There have been plenty of pleasant surprises on offense this season, from the play of quarterback Tom Savage to breakout freshman seasons of wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner.
There also has been a somewhat puzzling void of production from the tight ends -- at least in the passing game.
Through four games, Pitt's four tight ends have combined for 10 catches for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Of the quartet of redshirt junior Manasseh Garner, sophomore JP Holtz and freshmen Jaymar Parrish and Scott Orndoff not one has recorded more than two catches in a game this season.
"I think the time will come with those, balls getting out to those guys," offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said.
"I've loved their approach. They're not pointing [fingers] about making plays. They do what they're asked to do and they work their tails off. Those plays will come."
The lack of receptions by the tight ends is a surprise, especially considering the increased depth this season. For most of last year, Holtz, then a freshman, was the only healthy tight end on the roster.
The 2013 Panthers boast a wide range of options, though, with Holtz and Orndoff filling the role of traditional, in-line blocking tight end, and Garner and Parrish working as a type of H-back, sometimes coming out of the backfield, sometimes splitting wide.
"We're young and we have a lot more depth this year, which is nice because we can do a lot more things with the offense," Holtz said. "It takes a lot of stress off of one guy in the group."
Orndoff seems to have found a role as a red-zone target, as both his two catches have gone for touchdowns. Garner is a more athletic option and scored Pitt's first touchdown on the opening drive against Florida State, but did not record a catch in Pitt's 14-3 win against Virginia.
Even in the Panthers' 58-point offensive explosion against Duke three weeks ago, the tight ends combined for three catches and 40 yards.
"You use them in a lot of ways," Rudolph said. "You use them in protection, also. You're trying to find the best spots to kind of work everyone. Protection, [you've] got to have it."
Holtz said his blocking has improved this season, which has led to increased protection duties rather than pass routes.
"That'll come," he said. "We've just got to keep doing what we do, and that'll come with it. You would like to have more catches, but you've got to do what you can do to help the team out."
The offense hasn't exactly suffered from the lack of touches by the tight ends, especially since Boyd and Devin Street have emerged as one of the most explosive receiving tandems in the country.
Eventually, though, teams will start trying to shut down receivers, which could be the chance for Holtz and company to start making plays in the passing game.
"They're going to be keying on our receivers with Street and Boyd there," Holtz said. "They're going to be keying on them a lot, so I think that'll open up opportunities for the tight ends."
And Rudolph is sure that, when it's time to catch passes, the tight ends will be ready.
"There's nothing that's keeping them out of it," he said. "You work your preps, you see what you think you have that week, you get it ready and you might see a week where they have a bunch."
Game: Pitt (3-1, 2-1 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0).
When: noon Saturday.
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM