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Paul Domowitch: Pettigrew a rare tight end who can catch and block

INDIANAPOLIS - It shouldn't be that hard to find a multipurpose tight end who can both block and catch the football, but it is.

INDIANAPOLIS - It shouldn't be that hard to find a multipurpose tight end who can both block and catch the football, but it is.

Once upon a time, when the veer and the wishbone were the offenses of choice in college football, there were tons of tight ends who could help open a hole for a running back, but precious few with a knack for getting open and catching a

forward pass.

Now, with the spread offense all the rage on campuses, the tight end position is chock-full of bulked-up former wideouts with 4.5 speed and 70-catch seasons on their resumés. But finding one who also can set an edge or put a linebacker on his butt, well, they're tougher to find these days than upbeat economic news.

"To find a guy who can do both things, it's almost impossible," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said last week. "They don't have 'em anymore. You look at the athletic ability and the receiving ability and you just hope they'll give you something as a blocker."

"College football has changed," said Kevin Colbert, the player-personnel brains behind the Super Bowl-champion Steelers. "There's not a lot of [true] tight ends [in college], not a lot of fullbacks. The colleges do what they have to do to win, and we have to do what we have to do to evaluate their systems and see if those guys will fit. Because it's not going to change any time soon."

Which brings us to Brandon Pettigrew.

The 6-6, 265-pound tight end out of Oklahoma State is the closest thing there is to a "complete" tight end in this year's draft, which is why he will be the first tight end taken, and probably the only one selected in the first round.

"He's one of my favorite players in the draft," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "To me, he's the best of both worlds. He's not going to run a 4.6 [40] or anything. He doesn't have explosive speed. But I know some coaches in the bottom half of the first round that are praying he runs a slow time here [at the scouting combine] so that he slides to them. He's that good of a football player."

The Eagles' Andy Reid is likely one of those coaches. His team owns the 21st and 28th picks in the first round. A tight end might not be at the top of Big Red's offseason shopping list, but it's pretty high up.

The Eagles are wisely waving bye-bye to inconsistent, onedimensional L.J. Smith, who will be an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 27. Brent Celek showed promise late in the season, catching 19 passes in the playoffs, including 10 in the NFC Championship Game loss to Arizona. But his blocking leaves almost as much to be desired as Smith's did.

"That's a big deal to me," Pettigrew said of his blocking ability. "I think my blocking probably sets me apart [from the rest of the tight ends at the combine]. I've always tried to be the most complete tight end I can be. I try to do both."

Unless he runs a really poor time for the coaches and scouts today and bombs again at his Pro Day workout next month, Pettigrew probably won't slide down to the Eagles' first-round neighborhood. Mayock expects him to go somewhere between 15 and 20.

"He's too good a blocker and catches the ball too well [to go any lower]," he said. "The only thing he lacks is that explosive down-the-seam kind of speed."

Another tight end who's made a big impression on Mayock, even if he doesn't block nearly as well as Pettigrew, is Southern Mississippi's Shawn Nelson, who moved himself into second-round consideration with an impressive performance in the Senior Bowl workouts last month.

"After watching tape of him, I knew he could get vertical and catch the football," Mayock said. "But at the Senior Bowl, I thought he had as good a week as anybody. He knocked [USC linebacker] Rey Maualuga on his butt a couple of times in one-on-one drills.

"He's what I would call a willing blocker. He's not a great blocker. He's not even a real good blocker. But he's willing. He's 6-5, 238. He has the body type to get bigger. He has innate toughness and I think he will become a blocker in the NFL. I really like him a lot. After that, you have a bunch of really good pass-catchers [who can't block]."

Pettigrew toyed with the idea of entering the draft last year. Might have been a first-round pick then, too, but decided to stay in.

"I figured I couldn't ruin anything by staying [in school]," he said. "Another year of getting better was how I looked at it. I got some more experience. I got a chance to work on my technique. Got a little bit stronger."

It wasn't exactly the senior season of his dreams. He was slowed by a high-ankle sprain much of the year. Missed four games and his yards-per-catch average dropped from 15.4 in '07 to 11.2 in '08. Had 42 catches, but no touchdowns. I repeat, no touchdowns.

"It didn't work out for me [statistically]," Pettigrew said. "But I'm a team guy. It didn't bother me much. I'm about getting the wins."

The scouts don't seem to be holding his disappointing '08 receiving numbers against him. They know he can catch the ball, and they know he can block.

If he runs a reasonably fast 40 today, he will pretty much assure himself of being a top-20 pick in the April draft. He has spent the better part of the last 2 months training in Houston with Olympic gold-medal-winning sprinter Michael Johnson to improve his 40 time.

"I worked on everything with him," Pettigrew said. "You can't teach speed, but you can teach form. I don't think my form was great when I first went down there. But I know it's a lot better now."

How fast does he hope to run?

"A 4.4," he said, knowing full well that's not going to happen. "At least I'm telling myself I'm going to run a 4.4. We'll see what happens." *

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