Dorin Dickerson has been a talented man without a true position for a lot of his football life.
He's hoping he has found a home as an H-back in the Buffalo Bills' offense this summer.
Dickerson was signed to the roster after getting a free-agent tryout during the Bills' rookie minicamp in May. On the surface, that would make him an after-thought in the Bills' roster-building plan this offseason.
Do not be shocked, however, if Dickerson makes the team as a situational role player and special-teams man.
The Bills did not use an H-back in coach Chan Gailey's offense the past two years, but they're considering it this year. An H-back, developed by Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs in the 1980s, plays like a tight end, except he lines up off the line of scrimmage, not on it. Washington's Chris Cooley is a good recent example of a quality H-back. Derek Schouman and Ryan Neufeld were used as Bills H-backs under former coach Dick Jauron.
H-backs ideally are good receivers who have some blocking ability, so they can be used as a lead blocker on occasion or to help in pass protection.
What makes Dickerson especially intriguing is his physical tools. Coming out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2010, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds and had a vertical jump of 42 inches. He has long, 34-inch arms.
No tight end in this year's draft matched those speed or jump numbers. No running back jumped that high, either, and only three running backs this year ran faster.
"Whooo, he's fast — really fast," said Bills tight ends coach Pete Metzelaars.
"It's a new little wrinkle," said Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins. "Hopefully he continues to get better and improve. We'll see when the preseason starts, it'll be a good indicator of what he can do, but I'm excited about him. He's a fast-twitch guy. That's where he's different. He's one of those fast-twitch, speed, quickness guys that's hard to match up with."
Dickerson, 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, hasn't done anything in the NFL yet. He was drafted in the seventh round by Houston, but the Texans tried to play him at wide receiver. He was cut in his second training camp. He sat out much of last season with a thumb injury. Then New England added him to its practice squad the last month of the season.
[JUMP] However, Dickerson is not just an "all-combine" guy, either. In his senior year at Pitt, he caught 45 passes for 508 yards and 10 touchdowns, a school record for tight ends. He was the first Pitt tight end to make first-team All-America since Mike Ditka in 1960.
Dickerson saw a fair number of snaps with the first-teamers in the spread offense during organized team activity practices this spring. He worked strictly with backups in Tuesday's minicamp practice.
Dickerson's college coach, Dave Wannstedt, is the Bills' defensive coordinator. That fact, plus Gailey's use of the spread offense, attracted Dickerson to the Bills.
"I've been caught in between playing receiver and not being big enough to play true tight end," Dickerson said. "They said they're looking for an H-back in this offense, and I thought that was the best opportunity for me to show my skills. It's a blessing to come out here and compete."
Dickerson has excellent hands. He needs to show a knack for getting open during training camp.
"He's so fast, so athletic, explosive, quick," Metzelaars said. "People are going to have to make decisions. We'll see how it all works out. We're just in shorts. We haven't put pads on. We haven't had to hit anybody. We haven't found out willingness. If it continues to trend that way, he has a chance to help us because he creates matchup problems."
Dickerson knows he's going to have to shine on special teams to have a chance to make the roster. And just as important: He must prove he is a competent blocker.
"I feel like I'm a decent blocker," Dickerson said. "I strive to work on that the most every day. I don't like to be singled out as just a receiving tight end. I take pride in blocking and work on it. You need to be able to bring that to the table or teams will be able to key on you a lot easier."
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Defensive end Mark Anderson repeatedly got pressures during the Bills' mandatory minicamp practice Tuesday. The Bills have two more practices before taking off until training camp. Receiver Stevie Johnson, coming off groin surgery, did his most extensive work, taking a few repetitions with the starting offense.