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MOBILE, Ala. — The top tight ends in the draft, Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham and Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, might not be here, but the ones who are have shown up well.
Topping that list is Oregon's Ed Dickson, who has stepped up despite really having only a couple of big games in his college career. His signature moment was against Cal this season, catching 11 passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns, and he followed it up the next game with seven grabs for 103 yards and a TD against Washington State. But he largely was underused after that, failing to catch a pass in his final two games.
Dickson said he has had a chance to display his receiving skills with the North team this week at the Senior Bowl.
"There's no better place to do it than here with all these great players," Dickson said. "We were a young team (at Oregon this season), so I had to have patience. If it took me to be blocking the whole game, then that's what I had to do."
Dickson admitted that he had one-on-one looks he won't always have in the pros, but he said he thinks the Ducks' spread offense should allow scouts to see he has the speed to play fast on tape, even when he wasn't catching the ball there. This week, though, he has shown he can separate from man coverage and catch the ball when it is thrown his way. He ran right by Notre Dame S Kyle McCarthy on a deep route on Monday and did the same to Ohio State's Kurt Coleman on Tuesday.
After fighting the ball a bit early in his first practice, Dickson has looked more comfortable with each route run and each grab made. His blocking, however, is something he must get better at. And he's a tough self-critic when it comes to that side of his game.
"I am hard on myself as a blocker," Dickson said. "I know I am not the biggest guy, and I think it's going to take a lot to get better. Right now, I am a B-minus to a C-plus in that department. To be great on the next level, I hope to be an A, but I know I have to be at least an A-minus."
At 245 pounds with the potential to add another five pounds, he said, Dickson probably figures in more as a receiver. Similar type of players have been drafted in the middle rounds in recent years, such as Missouri's Martin Rucker and Florida's Cornelius Ingram, but the high ceiling might be a player such as Packers TE Jermichael Finley, who finally showed this season how good he can be.
There are other types of tight end at this year's Senior Bowl, too.
Illinois' Michael Hoomanawanui might have caught only 10 passes last season and 40 in his college career, but like Dickson he might fall into the underutilized category. Hoomanawanui caught the ball fluidly and looked more athletic than many thought he was. And he delivered one of the biggest blows of the day Tuesday, burying Iowa LB A.J. Edds on a lead block when lined up as an F-back.
"They have me playing a lot of fullback this week, trying to make me more versatile," Hoomanawanui said. "That play was a regular power play, a lead block on the linebacker. I got through the hole, and once you have the guy in your sights, there's not much to it. My blocking is good, but I want to make it great. I want to be the guy teams run behind, like another offensive lineman, and put people in the dirt."
Hoomanawanui played a little bit off the line at Illinois, but the coaches never seemed to find a role for him. He has shown this week that he has a little flexibility, and though he might never be a 50-catch tight end, his receiving skills have come more into light after a season in which the Illini offense never really got going.
"I was with two offensive coordinators," he said. "With one of them, I was flexed out more, but with the other, I have played in-line and off. Off, you can see the field a little better, get a little more head of steam going. It helps a little bit as opposed to having your hand in the dirt.
"I am not worried now about (not catching a lot of passes in college). I am here to show I can do it. I am getting some good work here, and being with some other guys who have better (receiving numbers) just makes me want to do it even more."
Wisconsin's Garrett Graham didn't break school receiving records, and it probably will remain a running school when Graham is having grandchildren, but he was a consistent pass receiver in school. He improved his receptions, yards and touchdowns each of his final three seasons and has caught the ball well the first two days. Graham ran a textbook flag route in one-on-one drills, leaving Maryland S Terrell Skinner in the dust on Tuesday. And on Monday, Graham looked fluid and confident catching the ball.
"I did pretty well in the one-on-ones," he said. "In the team drills, I didn't get as many balls as I would like (on Tuesday). But I am a team guy; I am going to play my role. People are going to look at the (41) games I played in and make their judgment off of that.
"I want to show I am a complete tight end. You don't see a lot of complete ones on any level, so it's hard."
The South club features three tight ends with varying skills. Colin Peek has, well, peaked at the right time, putting together a nice senior season at Alabama after transferring from Georgia Tech. 'Bama fans will be forever indebted for his two huge TD catches, one against Auburn in the narrow win and another — an over-the-shoulder beauty — against Florida in the SEC championship game.
"They showed what looked like a cover-3 but went to a (cover-2) on one side and dropped the weak-side linebacker back, which would have ruined the play," Peek said of his throwback, misdirection catch against the Gators. "But when I ran, I sort of shook (the linebacker) and got inside and (QB) Greg (McElroy) put the ball in a perfect spot where only I could catch it. I just had to look on my outside shoulder and just roll back to the inside."
Peek has befriended Miami (Fla.) TE Jimmy Graham, who before last season had only played college basketball. His limited production and long learning curve might limit his draft stock, but Graham's height (6-foot-6) and reach make him an intriguing prospect. "What an athlete," Peek said of his new buddy. "We have similar situations in that we both have had limited college careers, even though I had a lot more football experience. We're both basically having to prove ourselves (based off) one year."
They join USC's Anthony McCoy, who might be the most talented of the group, though he has suffered from character issues and a lack of production. The fact that recent USC tight ends such as Dominique Byrd and Fred Davis have been spotty in the pros clearly hasn't helped. But McCoy showed great extension on a couple of receptions and clearly can run for a good-sized player.
The molds and types are different, but don't think this class doesn't have talent after Gresham and Gronkowski. Much of it is on display at the Senior Bowl.
Watch for multiple postings each day this week from the Senior Bowl, including blogs and our prospect of the day.
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