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McNabb may have been kidding, but Acosta’s not laughing: Billy Pic’s big move

August 27, 2009

Remember about a week ago—shortly after his Philadelphia Eagles inked former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to a two-year contract worth a maximum of $9.625 million—when Donovan McNabb delineated the extent of the offense’s instant versatility during a post-practice press conference? Then remember when—among others on his laundry list of personnel options—he jokingly suggested that fans might see the 11th-year man out of Syracuse lined up at tight end?

And then, remember when that room that was chock-full of sports media members—editorialists, columnists, reporters, bloggers and about a 100 others with a pen and pad—burst out laughing?

Well, Lions’ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta isn’t laughing. But he is smiling since today—for the first time since his 2007 transfer from Pace University—Bill Picatagi left his red duds in his locker, christening a pearly white Adidas jersey to practice. And he couldn’t have looked better.

In the role, that is.

“Yeah he looked good, didn’t he?” Acosta joked via phone interview.

And–a result of his teammates’ rave reviews, rather than tongue-in-cheek humor–it’s no surprise that the move’s left everyone in a good mood.

“It’s exciting, you know?” said now-fellow wide receiver Cam Richardson. “As long as he’s been here he’s played quarterback, so its exciting to see him out there running around.”

According to Picatagi, a graduate of Trenton’s Nottingham High, he approached the coaching staff with the proposition, hoping to better contribute to his team’s success.

“I looked around Sunday, especially after we’d had some injuries, and I spoke to our quarterbacks’ coach — Coach Donoghue. I said, ‘I want to get on the field.’ Then I went and spoke to both Coach Acosta and Coach Ham[ilton] and Hamilton said he thought it was a great idea.”

Though the move had plenty of luster in theory, it didn’t take long for Picatagi to actualize his coach’s vision.

“When Monday came and they put me in at ‘Y’ I won the job right there.”

There aren’t a whole lot of formations in Coach Acosta’s system that feature a traditional tight end, lining up adjacent to a tackle on either side of the line of scrimmage. In his adaptation of the spread offense — the scheme popularized by its widespread success in Division I, especially a Big XII Conference that showcases versions at Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, among others — the “Y” constitutes of a certain hybrid passing option, one that takes a special talent to properly fulfill.

“Its like a slasher,” Acosta said describing the position’s unique responsibilities. “He’s more or less a tight end/wide receiver. He can block, he’s got a body, and we can use him in the pass game. He’s a tweener.”

Both Acosta and Richardson believe that they’re witnessing the embodiment of a pretty specific job description.

“”Pic’s a great athlete. Things come more naturally to him than they do to a lot of other athletes,” Richardson — one of the team’s three captains — said over the telephone. “That’s what’s so great about him — he’s so versatile. He’s a quarterback who’s playing receiver. There’s a pretty big contrast between those two positions.”

“”Pic is a good athlete,” Acosta said, undoubtedly pleased with incorporating his newest weapon. “If James is on the field [at quarterback] Pic needs to be on the field somewhere.”

In spite of the quick transition, Picatagi’s getting pretty comfortable, pretty fast.

“I feel amazing,” he said. “I honestly feel like I could line up on the field and play any receiver spot. They could even line me up at any lineman’s spot.”

Backtracking, he explained his bold statement was only a testament to his total familiarity with every player’s responsibilities on every play.

“I’m not saying I’d be a good lineman, but I mean, if they line me up at Z or X or Z-squared or wherever, I know those plays. I know what route I’m supposed to run.”

Confident — but plenty short of arrogant — Picatagi isn’t complacent with the success his natural abilities have earned him thus far.

“The only thing is that I understand the game, but I don’t always know how to run a picture-perfect route. I’m not there yet. I don’t know how to do that yet. But I’ll get there with practice.”

And the newest hobby around the team’s facilities is drafting up what to do with him once he’s there. Richardson — renowned more for his soft hands and crisp routes than his imagination — couldn’t help but vocalize what his creative juices conjured up.

“I think it’s great for the team. We can keep him in the game with [quarterback Chris] James, maybe at times work out some crazy concoctions, some pitch-back passes and whatnot. I’m excited for it, definitely.”

Churn, churn, churn…

“He can still throw the ball from that wide receiver position so you don’t know,” Acosta said enthusiastically, even elaborating on the seemingly endless possibilities. “Can James play wide receiver? Oh yeah. We can motion him out from the backfield into a wide receiver set and have Pic come in the game and do something.”

Conventional or otherwise, there’s no doubt that players believe Billy Pic’s involvement adds firepower to an already potent offense.

“I definitely think it will help us out right now,” Richardson said about his teammate’s immediate impact. “I think it gives us a little more depth, but a little more versatility too because he’s a bigger body. I think it adds another element to our offense. Putting him out there at receiver just makes us that much more dangerous.”

Though it makes sense for a number of reasons, Richardson was most impressed by the selflessness of the initial inquiry.

“I think one of the biggest things is that this is something he wanted to do. He wasn’t approached by the coaches and told, ‘Hey, we need you to play this.’ It was something he wanted to do to shake things up. Things can only go up from here.”

It would seem that — in lieu of such a hand-in-glove fit (more of a rarity depending on who you ask) — Picatagi’s days as a quarterback might be behind him. Seemingly more and more of a conniver, Acosta isn’t ruling anything out just yet.

“We never said he wasn’t a quarterback still,” Acosta said. “We’re just exploring this option. He still has the red jersey if we need him.”

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