Drew Carswell has found a way to the field in his redshirt freshman year.
The 6-4, 210-pound receiver from Sto-Rox made a slight move from receiver to three-back position for the start of training camp. The three-back position is a hybrid receiver/tight end position. As the coaching staff goes through transition, they have a true tight end—Hubie Graham—who is best suited for this position. As the staff gets its own players to fit the system, we'll see this position transition to a player who can act as a running back, in some cases a receiver, or act like a pass-catching tight end like that of the more traditional schemes.
Technically, Carswell started learning the position back in the spring, but did not participate in spring drills due to injury. At times, especially in recent games, Carswell has found himself back at receiver.
"When (Todd Graham) came, at the beginning of camp, he said they wanted to see me at three-back," Carswell said. "I tried it out. It was good at first."
What's good for Carswell, is that even in this transition, the coaching staff has found ways to use him at both receiver and at the three-back. Injuries have forced Carswell back to receiver, but he will still have an opportunity to play both. Though it requires learning two positions, Carswell is all for it. He sees it as a way to get himself on the field even more.
"I guess they feel like I'm more productive at receiver, than at the three-back position," Carswell said. "Actually, for my size, I can play both positions. I guess now, they're trying to work packages for me to play both receiver and at three-back. (The defense) can't key on one player."
Even though Carswell was moved to three-back, Hubie Graham is there and leads the group with 24 catches for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Brendan Carozzoni has also been in the rotation, playing in nine games, and starting in that Cincinnati contest. Anthony Gonzalez—following a two-game suspension—has made the transition from quarterback. Tony Dews is in charge of coaching the three-backs. He says you can never have enough at the position.
"When you sub them, you can hold the ball, and we can't go as fast as we like," Dews added. "Going forward, I hope we can really develop those guys—whether it be Hubie or whoever. One guy would be ideal. Until one of them can do that, it also helps to be able to get different guys on the field. I'm excited, having four or five guys that are playing and contributing to the team."
Proving Dews' point, Graham, Gonzalez and Carswell have at least nine receptions on the season. Even for more conventional offenses, who use multiple tight ends—one is a pass catcher, and another is used as an extra blocker. Pitt's offense distributes the ball to its tight ends a little differently.
"Somebody does do something better than the other one," Dews said. "It's kind of a thing where you find what someone's weakness is, and you work on that to bring them up to speed. Obviously, everybody does something well. I want to find out what they do the worst and try to help them improve in that area.
"Injuries are a part of it, as you all can see this season. I believe in developing kids so that if one kid goes down, then the next guy that steps in has never taken a rep, has never worked on anything—you kind of push him to the side, and he's not being developed. Then, you're in a world of hurt. I really believe in trying to develop all of them and get them all to do everything we do, so that you have the ability to do that when they get an opportunity to play."
Carswell has played in all ten games this season, and has nine catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. The lone touchdown came against Iowa—just his third college game. He set a career-high with three catches for 45 yards against Cincinnati. Since the season-ending injuries to Cameron Saddler and Salath Williams, Carswell is back at receiver.
"I think (Graham) would like me to play a position like that; just ways to get me on the field, ways to move me around," Carswell adds.
Based on the number of hybrid positions, however, this doesn't mean Carswell's days at the three-back are done. In fact, there's still ways he can appear at both positions. For now, he's seeing more time at receiver. In the long run, Carswell will continue to see time at both positions until one of two things happens. One will be based on matchups as we've seen from some other hybrid positions on both sides of the ball. The other will be if Carswell, in this case, finds a niche at one over the other. Either way, what Carswell is doing is symbolic of how this coaching staff develops its players and how their development helps the offense keeps opposing coaches second-guessing.
"He's playing a little of both," Dews said. "He's kind of moving in between Coach Norvell and the receivers, and myself for most of the season. It's nice to have a guy that can do both. He's a very talented kid. He works hard. When I get him, I enjoy him. Then he goes over there and plays receiver, and gets to be in the newspaper; that kind of thing."