Byham Not Bummed Out

Some might wonder if Pitt tight end Nate Byham's NFL Draft status has been hampered or he's disenchanted with the Panthers since the 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior doesn't have many catches this season.

Nate Byham has just six catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns in eight games this fall, while fellow tight end and classmate Dorin Dickerson has 32 receptions for 332 yards and an NCAA-best nine receiving touchdowns.

But since that hasn't been Byham's only contribution for the University of Pittsburgh (7-1, 4-0) on offense, he had nothing but praises for the Panthers this season.

"It started out, coming into the season, I thought I'd get a few more balls thrown my way during my senior year,'' Byham said. "But once it started to progress, I learned my role in this offense.

"The offense is different than it was in the past, so my role is different. But I'm very content with it. I feel like I'm doing a great job just doing what they ask me to do in this offense, and that's really all I can do.''

Byham played in 11 games with one start as a freshman in 2006 and caught just two passes for 34 yards, but one went for a touchdown. A scholastic basketball all-star at Franklin, Pa. High School, Byham gained size but maintained his athleticism after a year in the program.

His blocking and catches improved considerably to 15 catches for 210 yards and one score as a sophomore. Byham also had a touchdown catch among his 20 grabs for 260 yards last fall, but he'll be hard-pressed to reach those numbers this season, as Dickerson and sophomore sensation Jonathan Baldwin are the top pass-catchers for Pitt.

"I'm very excited about what the team has accomplished overall, of course, but especially on offense this season,'' Byham said. "Our running game is among the best in the country, and our passing game is really clicking now, too. And I've played an integral part of that success.''

Byham saw steady improvement in playing time and results during his career until Frank Cignetti Jr. replaced Matt Cavanaugh as Pitt's offensive coordinator. So, some might believe that relationship was contentious, but not if Byham is asked about it.

"Coach Cignetti has been great,'' Byham said. "He gives us a voice in the offense. He just doesn't coach us, but we have an opinion on what we do. And he let's us voice that opinion. And I think that's been a big reason why we're so successful this year. Our offense has made strides.

"I guess that's the best way to say it. I'm not sure what we've averaging points-wise, but we're ahead of last year. Before, we were happy scoring 24 points a game because we knew our defense would hold the other team to less. But this year, we don't want to put any pressure on our defense at all.

"We want to score in the 30s, if we can, and we're doing well so far. That credit goes to Coach Cignetti, and all the guys on offense. That's Dion Lewis, Bill Stull, the O-line, the wideouts, Dorin and all the coaches, really. Everyone has been amazing. We're all clicking right now, and it's a great time to be rolling. We're all playing as one, as we say, but it's the truth.''

Cignetti always had good things to say about Byham when asked about his contributions this season.

"Nate's one of our team leaders and most unselfish players,'' Cignetti said. "If he's not catching passes now, he could catch them later. It all depends how the game plays out. But his blocking, he's like another offensive lineman out there. And when you throw in (fullback) Henry Hynoski, they're major reasons why we've been so successful on offense running and throwing it.''

Pitt averages 34.2 points per game, and Byham pointed out that even though the Panthers lost at North Carolina State early in the season, they scored 31 points. And that's not too shabby.

"I don't think anybody can say anything negative about our offense,'' Byham said. "I know that I certainly can't be negative about it. I'd like to think I'm a big part of our success on offense, and as a senior I can't ask for anything more than that.''

Byham has been among those who have been banged up this season, as a preseason concussion slowed his progress in the early games. And in the last couple weeks, he has had a strained calf. After taking it easy the past week, though, Byham should be more than ready for the stretch drive.

"It actually happened before the South Florida game, and I played that entire game,'' Byham said. "So, it's all right, but I took it easy last week for precautionary reasons. I'm ready to go this week for sure.''

And maybe Pitt and Byham will have some surprises for the opposition. But if they don't, the senior tight end still will have played a primary role in the Panthers' success this season.

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