Lost: Steve Buches*
Returning: Darrell Strong, John Pelusi, Nate Byham
Newcomers: Jordan Gibbs
Breakdown: Possibly the Panthers’ best position, in terms of talent. Byham emerged as the starter, but Pelusi will start in double-tight end packages and Strong in passing situations.
Positives: Byham proved to be equally effective as a receiver and blocker and has the chance to be a key player in the offense. Pelusi is fully recovered from a torn ACL and is a strong blocker who showed receiving skills. Strong slimmed down and, even at 265 pounds, can be a dangerous receiving threat and open-field runner. Byham and Pelusi both have sophomore eligibility, so the future is bright.
Negatives: The Panthers didn’t show off their tight ends at all in the spring game, a sign that either the coaching staff wants to hide this factor or the quarterbacks forgot to look for them. Strong’s spring ended with a shoulder injury, which magnified the fact that there is no depth behind the top three players.
X factor: Gibbs is 6-7, 300 pounds, yet showed on the basketball court that he has good hands and feet. Even so, he projects as an offensive tackle more than a tight end and could eventually switch.
Projected starter: Nate Byham. He has the potential to become an All-American, as long as he develops consistency as a receiver. Pelusi will be used mostly in a blocking role, Strong primarily as a receiver.