John Strollo knows he isn't seeing -- or leading -- a revolution.
John Strollo says Penn State's tight ends have as many responsibilities as anyone but the quarterback.
Yes, Penn State tight ends are catching a lot more passes this season than they have in recent years, as well as more passes than any other group of tight ends in major college football this season.
But John Mackey, the man for whom the award to the nation's top college tight end is named, was doing things in the 1960s for the Baltimore Colts the same things that Kyle Carter and Jesse James and Matt Lehman are doing for the Nittany Lions now. And when Strollo was coaching with Bill O'Brien at Duke six years ago, they had a tight end named Ben Patrick, who went on to play briefly with the Arizona Cardinals, that had some serious ability, too.
Big guys running down the field making big catches might seem a novel idea here, but it's simply part of a larger offensive mindset by Penn State's chief offensive architect, Strollo said Thursday during a conference call with reporters.
"I don't think this is a big revelation," Strollo said. "I think what Coach O'Brien and the Patriots and now Penn State have done is we've used anybody who has unique talents. Just let them use those talents. … If we had a lot of running backs, Coach O'Brien would probably develop something along those lines."
O'Brien has used a lot of running backs this season but he has most assuredly gotten Strollo's charges involved in the passing game. Before suffering a season-ending wrist injury last week at Nebraska, Carter, a redshirt freshman had made 36 catches for 453 yards this season, second on the team in both categories, and grabbed two touchdowns. Lehman, James and Garry Gilliam have added 36 grabs and seven more touchdowns between them.
Penn State, as the Patriots did with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski under O'Brien, finds different ways to get the tight ends the ball. To Strollo, though, a big part of it is a simple strategy used by all football coaches.
"If you think about it, you get the ball to the playmakers," Strollo said. "If you have a playmaker, that's what you do. The only guy you can't get the ball to is an offensive lineman."
Strollo coached the offensive lines at Elon and Ball State after coaching the same position at Duke from 2005-07. That has helped him teach his players, which also include promising freshman Brent Wilkerson, another important aspect of their duties. And at Penn State, Strollo said, the tight ends have a lot of duties.
"He's the only guy on offense that has to know more is the quarterback, and the quarterback doesn't have as many skills," he said. "It's a multitasking sort of thing. He has to know all the formations, basically know everything. You have to be very careful of your time management. We spend about 30 minutes a week on blocking in practice. Everything else is formations and routes and various things that the quarterback has to do that we have to be in tune with. When they're blocking, they're linemen. When they're (lined up as) wideouts and they're blocking, they're wideouts."
Penn State had already secured an oral commitment from Top247 tight end Adam Breneman by the time the season began, but Strollo, O'Brien and some talented young playmakers have since showed future tight end prospects what they can expect if they decide to come to State College, whether it's revolutionary or not.
"I think that anybody who plays tight end would be interested in what we're doing here," Strollo said.