The Byham Effect

There are those who believe that Pitt junior tight end Nate Byham should be catching at least a handful of passes each game and don't believe he's had a successful performance unless that happens.

However, with the way things have transpired during three years in the football program, Nate Byham certainly has no delusions about his place in the Pittsburgh offense even though he caught four passes for 69 yards with a long catch for 28 yards in the win against West Virginia.

"I'm definitely happy to make some big catches, and I'm very comfortable with the ball in my hands,'' Byham said. "But it just happened to be my day. Bill was able to get the ball to me, and I was able to make some plays. (But) I believe I'm a very versatile player, not just a receiver or not just a blocking tight end.

"They can move me around. I can play the H, and I can play the Y. So, I can be a receiver or go down and block. Whatever I need to do that week, I'm happy with that. When I don't catch a lot of passes in a game, people ask me how I feel about not being involved in the offense. But I tell them I had five pancakes as a blocker, and Shady ran for more than 100 yards.

"So, if that's my role, I'm content with it,'' Byham added. "I want to be a well-rounded tight end. I don't want to be a tight end who catches seven passes a game with two touchdowns, but can't block a lick. That isn't going to help our team as much as I could, and it won't help me develop for the next level.''

And that's the key, really, for Byham. While he develops into a complete tight end for the Panthers, he's improving his status for the NFL Draft in 2010. Sure, he doesn't have the receiving numbers to get noticed, but his strength and athleticism certainly have made him quite a well-rounded player so far.

And he can only get better. In the season finale for No. 23 Pitt (8-3) against Connecticut (7-4) Saturday at noon at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., Byham could make an impact with a few big catches. However, he's more likely to change the game with a devastating block to spring tailback LeSean McCoy for a big run. That's because the Huskies will be primed to stop McCoy.

"They have a very stout defense,'' Byham said. "They're not the 10th-ranked defense in the country for no reason. They're very good at stopping the run, so they're going to provide me with a good matchup with their D-ends and linebackers. It's going to be a big challenge, but I'm ready to take it on.''

By all accounts, Pitt tight ends coach Brian Angelichio has done a fine job molding the Panthers tight end trio of Byham, junior Dorin Dickerson and redshirt junior John Pelusi into a versatile group. Sure, all three have specific talents, but their development has been so complete that they're closer than one might think.

Byham has 17 catches for 222 yards (13.1 average) in the 11 games, while Dickerson has 11 for 137 (12.5). And Pelusi has chipped in with five catches for 37 yards (7.4), but Dickerson is the only one who has reached the end end zone. He caught a 41-yard scoring pass at Cincinnati to go with a two-yard TD catch at Syracuse and also has two carries for 25 yards.

"I try not to label them as being better blockers, receivers or runners, and I tell them that,'' Angelichio said. "And during practice, we can call any play for any of the tight ends, and all three can run it. It doesn't matter what play it is. That's how the position has evolved.

"Sure, some can do certain things a little better than others and we might rather have them in the game to do it, but they pretty much can everything in the game plan. And in practice, they're all getting those reps. ... It's all dictated by the coverage and how they react.''

If past games are an indication, Connecticut will run the ball until Pitt forces it to throw. Defensively, the Panthers will face an aggressive front four that's buoyed by talented linebacking and a solid secondary. Pitt has not won at UConn, including two years ago when the Huskies scored twice late to send the game into overtime and won it in double-overtime.

"That game was crazy two years ago,'' Byham said. "As a freshman, I really didn't know too much about them and their program. We went up there. It was a big game for us, and it was a heart-breaking loss. They had a great crowd. It was very noisy, and we expect the same thing this year. They have a great fan base. It's probably going to very cold, but that doesn't bother either team.

"It should be a real good matchup. (But) we played at South Florida, a wild crowd, it was packed there for a Thursday night game. Navy's homecoming game, that was packed. Playing at Notre Dame, it's always a tough road game, but we just seem to come together more on the road. We only are concerned with our team and the 11 guys in our huddle and what we need to do.''

Angelichio believed that tossing the ball to either of his three tight ends is an easier throw for quarterback Bill Stull to make when an opponent loads the box to stop the run. And that's what happened against WVU.

"We're going to try to take the best matchups that we can get, so it all depends how a defense will treat a tight end package,'' Angelichio said. "So, if it's advantageous for us to use 2-3 tight ends on the field to get a certain look, then we'll do that. So, that's a positive for us.

"And since our tight ends each give us something different we really can get into different aspects of our offense, and that's unique because of the depth we have there. (And) you can't always judge their contribution by catches. They can dictate what a defense does just by being on the field.

"We've used all three tight ends in a game at the same time,'' Angelichio added. "Typically, that shows up on the goal line, but it can happen at other times as well in normal downs. Obviously, we'll use a lot of two tight ends and can alternate back and forth in those situations.''

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