Penn State certainly wants Northwestern to prepare to defend Mike Gesicki — whether the star tight end plays or not.
The answer very likely won’t come until Saturday morning when the Nittany Lions take the field for warm-ups in Evanston.
“No update on Mike,” Lions coach James Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I know you’ve got to ask, and I think you all know what my answer is going to be, but no update. Looks great. … Really no updates. I mean, we expect Mike to play on Saturday, as well as the other tight ends.”
Franklin has long kept his lips sealed on non-season-ending injuries, believing that even the smallest bit of info could be valuable to an opponent. Recently, his boilerplate answer on injured players is that he “expects” them to play or is “hopeful” they can play that week.
Gesicki went down in the second quarter of Saturday’s win over Indiana. The senior caught a pass over the middle and fought through one tackle before being blasted on his left side by All-America linebacker Tegray Scales.
The 6-foot-6 Gesicki crumpled from the hit and lingered on the grass for some time, needing help to get to his feet and to take his first few steps before walking off on his own. He did not return to the field.
Gesicki’s situation could be influenced by the fact that Penn State’s bye week comes after the Northwestern game, and giving a player two full weeks to heal is tempting.
But tight end has arguably the biggest drop-off on the Lions’ roster in terms of experience and production. If Gesicki were not able to play Saturday, sophomore Jonathan Holland would likely get the start and split time with senior walk-on Tom Pancoast, who filled in for a stretch against Ohio State last season when Gesicki was banged up.
Sophomore Nick Bowers’ career has been plagued by injury and has yet to take a snap for the Lions, though he was in uniform vs. Indiana. Likewise, redshirt freshman Danny Dalton has not seen the field. The Big Ten limits travel roster sizes, and Gesicki, Holland and Pancoast were the only tight ends who made the trip to Iowa.
Coaches have given Holland praise for his development from a year ago, which allowed him to move up the depth chart. He has appeared on a few series here and there this season, catching the first two passes of his career.
“The tight ends, we’re excited about the development,” Franklin said. “I think Pancoast has played really well this year in the opportunity that he’s gotten in.
“I think Jonathan Holland has got a very, very bright future and is continuing to grow. He’s another one of those guys learning and understanding patience — when opportunities come, take advantage of them. Obviously he got some opportunities last week. Both of those guys did. There’s going to be more opportunities as this season progresses.”
For the second time in five weeks of the 2017 season, a Penn State defender was named Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.
Linebacker Jason Cabinda won thanks to his career-best 14 tackles against Indiana, which included 1.5 for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Fellow senior Marcus Allen also took home the national award after his Week 2 performance against Pitt. Named after Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, the weekly honor is given to the top defensive player based on performance and character.
On Monday, DaeSean Hamilton and Saquon Barkley were named the Big Ten’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week and Special Teams Player of the Week, respectively.
While Barkley received the conference-wide honor, he wasn’t picked as his own coaches’ top player on special teams. That honor went to Irvin Charles, who quickly hunted down two different Indiana punt returners for tackles, forcing a fumble on the first one that was returned for a touchdown.
Hamilton and Cabinda were picked by the coaches as their top performers on offense and defense vs. the Hoosiers.