The second year of a new head coach’s tenure is where he begins flexing his personnel decision-making muscle. He has two complete recruiting classes that bear his name to choose from and can begin to start looking at playing talent over experience.
That’s not something 1st year HCs do often because there are so many changes happening with the existing 80+ players on the roster they have to walk a fine line to keep some positive continuity going toward a successful first year.
Pat Narduzzi did that well last season ending up with an eight win season. That isn’t to say he didn’t change things up, he sure did and in a big way at some places… like QB.
It takes a leap of faith to replace an incumbent starting QB with another QB who didn’t have much of a track record at all. In doing that with Voytik and Peterman Narduzzi leaned on the old phrase “Play the best player.” But as much as sports fans want to think that holds true in all instances, it really doesn’t.
The real phrase should be “Play the best player given the circumstances“.
There are many times that a less physically talented player will sit on the bench when a lesser skilled player is out in the field for extraneous reasons – most often experience in the offensive or defensive schemes being deployed.
That tends to go by the wayside after the HC’s first year because in most cases the offensive and defensive coordinators have been retained over the offseason thus so have their philosophies toward their unit’s planning. We’ll see that on the defensive side of the ball this season.
The offensive side is a bit of a different story. We have read camp reports lately that stated new OC Matt Canada’s offense was going to be similar to departed OC Chaney’s with the exception of position labels and other terminology. As I have written before I wonder just how much of that is true when our offense was so overall ineffective last season.
But let’s say that the staff isn’t just blowing smoke and that’s true. That means we will be in the second year of schemes continuity and the players, save for the incoming 2016 recruiting class, are familiar with what is being asked of them.
Which means the time is ripe to star really getting Narduzzi’s own players out on the field and building a team that will play ball together this season and in the near future.
Aside from the QB position we saw some other changes in the lineup happen early on due to superb talent rising to the top of the depth chart. First to come to mind is FR DB Jordan Whitehead usurping JR Pat Amara’s starting role – which ultimately led to Amara’s departure.
We saw Darrin Hall take over the #2 running back spot and forcing Chris James to the bench… and out-of-town. Now that situation arose due to Conner’s injury and illness but is a fact that happened. And as mentioned above we saw Peterman’s abilities overtake Voytik and the Voytik caught the next train for the station also.
These things aren’t new to Pitt or any other college football team and truth be told is the exact reason I like college ball so much more than the NFL. I love the individual position battles, even at important positions like QB, and I love the player’s stories and how they handle what comes at them.
I think the best is when a player is dropped from the starting job yet remains upbeat and involved enough to still contribute during the season. We may see that happen more than once in 2016.
So – who is the new blood we may see fight their way into the two-deep and then possibly into a starting role?
Let’s take a look at the offense today.
At QB the starting job is set. No one on the roster meets or exceeds Peterman’s skill and QB knowledge and his track record as a starter is well-known. He wasn’t a star player last season but did well overall. The question at that spot isn’t who will start but who will be in that crucial QB2 role going into Villanova.
For the first time in two years we have heard rsFR Ben Dinucci’s name spoken in conjunction with actual playing time. His competition is Manny Stocker; a QB turned WR turned QB again. Stocker has no real successful college track record as a QB but he did see the field in numerous games at both NC State as a true FR and then again at Tennessee-Martin as a SO.
I think fans feel that Stocker is only a running QB but that really isn’t the case. He passed for 2,000 yards and 20 TDs in a Pennsylvania D1-AAAA school – so he’s familiar with throwing the ball. He’s a legit 6’2″ (stood next to him last Tuesday) and listed at 215 – a veritable redwood among saplings compared to our last two starting QBs before Peterman.
Here you can see some of Stocker’s HS highlights. At the 1:10 mark he goes deep and hits his WR with a pass that travels 45 yards through the air. He can throw outs also so he isn’t just a running QB. I think if he were needed to play on a regular basis the game plan would have to modify a bit in both good and bad ways.
We’ll shorten up the passing game but put more QB keepers in the game plan.
Ben Dinucci is a fan favorite, there is no denying that. A poll taken by the Trib-Review by their readers heavily favored Dinucci over Stocker as thus:
Trib’s Poll for the 2nd string QB;
21% No Opinion.
I’ve always wondered why people even do a poll if they are going to choose “No Opinion”
“The Nucch” is a Pine-Richland grad and was a PA championship HS QB so people want him to succeed. He may well do that at Pitt but I don’t think he’ll rise much above the 3# spot during his career. i talked a bit about his recruitment in my podcast yesterday and just feel like he was brought onboard to 10 fill a QB scholarship and 2) to get a local favorite son on the roster.
I may be wrong about that. I paid pretty close attention to him when i watched what little we could see in practices over the last two years and then again in the Spring game this April (see graphic below) where he went 0-4 and just wasn’t much impressed. I’ve been wrong before though and it looks like Narduzzi and Canada are giving him a legit competitive shot at that back up position.
However, this year I think it will be Peterman and Stocker getting the QB snaps in-between games and next season it will be MacVitte and Bo Schneider as the #1 and #2 guys – or vice versa. MacVitte will keep on a redshirt through thick or thin this season unless we get a “Put Bostick in” situation due to injury like we saw in 2007.
Oh, and don’t put any weight whatsoever in any kid being a HS championship QB when thinking about how they will do in college. At one point we had four of them on the roster at the same time – Sunseri, Myers, Anderson and Gonzalez. A lot of good that did us.
So IMO – Peterman and Stocker then Dinucci with MacVitte keeping the redshirt on all year.
At Wide Receiver it is a bit of a different story, and that position is ripe for changes.It is also one where a talented youngster can waltz in and get major playing time based on raw skills and speed… as we saw in 2013 when Tyler Boyd came in and promptly forced prospective starters Ed Tinker and Kevin Weatherspoon to the bench.
