The powerful senior has become a punishing blocker, but his sure hands and solid route-running also make him a dangerous pass-catcher.
However, through two games, Nate Byham appeared to be the forgotten man in the Pittsburgh offense with no catches and no yardage, just a lot of sore defensive players from absorbing his devastating blocks. But that changed in Game 3 for Byham, who pulled in two catches for 39 yards.
"Last week at this time, everybody wanted to know about Nate,'' Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said. "But it worked out in the progression of reads that Nate caught a couple balls last week. So, we have great confidence in our players. (And) I think we're in a good situation offensively.''
After three seasons as a supporting player in Pitt's offense, Byham should be used to it by now. In fact, the Panthers' tight ends have not been among the primary options for years, as Byham has 37 career catches (13.6 yards per catch) and three touchdowns, one each season.
"It's one thing that I've not let myself get too upset about, not being involved in the passing game,'' Byham said. "I had ... my first two catches, and a lot of people asked me if I was happy to finally be involved. But at the same time, it's not like I felt that I was being pushed aside in the passing game.
"Our offense can be potent in so many ways. We have a lot of guys who can make catches and make runs after that, and we have very talented running backs. We've shown that the past three weeks. So, we have so many weapons that we can utilize, but it all depends on what the defense gives us.''
While wideout Jonathan Baldwin and tight end Dorin Dickerson lead the Panthers with 13 catches each, quarterback Bill Stull has spread the ball around to 11 different receivers, including himself. Add those numbers to a running game that averages 174 yards per game and 5.3 per carry, and Pitt is as diverse as it can get on offense at this point.
"I definitely think we can be very potent, too,'' Byham said. "All the skill positions and the guys up front, I would take our guys over the players on every team that we play. I'm very confident in Dion. And as we've seen the past couple weeks, Hank's made a big impression at fullback. Our wide receiving corps, I wouldn't take anybody over our receivers or me and Dorin at tight end.
"(And) so far, our O-line's been doing a great job. I know some people believe that they're undersized, but they're strong, fast guys who get the job done. They're some hard-nosed guys. So, Bill's done a great job the past few weeks, and as long as he keeps developing I don't think anybody's going to be able to stop our offense. It's going to be real tough to stop.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt likes a power running game, and that means the Panthers usually run behind redshirt junior left tackle Jason Pinkston and senior left guard Joe Thomas. Pitt also uses redshirt sophomore fullback Henry Hynoski as a lead blocker and Byham pancaking the opposition on either side.
"That's what I take the most pride in,'' Byham said. "Coach (tight ends coach Brian Angelichio) asked us what we wanted to see on film, what we were happy about what we did (against Navy), and I was talking about making a second effort on my blocks and finishing my blocks.
"He asked about my (24-yard) catch, and I said: 'That, too.' But first things first. We have to establish a running game first in every game that we play before we can count on our passing game. We have to be able to run the ball. ... So, I take pride in making sure that my guy doesn't make the tackle.''
Byham has been so successful that Wannstedt and Cignetti move him around depending on the defensive set and which players are the top pass-rushers.
"To run the football (successfully), you need to have a tight end that will block,'' Wannstedt said. "Nate, he made a catch in the Navy game that was as good as any catch we've had by any receiver or tight end all year. So, we know he can catch the ball. He's proven that he can the ball and make plays.
"But depending on the game plan and what the defense does will determine how much he's involved from a passing-game standpoint. So, we'll run to his side and throw to him all day if it works out that way. (But) when pro people come in, the thing they love about him is that he is the full package.
"The NFL people are looking for guys who can run and block and catch and are smart and tough,'' Wannstedt added. "That's what they look for first and foremost. And when you use those words, you're describing Nate Byham.''
But that's not surprising for a prototype tight end like Byham.
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