STATE?COLLEGE - A year ago, Kyle Carter was all the rage as he was considered Penn State's best tight end following a stellar freshman season that included 36 catches.
Things are different this year, though, as Jesse James has received all the preseason hype as PSU's most promising tight end, while Carter will be trying to rebound from a sophomore slump.
Carter suffered an elbow injury in the opener against Syracuse last season, and he was never fully the all-around caliber of player most expected to see. He finished with only 18 catches, half the total from his freshman year.
"I felt like I was healthy throughout the whole year," Carter said. "I played every single game."
He was on the field playing, true, but he clearly wasn't 100 percent.
"Playing football, you're never 100 percent," Carter said. "Ever since I started playing football, my body never felt 100 percent."
He showed flashes of being an excellent receiving tight end two years ago, catching everything in sight, but Carter wasn't as reliable last season and dropped his share of passes.
"I can't use (injuries) as an excuse or anything like that," Carter said. "I was on the field. Plays were there to be made - you make some, you don't make some. It's nothing that I can blame on an injury."
While Carter struggled, James emerged as a big weapon from the tight end spot and wound up third on the team with 25 catches. James' freakish combination of size (6-foot 7, 272 pounds) and athletic ability have been a major focal point during the preseason, and he's expected to enjoy a big year.
Carter hasn't exactly been overlooked - he's still a big part of one of the country's best tight end groups - but expectations for him are more tempered than they were one year ago. The 6-3, 241-pound junior admitted he is motivated to live up to his freshman numbers.
"As a player, that's definitely something you want to do," he said. "You hear a lot of chit chat from a lot of different people. I just know I can go out there, do what I have to do."
Carter is happy for the recognition James is receiving and said, "Jesse, that's my guy." All of the tight ends push and motivate each other, which is how things must be on a team.
But there's only one ball. And all of the tight ends want to catch it as much as possible.
To do so, the tight ends have to compete day in and day out with one another, simply because there are so many good players on the team at that spot, including Adam Breneman, Brent Wilkerson and Mike Gesicki.
"You've got to earn the right to catch the ball, you've got to earn the right to be on the field for as many plays as you can get," James said. "There's only so many plays in the game, so you've got to work for each rep and give your all on every rep."
"At the end of the day we're all friends," Carter added, "but there's only one ball, and there's definitely some friendly competition."
The tight ends don't do a lot of talking, James said, and instead let their play do the talking for them. They are positive with one another and enjoy watching film and helping each other get better, which in turn will help the team.
And helping the team is the most important thing, by far, because the Nittany Lions will have to rely heavily on the tight ends this season.
The wide receiving corps is young and inexperienced, and coach James Franklin said earlier this week that the tight ends will be counted on to pick up a bulk of the production now that Allen Robinson and his school-record 97 catches are in the NFL.
"That will be cool," Carter said of the extra opportunities. "We definitely have to prove we deserve those catches this training camp."