able to continue to help Penn State and to be a part of such an important period in our history,” Gilliam said in a release from the athletic department.
Now, the 6-foot-6 Gilliam’s blocking skills will be used on a more frequent basis. Listed at 262 pounds at the beginning of last season, Gilliam has packed on the pounds to facilitate his position change and is now around 290 pounds, according to a Penn State spokesperson. Penn State’s depth at the tight end position also likely figured into Gilliam moving to tackle.
Penn State returns sophomores Kyle Carter and Jesse James in addition to senior Matt Lehman to the spot. Fresh off a redshirt season, former four-star recruit Brent Wilkerson could challenge for playing time in the offense. Highly touted prospect Adam Breneman, who missed his senior season at Cedar Cliff High School with an ACL tear, has also joined the team’s deep tight end corps, enrolling in school last month.
Gilliam started eight games at tight end last season. It is unclear whether he will play right or left tackle, although the Nittany Lions have an opening on the right side following Mike Farrell’s graduation. Farrell started all 12 games at that spot last season while then-juniors Adam Gress and Eric Shrive played some snaps, too. Sophomore left tackle Donovan Smith also returns to the offensive line.
Carter, an All-Big Ten selection by the media last season, was on pace to break numerous Penn State receiving records for a tight end before a wrist injury sustained against Nebraska sidelined him for the final two games of the season. James and Lehman combined for 39 catches for 572 yards and eight touchdowns in nine starts last season.
Big Ten leaders concerned over new recruiting rules
Coaches and athletic directors from Big Ten schools met in Illinois on Monday and expressed concerns over proposals put forward by the NCAA Board of Directors in January that will deregulate recruiting guidelines.
Big Ten officials are concerned over three specific NCAA proposals that remove limitations on how many coaches can visit a certain recruit, how many times coaches can contact recruits and the removal of regulations on recruiting materials such as videos and printed manuals that can be distributed amongst recruits.
“We have serious concerns whether these proposals, as currently written, are in the best interest of high school student-athletes, their families and their coaches,” the Big Ten stated in a release. “We are also concerned about the adverse effect they would have on college coaches, administrators and university resources.”
For now, the Big Ten is asking the NCAA to hold off on implementing the proposals, some of which will take effect July 1.
When asked about the new recruiting rules, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said he wasn’t the best coach to ask as he is only entering his second year as a head coach. But O’Brien did hint Penn State wouldn’t alter its recruiting strategy based on what other schools might do to take advantage of the new rules.
“We’re in the process of looking at that right now. Every day we spend part of the day on recruiting, how are we going to handle unlimited text messaging, unlimited visits to schools, whatever it may be,” O’Brien said. “We’re never going to join the ranks of the wild, wild west, I can promise you that. We’re going to do things the right way at Penn State.”
Penn Staters get combine grades
Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill and Matt Stankiewitch were announced as invitees to this month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
NFL scouts have graded each one in preparation for the annual event, set to take place from Feb. 23-26.
Hodges, who NFL scouts project as a coverage linebacker and a second-day selection in April’s NFL Draft, is the highest rated of the foursome (72.4) according to scouting profiles on the NFL’s web site. Mauti, described as an “extremely intuitive and instinctual player” with “sound” abilities to take on ball carriers and shed blockers, received a pre-combine grade of 71.8 by NFL scouts.
Hill and Stankiewitch are rated at 64.6 and 52.2, respectively. Scouts like Hill’s ability to fight off blockers with his hands but deride his overall lack of height for an NFL defensive lineman. Hill is listed at 6-foot-1. In grading Stankiewitch, scouts were impressed with Stankiewitch’s motor, describing him as a “relentless worker” but observed a tendency of Stankiewitch to struggle against stronger players.
Former Nittany Lions not invited to the combine will have a chance to audition for NFL teams at Penn State’s annual pro day on March 11.