Spring Football Assessment: Tight Ends

Hubie Graham is poised for a breakout year in 2011, while Brock DeCicco is the lone returner from last year's group of tight ends.

Starting tight end Mike Cruz left the team prior to spring drills, Andrew Devlin decided to forego his final year of eligibility and Justin Virbitsky was moved to the offensive line. Despite losing these three players from the position for 2011, tight end is still in good shape.

The biggest reason for the tight ends being in good shape is with the addition of three players who sat out in 2010. Hubie Graham is the biggest addition, sitting out last year after transferring in from Illinois. With two years of eligibility, Graham has the opportunity for a big-time role in Pitt's offense this season. Brock DeCicco made three starts last season, catching touchdown passes on both of his receptions. He too will be able to benefit in this offense as a pass-catching tight end.

Graham played in 20 games at Illinois, and was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, the nation's No. 12 tight end. He was beneficial to the team last season on the scout team offense, imitating players such as Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph in preparations for that game.

In the pro-style offense, DeCicco had a good hold of his blocking assignments. Both he and Graham won't be required to do as much blocking, which should open up their production in 2011.

Another three players who redshirted as freshmen in 2011 bolster the position to keep it stocked with depth. Drew Carswell moves over to the tight ends from receiver. Carswell has the ideal size to be good in this offense, at 6-4, 210. The transition for Carswell shouldn't be much of one, being that the tight end, or three-back as it's referred to in this offense, often lines up in the slot.

Brendan Carozzoni and Dan Schneider were also productive in spring, both getting a shot with the first-team while Graham and DeCicco were held out at times in the spring due to injury. It looked like Schneider had worked his way ahead of Carozzoni during a couple of the practices before Schneider went down with a shoulder injury in the last week of spring drills.

The position will add at least two more players to the mix in the fall. Todd Graham has already said that Isaac Bennett—a running back in high school—will start his career with this group. This three-back has run the ball in this offense in the past. Tulsa's Charles Clay—who has been ranked by various outlets as the top fullback prospect for the upcoming NFL Draft—had 43 receptions for 526 yards and seven touchdowns, and another 226 yards rushing on 34 carries (6.6 avg). Sam Collura—the first verbal commit of the 2011 class, who stayed on with his Pitt commitment—will also start off with the tight ends.

Todd Graham has said this position has the chance to run the ball. Bennett fits that mold, while Collura fits more of the Hubie Graham/DeCicco mold—one that can be strictly a pass catcher, even though Collura has blocking abilities too. The tight end may have a different role in this new offense, but the plan is to utilize the abilities of the players they already have, while bringing in new ones like Bennett that can also run the ball out of this position, for the future.

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