Penn State is down a man after one game. The Nittany Lions are hoping that’s where it stops this week.
The good news for the Lions is that injuries to linebacker Mike Hull (knee) and Kyle Carter (arm) are not serious and both are considered to be day-to-day for Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan.
They won’t, however, have Matt Lehman.
Lions coach Bill O’Brien confirmed what most suspected. The senior tight end suffered a serious knee injury in the opener against Syracuse and will miss the rest of the season, ending his Penn State career.
“Any time you have the type of player or person that Matt Lehman is go down, it’s not good. It’s not good,” O’Brien said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I just absolutely love guys like that who overcame the odds. He comes here, he tries out and a year later he’s on scholarship.”
O’Brien said he feels the athletic, 6-foot-6 Lehman can still have a future in football. He used former Penn State captain Michael Mauti as an example, citing Mauti’s rehab from torn ACL in November to making the Minnesota Vikings roster this week.
As for the Lions?
“Next man up,” O’Brien said.
Penn State entered the season with a wealth of talent at tight end — arguably the deepest position on the team — but that depth is quickly being tested. Lehman is out and redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson had back surgery over the summer that will keep him sidelined indefinitely.
That will mean more snaps for true freshman Adam Breneman, who made his college debut against the Orange after tearing an ACL himself last summer before his senior year of high school.
Breneman could really be thrust into the spotlight if Carter is unable to play against the Eagles, possibly vaulting him into the starting spot at F-tight end opposite Jesse James.
Another option for O’Brien is fewer tight end-heavy packages and more looks with three wideouts, increasing snaps for players like Eugene Lewis, Matt Zanellato and Alex Kenney.
On defense, the Lions survived for much of the Syracuse game without Hull thanks to the play of senior Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. The safety/linebacker hybrid will continue to practice with both units this week and would likely start in Hull’s place if needed on Saturday.
If Penn State could afford to rest Hull or Carter for a week, this game would probably be it. Eastern Michigan is widely considered to be the weakest opponent on the schedule this season.