Pitt appears to have depth at tight end
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Pitt's starting tight end quit the team in March, and the next two in line on the depth chart have six career catches between them. But don't expect tight end to be a position of weakness in the fall.
With Hubie Graham, one of the top prospects in Pennsylvania three years ago, eligible to play after sitting out last season, the position could turn out to be one of the team's strengths.
Graham, a former SuperPrep All-American at West Scranton High School, will be eligible to play in the fall after sitting out last season under NCAA transfer rules. Graham, 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, played two seasons for Illinois in 2008 and '09.
Graham is in line to earn the starting spot this spring after Mike Cruz quit. Cruz was the most experienced tight end on the roster, starting 12 games and leading all tight ends with 19 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns last season.
"Every football player knows if one guy goes down, or if something happens, it's the next guy in line," Graham said. "No one looks back or gets too upset about a situation. The next guy rolls in and is expected to know what to do.
"It's his job now, and the team looks to him. All of the tight ends accepted that role, and we're working hard and are ready to make things happen."
Sophomore Brock DeCicco, who started three games last season and caught two touchdown passes, is competing with Graham at tight end. Coach Todd Graham is high on both players and looking forward to working them into games next season.
DeCicco will play the more traditional tight end role in Graham's spread offense. Hubie Graham will be used as the hybrid tight end/fullback.
"I've got a lot of faith in Brock and I've got a lot of faith in Hubie," Todd Graham said. "I wouldn't say we have great depth, but I have a lot of confidence in those first two guys."
Hubie Graham is looking forward to his role, where he will be used as a pass catcher, runner and blocker.
"I definitely feel myself and the guys at my position can make plays in this offense," Hubie Graham said. "We're asked to do a lot of different things. We play a lot of roles. We have the talent to get things done and make a lot of plays."
And Graham, with two seasons of eligibility remaining, believes his experiences, albeit limited at Illinois, will help him.
"I definitely feel that playing at Illinois was a huge learning experience," Hubie Graham said.
"I got thrown into the fire. I learned a lot. It wasn't easy, but it got me where I'm at. I don't think I would be as ready, or I would be as confident as I am now if I didn't play. I played against a lot of good opponents and played with a lot of good players."
Todd Graham doesn't encourage fighting among his players in practice. But he has not discouraged it, either. A few more tussles broke out Thursday in a spirited practice Graham called one of the best of the spring.
Defensive back Brandon Ifill and receiver Cam Saddler were involved in one. defensive lineman Tyrone Ezell and offensive lineman Jordan Gibbs in another.
"We're going to be disciplined, but I want to get them to bite," he said.
"I want to get them to compete. I want them to play with a hard edge. We're not encouraging them to fight, but, sometimes, they're competing so hard that it happens. We get done with practice, we're patting each other on the back and we're family. I'm pleased with the demeanor of our team. I think tough people come out of tough times. It's hard to be tough if you don't practice and play that way. I think it's a lot better to say whoa than go."
The only disappointing thing about the fights, Graham said, is how the assistant coaches have failed to break them up fast enough.
"I thought I was going to have to break up a fight," Graham said.
"And the last time I broke up a fight I broke a finger. We'll probably have a staff meeting about that. I didn't know if we'd get one broken up, the one with Ezell and Gibbs. I was very concerned."
First Published April 8, 2011 12:00 am