As for the two-deep going into this camp our two returning starting WRs are both upperclassman. SR Dontez Ford will be on one side and rsJR Zach Challingsworth will be on the other. rsJR Jester Weah’s name has been bandied about also and a wish and a prayer… although he did have a good spring scrimmage with three catches for 102 yards.
But after those three we have all young players who really haven’t seen much PT.
I think the best ‘new’ WR to get thrown to a lot in ’16 will be rsFR Tre Tipton. He played a bit last year then had a season ending injury so he’s still an unknown entity to fans. However, I watched him in 2014 when we still had open practices and was pretty damn impressed. He’s not a huge kid at an even 6’0″ but really does well with yards after the catch with his being fast and elusive. That comes from having an 11.9 ypc average as a RB in HS I’m sure.
But we also have some real eye-openers coming in fresh off the farm and will see them play also. Most notably, and most talked about lately, is FR Aaron Mathews, a big boy at 6’4″ and 190. He was a Rivals 3* ‘Ath’ (a catch-all phrase meaning he can play just about any skill position), was ranked the 14th best player in PA and was heavily recruited by PSU, WVU, NC State, Syracuse and the perennial powerhouse Old Dominion.
Here’s the thing about Mathews – he can run fast and is tall. Since we are going to be throwing deep more often (really, we are!) we need guys who can get downfield quickly and not let the ball bounce off the top of their helmet on a regular basis.
Plus we flipped him from the Nitters by telling him he could play WR for us – that was mainly due to Boyd leaving and another WR scholarship opening up. We fans talk a lot about FFrench and Flowers but I think Mathews is the one true FR to watch when it comes to getting playing time.
Which brings us to the most watched and debated position on the offense – Running Back. We have had our twists, turns and uncertainties here over the last year and it looks like that won’t stop now.
Last season we had JR James Conner coming off a record-breaking and wonderfully productive 2014. There was no arguing he was going to be the featured back and the workhorse of the offense. Going into fall camp last year the two-deep at RB was Conner and SO Chris James with JR Rachid Ibrahim and rsFR Quadree Ollison as backups. Ibrahim had an injury in the last days of camp and that left the RBs with three viable players
It all changed lickety-split with an injury to Conner in the 2nd quarter of the 1st game. From that point on it was in-game tryouts to see which RB could pick up the slack.
For the rest of the YSU game the three remaining RBs did this; Ollison had 16 carries for 207 yards (12.6 ypc) and a TD; James had 32 yards on 7 carries and Hall went nowhere on 3 carries.
That sealed the deal for Ollison as a starter and the next game against Akron Hall won the back-up role and James was sat down. From that point on James and Hall split carries – Hall getting more at 64 for 257 yards (4.0 ypc) while James had less carries 56 for 253 yards but a higher ypc average at 4.5.
That wasn’t good enough for James as he followed Chryst to Wisconsin where he has to sit out a transfer year this season.
So who is the surprise this year as a ball carrier? Setting aside the assumption that Conner will be back and full strength (a big assumption mind you) the chatter has been that FR Chawntez Moss is giving Ollison a run for his money as the #2 RB.
Which is kind of hard to believe on my part given Ollison’s very good production as the featured back last year.
His 1121 yards on 212 carries for a great 5.3 ypc was well done for a rsFR and in any other circumstances would be an automatic pass to the next year’s starting job. But not at Pitt apparently. Let me put something in perspective here. I’ll show you a graphic (albeit a bit old) that has Pitt’s all-time Top 10 running backs listed save for Conner. Take a look at what yards per carry they all had…
Ollison’s 5.3 ypc would have been 4th best – that is how well he ran the ball last season. So when I hear that the staff is saying that Moss might overtake him, or Darrin Hall also for that matter, I’m pretty skeptical.
Plus all the coaches could talk about at Media Day when discussing the RBs is how drastically Ollison followed the staff’s orders and lost his baby fat, gained muscle and turned in the lowest 40 yard dash time among the RBs.
That sure doesn’t sound like someone you sit down unless there has been a true shooting star hitting the Southside facility when no one was looking.
But Moss’s name keeps coming up in these camp reports. He was a 3* recruit out of Ohio with kind of unremarkable offers – the only Power Five schools who looked at him seriously were Pitt, Iowa and Indiana. he was rated 41st in Ohio as a schoolboy and 35th nationally.
He reported aboard early on in Jan so that is always a good sign for the staff coaches plus his highlight tape is pretty good also I suppose – it’s hard for me to tell what these videos actually mean given they may be playing against defenses with 9th and 10th graders on them.
My thoughts on this? The staff us floating Moss’s name so much to act as a fire under Ollison’s ass. Something is going on between the coaches and him i think, otherwise you just don’t disregard a kid who produces the way Ollison did last season.
I don’t anticipate any young surprises on the Offensive Line or at Tight end. The OL will rotate more this season now that we have better depth that we did. Jared Jones-Smith will be returning from a season ending injury and he was a past starter.
The OL is full of guys with a lot of experience and/or returning lettermen but no FR who look to break into that two-deep squad. Except perhaps rsFR Alex Paulina, a 3* kid who committed early and had VT chasing after him. At 6’3″ and 300 lbs he has the size to give the other guys breathers when necessary.
Our TE corps is situated the same way with SRs Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish as TE1 and TE2. rsJR Devon Edwards is over there also. His was an interesting recruitment – he was rated a 2* yet had nine Power Five offers with Nebraska and WVU among them.
Here are those Spring Game stats I mentioned above:
We’ll hit on the new defensive kids tomorrow…