James Franklin is optimistic about the evolution of tight end Jon Holland

Despite playing behind Mike Gesicki and Tom Pancoast, Jon Holland has shown head coach James Franklin "flashes" of what he's capable of doing at the tight end spot.
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Despite playing behind Mike Gesicki and Tom Pancoast, Jon Holland has shown head coach James Franklin "flashes" of what he's capable of doing at the tight end spot.
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Penn State Football

Penn State TE Jonathan Holland impresses at practice, while Mike Gesicki watches

By John McGonigal

jmcgonigal@centredaily.com

October 04, 2017 08:45 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK

Jonathan Holland boxed out his practice squad defender on a deep crossing route in the back of the end zone closest to Holuba Hall and came down with a touchdown grab on Wednesday evening.

Senior Mike Gesicki — dressed for practice without shoulder pads underneath his white No. 88 jersey and holding a helmet by his side — watched his fellow tight end from behind Penn State’s red zone session.

James Franklin said at his Tuesday press conference that he expects Gesicki, who sustained a hit to his lower left back against Indiana, to play at Northwestern. Despite praise for Holland and Gesicki standing idly by, Franklin didn’t rescind that Tuesday statement.

“I think the coaching staff and players have a lot of confidence in what he’s going to do,” Franklin said Wednesday of Holland. “But, you know, I feel better about Mike every single day. So we’ll see what comes out of that.”

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Gesicki is a major piece to Penn State’s offense. The 6-foot-6 matchup nightmare has seven touchdowns in his last eight games and 20 catches already this season. He’s also been a model of durability. Gesicki has played in 43 of 45 possible games throughout his career.

If Gesicki misses his first game since the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, Holland would be the replacement. When Gesicki left the field on Saturday, the Maryland redshirt sophomore filled in along with Tom Pancoast. Holland and Pancoast split reps right down the middle — 20 each against Indiana — according to 247 Sports.

But Holland was working with the first-team during the practice session open to media and is listed as the No. 2 tight end on Penn State’s depth chart.

“He’s a guy who’s been steadily evolving and growing,” Franklin said of Holland. “Like a lot of them, early on he wasn’t as patient as he needed to be. He’s behind a really good player. But Jon’s a guy who we’ve seen flashes of through the spring game, game situations, practice situations. He’s got a bright future.”

Still, at least for the near future, it’s looking like Gesicki will be the guy on Saturday.

Learning from Hack

Christian Hackenberg was a polarizing presence at Penn State, a player most people had strong feelings — positive or negative — about. The Nittany Lions’ all-time leading passer stunned and sputtered in his three years in Happy Valley, all the while receiving praise and criticism from local and national media alike.

Trace McSorley picked up a thing or two sitting behind Hackenberg for a couple seasons. McSorley redshirted in 2014 and seldom saw the field the following season, kicking back while Hackenberg regressed statistically and wowed in spots.

“The thing that helped me out in dealing with the media and you guys was his demeanor and how he did it,” McSorley said. “That dude got arguably some of the worst media coverage that anyone’s gotten in the last few years here. He dealt with it. He kept a level head. He never let it get to him too much.

“He was focused and knew the important things. He knew the opinions of the important people, the ones that really mattered were the ones in the football building. He took everything with a grain of salt.”

Charles impressing teammates

Irvin Charles was Penn State’s special teams player of the week against Indiana, and his teammates believe he earned it.

Charles — who had two tackles and a forced fumble on punt coverage that resulted in a 13-yard scoop-and-score by Nick Scott — was called a “ballhawk” by punter Blake Gillikin.

“He always makes the play. I don’t think he’s missed a tackle this year,” Gillikin said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s invaluable to me. Whenever he makes a play, I’m the happiest guy in the entire stadium. Ultimately, he’s helping our punt team out.”

Scott, Penn State’s special teams captain, agreed, saying the gunner’s athleticism at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds intimidates opponents.

“Guys out there guarding him, it’s either a speed problem or a strength problem because he has both,” the safety said. “He’s really elite when it comes to special teams. He’s bought in, and he’s making some huge plays for us.

“He’s been huge, and we’re looking forward to him making more splash plays in the future.”

Quotable

“He got it there, and it went for 7. You can’t really critique points.” — Scott said of Saquon Barkley’s form on his eight-yard touchdown pass to DaeSean Hamilton on Saturday. When Scott was a running back in 2015, Scott tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Hackenberg against Illinois.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9