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Leslie Montgomery

It’s hard to describe how big Ed Dickson is. When you stand next to him, his height and chiseled mass loom above you, making you seem insignificant. His hands are like oven mitts and his broad shoulders stretch from a frame that boasts just six-percent body fat.

Dickson is listed at 6-foot-5, but with cleats and a helmet he’s closer to 6-foot-7. Add on his 250 pounds of pure muscle and one can see why he’s so highly touted. He bench-presses more than 400 pounds and power cleans 341 pounds. Not only can he block big defensive ends, he can also shed the tackles of cornerbacks who must seem like flies with their 180-pound bodies.

To cut the description short, he’s the perfect tight end to shape an offense around.

“Ed is a big, versatile player who can play tight end or flex and play in the slot,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “He runs under a 4.6 forty. He’s a great target for a quarterback because of his range and his ability to go get the ball, and he also is a great run-after-the-catch guy. He’s a guy (who) we have to get the ball into his hands and we have to do a better job of getting to him.”

And in Dickson’s senior year, he plans to go out with a bang. He already ranks as one of the top tight ends in the school’s history, with 1,025 yards receiving and 84 receptions. But now he’s preparing for more, and the NFL after this year.

He spent months since the end of last season working on his physique and his footwork, so when the time came this year, he would be ready. He worked out with strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe with the aim of increasing his speed and stamina while still adding pounds.

It worked. His playing weight at the end of 2008 was roughly 235 pounds. This year it’s a whopping 15 pounds heavier, but he’s still as nimble on his feet as a 180-pound running back.

“I worked on those little things like my first two steps and my blocking,” Dickson said. “I’m a very strong person up and down. If I use both together I can match up with anyone in the country. I’m more crisp and staying on blocks longer even though I’m outweighed by 20 or 30 pounds out there against the defensive ends.”

One could be hard pressed to imagine a more violent collision than Dickson’s 250-pound frame colliding with that of a 300-pound lineman, but that’s what he prepared himself for this season. A tight end’s job is more than just catching passes — it’s blocking and numerous other small things that are immeasurable.

“Tight ends are evaluated all the time by how many balls they catch, but they don’t need to catch balls to have great games,” tight ends and special teams coach Tom Osborne said. “How many balls they catch doesn’t equate to how they played on the 70 or 80 other plays in the game. There are a lot of things that happen that dictate who the balls goes to.”

“The biggest thing Ed has improved on is that he’s been able to go harder longer because he’s more comfortable in what his assignments are and his technique,” Osborne said. “He’s developed to the stage where he’s getting other receivers lined up. He’s grown so much in the system … Obviously he’s improved in the passing game, but on the line of scrimmage he’s even better.”

And while Dickson’s physical appearance is the most striking part of his game, his leadership on the field has also grown with the confidence of a player realizing he’s a senior — and now the top dog. He’s taken to helping out younger receivers with their coverage reading, and even lending encouraging words to junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

“He’s a different kind of leader,” Osborne said. “He’s not a rah-rah guy. He’s just Ed. I told him not to be something you’re not, just be who you are. In the tight end group it’s because he’s the oldest.”

“I’m always in (Masoli’s) ear, trying to communicate with him because I’m a senior and I can read the coverages, too,” Dickson said. “Me and him always try and stay positive. We are on the sidelines saying, ‘We’ll get it. Let’s not worry. Things will come around.'”

Masoli seconded this, saying Dickson has been a steady rock on the offense with a bunch of young guys still trying to find their way.

“Everything you expect from a senior you get from Ed,” Masoli said. “He’s always on task and you can look for an example from Ed from the way he works in the weight room to on the field … We have a lot of young guys right now that you have to kind of worry about and direct, but you don’t with him. He’s a great target.”

That’s why last Thursday’s loss to Boise State hurt so much for Dickson. He finished with two catches for 19 yards and no touchdowns, and with the loss of one of his best friends on the team in LeGarrette Blount, the whole trip to Boise was a big disappointment. As a senior, he wants to go to a BCS bowl. He wants to be the best in the Pacific-10 Conference and most of all, he doesn’t want to lose.

“It’s tough when we’re struggling,” Dickson said. “I want to be that key person that gets the key play that gets our offense rolling. That’s all we need is one explosion play. I was asking everyone (last week), I was saying let’s go … If it takes me blocking, I’ll do it. I’d do anything to win. Anything.”

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