Complete Package: Pettigrew does it all

Brandon Pettigrew (Getty Images)

The Bills must land a starting tight end this weekend and no one is better than Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew. See what this year's big catch had to say about his visit to Orchard Park, his love for blocking, dislike for the 40-yard dash, Jason Witten and much more in this BuffaloFootballReport.com exclusive...

For the past few months, countless people have asked Brandon Pettigrew which NFL tight end he models his game after.

No one, he says. When Pettigrew sits down to watch a football game, he's a scientist. He isolates on tight ends, processing the tendencies he likes. He extracts numerous qualities from numerous tight ends. These potions are then mixed together, creating his own monster.

"I'll see somebody do something and I'll be like, ‘Man that was kind of nice' and I'll try to work on that," Pettigrew said. "I'll see them run a route and put a move on somebody and I'll try to do that. If I see somebody block a certain way or step a certain way – just the way they do it – I'll try to do that as well."

And that's why Pettigrew is widely considered the most complete tight end to come out in years. He didn't post ungodly numbers at Oklahoma State and he didn't drop jaws in the 40-yard dash. But it's almost impossible to nitpick flaws in Pettigrew's game. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Pettigrew is built like an angry lumberjack.

For the Bills, he may be the one missing piece that elevates the offense to elite status – an extended tackle in the running game, yet still explosive in the receiving game. Terrell Owens and Lee Evans forming the best 1-2 punch in the AFC. Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes forming their own breed of earth, wind and fire. Pettigrew is the type of talent that could maximize all of their talents.

Pettigrew paid plenty of attention to Buffalo's active off-season.

"They got some new players," Pettigrew said. "It'd be big to be a part of that. I definitely wouldn't mind getting in there and helping (the offense) excel."


Brandon Pettigrew visited Buffalo along with four other teams.
Getty Images

The interest's mutual. Scout.com's Adam Caplan reported three weeks ago that Pettigrew visited Buffalo.After trading Jason Peters to Philadelphia, the Bills hold the double-aces here. With the No. 11 pick Buffalo could beat everybody to the punch and draft Pettigrew. All decade, they've been starving for a legitimate tight end – a plague that worsened this off-season after dumping Robert Royal.

In addition to Buffalo, Pettigrew said he also visited the Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. The weather was great when he strolled into Orchard Park, N.Y. back in mid-March. No icy winds, no lingering lake effect.

"It wasn't too bad, it was like in the 50s," Pettigrew said. "I know it can get cold though."

Pettigrew met with head coach Dick Jauron and several other coaches, going to "Dave and Buster's" for dinner. His football I.Q. underwent a play memorization test and he talked to the Bills about how he could fit into their offense specifically.

"(Buffalo) felt that I could do both (blocking and catching) so that's how they thought I could fit in," Pettigrew said. "They felt that I could do both. They didn't just want to have one guy who could do blocking and one guy who could catch."

Blocking and catching. Pettigrew said he's always prided himself on being a complete tight end. Recent gems at his position like Vernon Davis and Kellen Winslow Jr. were athletic freaks that projected as next-generation trendsetters. Intriguing, but not realistic.

Meanwhile, Pettigrew relishes the dirty work. During high school, he was rarely unleashed into the passing game. Never spoiled.

"My coaches always told me to play hard without the ball too because if you're the one with the ball you want people playing hard for you," Pettigrew said. "So it works both ways."

At Oklahoma State, Pettigrew wasn't a major part of the passing game, either. Fine by him. During games, Pettigrew regularly requested plays from the sideline. Not passing routes that put the limelight on him, rather run plays where he could block for his backs. Thanks in large part to Pettigrew's unselfish (and dominant) in-line blocking, the Cowboys rushed for 245.5 yards per game – eighth-best in the nation. The tight end averaged more than 54 knockdown blocks per year.

Last year, eight Pettigrew pancakes led to touchdowns.

Rather than declare for the NFL Draft after catching 35 passes for 540 yards and four touchdowns as a junior, he stuck around.


Pettigrew helped Oklahoma State rush for 245 yards per game last fall.
Getty Images

And caught a bad break. During a 7-on-7 drill early in the season, Pettrigrew ran an out pattern and had a defender step on his ankle. The resulting sprain sidelined Pettigrew for four games. He caught 42 balls for 472 yards, yet never got into the end zone.

Naturally, the you-should-have-gone-pro critics got louder. But Pettigrew said he never looked back.

"You can't."

A pause.

"You can't look back. I didn't look back," he said. "I made my decision, stuck with it and looked forward from there. You can't make decisions and regret it. That's how I looked at it."

So he continued doing what he's always done – learn specific tricks of the trade from the greats.

