Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson graduated to the NFL last year. Pitt had three new tight ends in the mix this season, and though the unit didn't produce what Byham and Dickerson did in 2009, the unit improved from week-to-week and there is a lot to look forward to from this position in the future.
Byham andDickerson who combined for 59 catches and 10 touchdowns in 2009. Both were instrumental in Pitt's 10-win season. Byham, even moreso a factor in the running game. The lack of his blocking was evident in the early part of the season.
"Obviously, we were young in that area as far as game experience," tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said. "It's been a positive growth (this season), for sure."
As the season wore-on, first-year contributors Mike Cruz and Brock DeCicco got more comfortable and more involved. Cruz, just a redshirt sophomore finished with 17 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns--both of which came in the win over Rutgers . DeCicco's lone catch of the season was a six-yard touchdown reception that came in his first career start, the win at Syracuse. DeCicco went on to make three starts, and developed into a solid run-blocker during the second half of the season.
Andrew Devlin battled some nagging injuries throughout the season, and Justin Virbitsky added some veteran help to the position. This position--as Cruz and DeCicco picked up valuable experience this year--is about to get even stronger. True freshmen Brendon Carozzoni (6-4, 220) and Dan Schneider redshirted this fall. The whole purpose for them is to adjust to the system, to get a little bigger in the weight room and act as scout team players.
Angelichio is very pleased with the progress both players made this season.
"I think they've made strides; they've improved week-to-week," Angelichio said. "They've done a good job as far as having the right attitude and right mindset about the practice.
"It's hard, because they don't get as many of the reps with me (in practice during the week), but I see them in individual drills. They're coming along. Obviously, the spring and the winter is going to be a big part of their development."
The biggest addition to the position--and perhaps the whole team--will be Hubie Graham at tight end. Graham (6-4, 230) originally signed with Illinois. He transferred to Pitt this past offseason with junior eligibility. With him sitting out this past season due to the transfer rule, Graham will be a redshirt junior, along with Cruz next year--who has a full year of starting under his belt. Even though Cruz was a nice option at tight end--and he got better as the season went along--having Graham will be almost as good as having Byham, in terms of run-blocking. He should challenge Cruz for that starting spot. He can do both--catch the ball and block, but whoever is coaching this team next year will enjoy what he can bring to the run game.
"Hubie redshirted and did a nice job on the scout team," Angelichio added. "He had the right attitude, did a great job in the weight room. Obviously, he will be someone that will be looking to contribute next year."
Graham was especially helpful for the team in preparing for opponents like Notre Dame, who had a talented tight end in Kyle Rudolph. Graham acted as Rudolph that week; just one of the examples he helped out the scout team.
"I think for the defense, I don't know what game they used him more, but I know he did a good job with it," Angelichio added.
With Cruz, Graham and DeCicco, Pitt has a solid three at tight end for the next two years at least. Schneider and Carozzoni enter the season with four full years ahead of them. Even though the position took a hit this past year with the losses of Byham and Dickerson, this position is going to be deep and experienced for awhile.