More Expected From Pitt Tight Ends

The Pitt football team expected big things from senior tight ends Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson this season, and the Panthers got just a glimpse during their opening game against Youngstown State.

Look for more from Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson when Pittsburgh visits Buffalo Saturday at noon at BU Stadium.

"One of the groupings that we'd really like to put on the field is the two-tight end group with Nate and Dorin,'' Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said. "They give us the flexibility to line up in different formations. They give us the flexibility to run the ball and to pass the ball. We can run our entire offensive package out of that grouping.''

The two were on the field together for "at least 30 percent of the snaps, maybe more,'' Cignetti noted. And the Panthers even used three tight ends on occasion with redshirt freshman Mike Cruz joining the group.

Cruz has been unavailable to the media for comment since training camp, but as his playing time and contribution increase so will his interview requests.

Dickerson led Pitt with four catches, but they went for just 26 total yards. One reception, however, was a 13-yard touchdown toss from fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull.

"That was great,'' Dickerson said. "I played a lot of snaps, and it was fantastic to catch that touchdown pass. But my main goal is to help the team in any way that I can, and if that's blocking for our running backs then that's what I'll do.

"(But) we didn't show too much against Youngstown. Our offense was pretty vanilla against them, but we expect to do a little more this week. And I'll definitely be ready for that.''

The Panthers also could do more with their tight ends because Byham is healthier this week. He didn't practice much in the past few weeks, due to a concussion suffered during training camp, and he wasn't used much against the Penguins in the opener other than some blocking in two-tight sets.

"I feel great this week, so I'm ready to go,'' Byham said. "I felt pretty good last week, too, and I could've done more. But we really didn't need more from me, so why take a chance. I didn't practice much, but I'm at full speed now. So, we hope to open it up a little bit more with our tight ends and the passing game.

"Our main emphasis last week was to show that we can run the ball, and I'm sure it'll be that way every week. Obviously, we'll try to throw the ball as well, but our emphasis will be to control the line and run the ball. And with our tight ends, we're a big part of that, but we feel like we can make plays in the passing game, too. So, we can't wait to use our full offensive repertoire.''

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt likes the idea of having two big-play tight ends in the offensive game plan this season.

"Nate's one of the best players on the team,'' Wannstedt said. "He's a leader and All-Big East Player, and he's a major part of what we're doing. He's healthy now. ... On the other side, Dorin Dickerson can make plays. We need to find ways to get him the ball.''

That's just fine with Dickerson.

"I'll take whatever I get, but I definitely would like to get the ball as much as possible,'' Dickerson said. "Nate would, too, I'm sure. And so would all the receivers, but we know that the Pitt football team is a running team first to set up the passing game.''

Cignetti agreed, to a certain extent, but added that the Panthers could be successful with their passing game if necessary.

"This offense is built on not only running the ball and protecting the quarterback, but all the contingencies,'' Cignetti said. "So, if we get into a football game where we have to rely on the pass, we're more than ready to do so. ... We have a great play-action game.

"We have a great quarterback-movement passing game. We have the three-step, five-step, seven-step passing games. And then, the contingencies of third-down passing, red-zone passing, goal-zone passing. So, yeah, we feel very confident in our passing game.''

And Byham and Dickerson should be a big part of that.

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