Tight ends will have bigger role in offense
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph works with tight end Hubie Graham during drills at training camp Aug. 6 at the UPMC South Side facility.
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New coach Paul Chryst has endeared himself to Pitt fans in his eight months on the job by transforming the Panthers offense into a tough pro-style attack, a departure from a spread philosophy from a year ago.
No position group exemplifies the new offense more than the tight ends.
Redshirt senior Hubie Graham and redshirt sophomore Drew Carswell figure to be the top two at the position. Both said preseason camp is more physical than a year ago.
"We want to instill that toughness," Graham said. "We want to get Pitt back to where it used to be, known in the country as a tough, hard-nosed, run-the-ball football team."
Graham figures to be more of a prototypical tight end, lining up on the line and doing a mix of run blocking, pass blocking and pass catching.
Graham caught 28 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. He was one of 33 players named to a watch list for the Mackey Award, given annually to the best tight end in Division I-A.
"I'm excited for [the new offense]," he said. "I'm really excited to play that role as a true 'Y' and run blocker and a pass catcher. I really feel that my run-blocking abilities have gotten much better, much improved."
Graham (6 feet 4) noted that he put on some weight in the offseason, up to 255 pounds, after playing a year ago at 235. He said he thought the extra weight would help him with his run blocking.
While Graham figures to play mostly on the line, Carswell likely will play more of a hybrid, H-back role, a position he moved to last year after starting his career as a receiver.
"Coming from receiver, I was a big, physical receiver, any ways," he said. "To play this H-back is another way for me to do the same thing, just not on corners anymore. Now I'm on linebackers and safeties."
At just 210 pounds, Carswell said he hopes to put on another 10 or 15 pounds before the season starts to help him match up better with the defensive ends and linebackers he may have to face as a tight end or H-back.
There will be plenty of instances when both are on the field, and in those cases, Carswell and Graham agreed that their skill sets complement each other.
"I'll usually do all the blocking when he's in and he'll go out and do the pass catching," Graham said. "He knows that I'll always get my job done and I know that he'll get his done, so there's a good trust there. We just try to make plays when each other are called upon."
Still, tight ends coach and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Carswell is a physical player, and that his blocking -- a necessity at his position -- is improving every day.
"I think in any offense, you've got a choice with what personnel you use," Rudolph said. "If you're going to use [two tight end] personnel, then that [H-back], there'd better be a reason he's in the game instead of another receiver."
The wild card at the tight end position is freshman J.P. Holtz, a Shaler graduate who has turned heads with his physique and the coaching staff seems very high on his potential. Rudolph said he was a player that definitely could work his way onto the field this season.
"I love him," Rudolph said of Holtz. "I think he's going to do a great job. He works and he's got that type of mindset and we're going to push him."
Holtz certainly will get some coaching from the upperclassmen tight ends as well. For all of them, there is one unavoidable part of their job description this season: They have to be ready to get physical.
• Game: Youngstown State vs. Pitt.
• When: 6 p.m. Sept. 1.
• Where: Heinz Field.
• TV: ESPN3.
First Published August 14, 2012 12:00 am