Dickerson Gearing For Starting Job

When the Pitt football coaches moved Dorin Dickerson from offense to outside linebacker this past spring, it reminded some about the failed experiment that was Tommy Campbell just a year earlier.

Campbell, like Dickerson, was a talented offensive player in high school and not really in the mold of a typical linebacker. Campbell was the fastest Panthers player, however, and University of Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads believed he needed to get on the field in some capacity.

Campbell wasn't heady enough to handle playing safety and not really big enough to be a linebacker, and he eventually was unsuccessful on the field and off it. Dorin Dickerson is different, though, because he is nearly as fast as Campbell, but he's much bigger at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.

"The first difference is that Dorin is a better tackler in the open field, but I feel that they were very comparable from an athletic standpoint,'' Rhoads said. "They both fly to the football and have some problems changing direction when they need to adjust. But Dorin does a better job finishing plays and getting hands on ball carriers.

"With Dorin, we're working to make sure that he's in the right place at the right time. Then, there's the gray area for a linebacker, when you need to step it up and make a play. Now, Dorin maybe does that too much, and it can cause him to miss plays. So, we need a more consistent level from him, and when he does that he still can be productive.''

Dickerson certainly looks the part to be a standout strong-side linebacker with his size, strength and athleticism. But he knows it's only half the battle.

"I feel pretty good so far, but I'm learning so much and still have a lot to learn,'' Dickerson said. "Coach Rhoads and Coach Wannstedt and Coach Partridge have been a big help, so I feel real comfortable out there. And when I make a mistake, they're right there to tell me what I did wrong.

"So, it's a constant learning process for me. I guess you could say I've been average so far, because there's some stuff I need to work on, but it's up to me to do what it takes to become a more complete player. And I have a much better knowledge about linebackers. I know why guys love to play there.''

Dickerson mentioned that to play linebacker at a high level, like Brian Urlacher does for the Chicago Bears in the NFL or like H.B. Blades did at Pitt the past four years, "you have to be a special person. You need to be smart and physical and tough and fast,'' Dickerson said. "You have to be everything to be a good linebacker, and I definitely see that now.''

It's actually amazing to hear Dickerson talk like this. He is an amazing athlete and was a superb offensive talent in high school at West Allegheny in Imperial, Pa. An all-state performer, Dickerson took direct snaps, ran the football and caught passes as an offensive superstar. On defense, he was a safety utilized for his speed more than his tackling ability.

So, something had to change for Dickerson to go from being a blue-chip recruit as a receiver or running back to being a hard-hitting linebacker of the future for Pitt. And when did it happen?

"My dad always told me to learn as many positions as possible when I was young, just in case I needed to know how to do it, so that's what I did,'' Dickerson said. "I think if they moved me to tight end, I probably could do all right there, too. But I'm really looking forward to being a linebacker. My tackling is improving, but we haven't been going live too much.

"So, it's hard to say since we really can't put a guy down too often. (But) the biggest change for me is that in the beginning I tried to run up there and try to make a big play all the time, but sometimes I ran myself out of the play. You can't get away from your responsibilities. You have to be responsible and accountable for you team to make those good reads and fill your gap.

"If you don't do that, it can affect the team even more,'' Dickerson added. "I might have to give up eight yards to keep the guy from getting 80 yards. So, I have to watch that I don't predetermine things. And the best way to do that is to watch film and learn the game. That way, you can play at a high speed and a high level. So, that's what I've been doing as much as possible.''

Dickerson has shared time as the first-team strong-side linebacker with redshirt junior Adam Gunn, who has been a solid performer during Pitt's training camp. But while Gunn is a secure tackler and more versatile, getting time at middle linebacker as well, he does not have the explosiveness and athleticism that Dickerson brings to the table for the Panthers' defense.

"I feel good and healthy, and I just can't wait for this season to start,'' Dickerson said. "I think I'm improving every day, and I'm preparing myself to have a real good season. So, I'm looking forward to it.''

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