Penn State Football: Freshmen Make Unexpected Impact in 2012

John McGonigal@@jmcgonigal9Correspondent IIOctober 31, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 15: Tight end Kyle Carter #87 of the Penn State Nittany Lions lines up against the Navy Midshipmen at Beaver Stadium on September 15, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

As conventional wisdom tells us, the most seasoned and experienced veterans in any realm of work are expected to lead.

This applies to most aspects of life, including sports and specifically—football.  

However, conventional wisdom doesn't always work out as it's supposed to, and this 2012 Penn State team backs that idea up.

As soon as former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien took over the job as head coach for the Nittany Lions, he's made his opinions known about the attitude of his senior class.

Whether it was after the sanctions came down or right before the Ohio game, O'Brien has absolutely raved about the will and leadership of his senior class.

With guys like Matt McGloin and Michael Mauti along with others stepping up, it's easy to point to them as the reason why Penn State has five wins with four games left on the 2012 slate.

However, one thing that should not be understated has been the impact by Lions' first year contributors—the freshmen.

On the offensive side of the ball, it's been particularly interesting to see how O'Brien has utilized the weapons he has after the departure of Silas Redd and Justin Brown.

We all know what type of turnaround season McGloin is having along with a breakout campaign by Allen Robinson.

But, what about the freshman duo at the tight end position, Kyle Carter and Jesse James?

Carter, who redshirted the 2011 season, has proven to be arguably McGloin's favorite target recently considering his production.

Not only is the Delaware product able to lineup as a normal tight end, but he also possesses the versatility and athleticism to split out wide and create matchup problems with cornerbacks and safeties—forging a valuable option for the Lions' attack.  

On the season, Carter has 35 catches, 441 yards and two touchdown grabs, including four games where he went over 70 yards receiving.  

In James' case, I was disappointed with him earlier in the year, mostly for blowing his blocking assignment on the blocked PAT attempt against Virginia.

However, he's really panned out well for the Lions this year, using his 6-foot-7, 267 pound frame to create mismatches.

While he only has six receptions and 74 yards on the year, James has produced when given the opportunity, including a 31-yard score that opened the onslaught against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

O'Brien was expected to implement the tight end position in the offensive scheme and he hasn't disappointed.

One the defensive side of the ball, it's also been the play of a true freshman and a redshirt frosh that's elevated the Lions' play thus far in 2012.

DaQuan Davis, a name who wasn't talked about much coming into 2012, has provided reliable help to a secondary that has struggled with serious depth issues.

The true freshman hasn't started at all, but he's played in every game this year and has given defensive coordinator Ted Roof a trustworthy, young corner behind Stephon Morris and Adrian Amos.

On the defensive line, Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley came into the season with high expectations, while other members of the front four took the back seat.

However, redshirt freshman Deion Barnes has stepped in for oft-injured senior Pete Massaro and done a phenomenal job so far.

The defensive end has started six of eight games, totaling 16 total tackles and leading the team in sacks (four).

Barnes should be making D-line coach Larry Johnson Sr. proud this year and it looks like he has the tools to be the next versatile defensive end NFL product to come from Penn State.

Bottom line, the Nittany Lion seniors have done a stand-up job at leading this team, but the future isn't lost if younger players are able to step up like these guys.   


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