UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Surely when Garry Gilliam proposed his master plan to Bill O'Brien after last season, he was the first person to do such a thing. Gilliam, a tight end in an offense that is Shangri-La for tight ends, told the Penn State coach he wanted to be an offensive tackle.
That's right, Gilliam volunteered to be an offensive lineman. Rather than have the opportunity to catch passes and do the things athletes dream about doing, he wanted to hit and get hit over and over. As O'Brien put it, Gilliam's practices went from "catching passes all the time to about 1,000 car crashes."
But Gilliam did this on his own volition. And today, either he or Adam Gress should be Penn State's starting right offensive tackle. Either way, O'Brien said Gilliam will play and that he has been impressed with Gilliam's strides in the past year since changing his position.
That discussion about the position change took place when O'Brien was individually interviewing all his players. Gilliam thought about his options.
Penn State vs. Syracuse, 3:30 p.m., MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. Penn State is favored by 8.5.
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Biggest position battle not involving quarterback is at safety -- will it be Ryan Keiser or Malcolm Willis? ... Secondary hopes to force more turnovers this year after recording only three interceptions in 2012. ... Coach Bill O'Brien said, like always, the offense will do what he thinks is necessary to win.
Many key defensive players return, including LBs Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis, but Orange ranked 48th in total defense last year. ... The Orange have not picked a starting quarterback (Drew Allen or Terrel Hunt) or running back (Jerome Smith or Prince-Tyson Gulley). Tyson-Gulley and Smith combined for 2,001 yards last season.
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Penn State and Syracuse have played 70 times, with the Nittany Lions holding a 40-23-5 advantage.
In 2012, he had caught seven passes. He saw a bunch of other talented tight ends around him. Realizing his greatest strength was blocking, he said he thought becoming a tackle would lead to more playing time.
"With all the tight ends we had anyway, why waste a decent blocker?" Gilliam said.
To get in shape to be a tackle, Gilliam said he added about 40 pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame and is now listed at 303 pounds for his senior year. He said adding the weight felt natural.
"For me to stay at like 265 or 270, I was eating grilled chicken and salad," he said. "I knew that if I wanted to gain weight, I could just eat more like a normal athlete."
Gilliam missed most of spring practice with a calf injury. Since then, he has adjusted quickly to his new role, and an injury to Gress increased his responsibilities this past week.
Now Gilliam has progressed to the point where O'Brien believes the level of play won't drop off between him and Gress. In other words, he made the transition.
"It's tough," O'Brien said. "When you move from tight end to tackle, that's not the easiest move."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.