Jason Witten became one of Pettigrew's particular fascinations. He said he loves to study Witten's innate ability to get separation on linebackers in man coverage. While running post routes, Witten leans sharply to the outside to freeze the ‘backer, Pettigrew said. The trick never fails. In six seasons, Witten has 429 receptions.

"He does it all the time," Pettigrew said. "Even if they know it's coming, he still gets it done. I ran a few of them. I haven't run a lot. When I get it, I try to do it the same way."

After the season, Pettigrew trained at the innovative Michael Johnson Performance Center – continuing to sculpt his massive frame. He weight-trained, worked in the pool and ran plenty of 40-yard dashes.

But for someone who has made a living dissecting the game – from the first step tight ends take in blocking schemes to Witten's shoulder lean – this whole 40-yard dash drama sure can seem pointless. There's two types of speed, he says.

"There's 40 speed and then there's field speed," Pettigrew said. "They just want to see it. I don't think it really matters because they're two different things to me and to a lot of people."

Pettigrew finished 14th among tight ends at the NFL Combine with an underwhelming 4.83 seconds. Red flags should have sprouted. Mel Kiper should have ripped that gelled hair out of his head. But it didn't. The subpar time didn't ding Pettigrew's draft stock at all.

Teams realize that 40 percent of Pettigrew's receiving yards came after the catch. Field speed.

Pettigrew said all five teams he visited expressed "serious interest," adding that it'll be a "tight race."

With four of the top 75 picks in this weekend's draft, the Bills have options. Defensive end, tight end, offensive tackle and outside linebacker are the obvious needs. Who and when is the question. There's no question that the Bills have a pressing need for a tight end that can stretch the field. Derek Fine and Derek Schouman are serviceable rotational players but not long-term answers. The duo combined for only 25 receptions last year. Pettigrew's physical attributes are on a different planet. The moving pictures, here


Derek Fine and Derek Schouman have shown promise, but Pettigrew is on a different level.
Getty Images

Of course, Pettigrew would prefer to be drafted higher than No. 28. Baltimore (No. 26), Detroit (No. 20), Atlanta (No. 24) and Philadelphia (No. 21) all are loitering ahead of the pick Buffalo obtained in the Peters deal.

The temptation will be rage in Buffalo. The idea of plugging Pettigrew into this reworked offense would further re-energize a fan base that has come back to life. Yes, Buffalo has a new gaping hole at left tackle. Yes, Chris Kelsay is still a starting defensive end. Yes, Paul Posluszny and Kawika Mitchell need a running mate.

But don't discount this front office's newfound fervor for shock value.

The T.O. signing changed all perceptions we had of this team. The new Bills are willing to push the envelope at any cost. Willing to risk all to win now. Giving the offense yet another weapon could create one Utopian society too explosive for Russ Brandon to ignore.

Analysis

First thing's first. Slow down with the character concerns. I know, I know. Bills players are wrestling and yelling at cops every other week these days. The loudest, most obnoxious player in league signed in March. Your moral compass is spinning out of control. The last thing you want is another bad egg roaming Chippewa Street.

No worries here, folks. Brandon Pettigrew is not a risk at all. The Oklahoma State tight end had one isolated one run-in with the law, but it's considered very out of character. The local cop has a history of targeting athletes. Pettigrew was charged with public intoxication at a party and allegedly elbowed a cop in the chest – one mistake he whole-heartedly hones up to.

Emphasis the broader Pettigrew, not the one regrettable night. Teammates laud Pettigrew's work ethic. He never takes practices off, never takes plays off.

Tom Modrak, Buffalo's vice president of college scouting, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that Pettigrew passed the team's character test – crucial considering the Bills' recent streak of players filling the police reports.

Beyond that, Pettigrew's raw skills suggest he'll be something great. Not good. Great. Oklahoma State simply didn't feature Pettigrew prominently in the passing game. In an NFL offense, he could shine.

Buffalo can land a instant starter at offensive tackle with the pick obtained from Philadelphia – Eben Britton and William Beatty are both ultra-athletic linemen that could be available. Pass-rushers Paul Kruger, Connor Barwin, Larry English and Lawrence Sidbury Jr. could all be around in the second round. The huge voids at defensive end and left tackle can be sufficed later on.

But talents like Brandon Pettigrew aren't in excess. SI.com's Peter King called Pettigrew the best all-around tight end since Jeremy Shockey, adding that Buffalo should take him.

Agreed. He isn't an instant Under Armor-marketing phenom like Vernon Davis. But you sure won't see this brute force sobbing like a toddler on the sideline, either. Instead, Pettigrew is a humble, willing blocker with immense potential in the passing game. Every other skill position player's job becomes easier because of him.

thdunne@gmail.com

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