Part of the offseason discussions about Pitt football – the fun part – is speculating about what will happen next year. A big part of that is looking at the players we lose to graduation and who is still onboard, or is in the recruiting pipeline, who may fleet up and become starters.
We are losing players who have given Pitt some great play over their careers – guys like Nate Peterman at QB; RB James Conner, OLs Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson just to name a few on the offensive side of the ball.
On defense DE Ejuan Price and his sacks will be gone. Shakir Soto is leaving along with starting LBs Matt Galambos, Mike Caprara and Bam Bradley… and others also.
So what happens when that happens? Well, the beauty of college football is that there is a starter’s revolving door that lets newcomers in at the same time old timers go out. A great thing that happens each year is that kids who haven’t been in the media eye much rise up to not only do their job but sometimes do it extremely and surprisingly well.
Others are players who have been on the roster for sometime but have big question marks next to their name because there is doubt they will live up to expectations. And expectations are funny things. Most are reasonable but sometimes what fans expect bleeds over to a player being hyped up to heights that they just can’t meet.
A good example of a player that had that question mark beside his name was WR Jester Weah who was a JR last season and had been on the roster for three years but couldn’t bring his practice excellence to the playing field. We who had watch him in practices and scrimmages knew he was extremely skilled – but what surprised us this year was that he almost single-highhandedly made us forget we didn’t have Tyler Boyd this season.
That my fellow fans is a true “breakout season” for a player to have.
So who do you think will be the surprise stars of 2017 on offense? We can share ours by position, by unit or anyway you’d like. I’ll go first and we’ll take a look at the defense in a day or two.
On offense I like rsJR RB Qadree Ollison if he stays on the roster. I can’t think of a better way to stabilize an offense in transition then having a big back with speed getting the ball on a regular basis. Maybe, if the staff decides to play him, it would be more like a ‘re-breakout year’ for him as he certainly established his bona fides in 2015.
Personally I don’t hold much stock in either Darrin Hall or Chawntez Moss to be solid and constant producers at RB next season. And I don’t see stardom from them either. We may see them do it but I want the established Ollison to rebound from being exiled to Elba with Napoleon and show us, again, how well he plays running back when given steady work.
(I have an article in draft form that breaks down our 2016 running game for publication tomorrow morning…some real unexpected info there.)
We may see a surprise in our TE play also especially if the new OC, whoever that may be, starts off playing it safe in the passing game due to a new QB in place. The question is which TE on the roster would be the guy at the receiving end of those passes?
Pitt fans seem to love new Pitt player rsSO TE Chris Clark -a transfer in from UCLA , a place he landed at after some false starts. He lasted one game at UCLA and had an interesting relationship with then-HC Jim Mora.
But since then he sat out a year then came to Pitt and went on the injured list for all of 2016. Two years to think about life sometimes matures young men and let’s hope this is the case with Clark because apparently he’s talented.
Rated the nation’s No. 1 tight end by Rivals and Scout as a senior at Avon Old Farms and had more than 40 scholarship offers…averaged 19.4 yards per catch his senior year with 32 receptions for 621 yards and seven touchdowns…had 33 catches for 417 yards (12.6 avg.) and six TDs as a junior…selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Game…named to the Scout 300 (No. 23), Rivals 100 (No. 79) and ESPN 100 (No. 111) (funny math there).
We have used our TE a lot in the passing game over the last few years. Two seasons ago in 2015 Holtz and Orndoff combined to grab 37 passes for 594 yards (16.0 ypc) and nine TDs.
This last season we had Orndoff in his SR year and he almost replicated those number all by himself with 35 catches for 579 yards (16.5 ypc) and five TDs. Jaymar Parrish, after being moved from his old FB position chipped in with 4 catches for 78 yards… which is 19.5 ypc and pretty amazing for a guy his size.
With Parrish and Orndoff leaving that leaves only two scholarship TEs on the roster – Clarke and rsSR Zach Poker. Poker was a lightly recruited 2* TE/LB who was moved to LB/DE by the last coaching staff and back to TE by this one.
I’m extremely worried about this position anyway so I’ll say this – if Clark doesn’t live up to the hype, and we have no idea what his blocking skills are like (Poker is better in that skill set I believe), then we are in some trouble. So maybe this is a wishful thinking ‘breakout’ pick rather than a projected one.
At WR we have some very good returning starting talent in rsSR Jester Weah and then some experience in All-Everything JR Quadree Henderson – who had 26 catches for 267 yards and a TD. Those two spots will be OK because I think with the two starting TEs gone and Dontez Ford graduating those two will be our primary receivers.
But they have some good talent behind them also with both Tre Tipton and Aaron Matthews seeing some playing time in ’16. I’m going with Tipton to be that WR who does what Weah did last year – go from a seldom used receiver to not only a starter but maybe a star to boot.
As a recruit Tipton was rated 3* and was, this is interesting, recruited heavily by Michigan State – which may account for his being in the lineup as a true FR when Narduzzi took over.
If you remember Tipton played in the first four games back in 2015 until he had a knee injury and qualified for a medical redshirt. That’s some experience under his belt also in addition to his play last season.
Tipton had 12 receptions for 142 yards (11.8 ypc) and a TD so he was targeted a good amount for a non-starter. But he also filled that ‘WR as RB’ role well with 6 carries for 51 yards (5.5 ypc) so he produces when he has the ball. He’s a speedster and will be able to get downfield for long passes and depending on how strong our new QB Browne’s arm is that could be a great combo.
OK – those three guys are my picks for players we’ll hear about on offense next season. rsJR RB Ollison if the staff wises up and gets him into the games on a regular basis (and if he doesn’t transfer); Chris Clark as the rsSO TE who tries to replace a very prolific Scott Orndoff and then rsSO WR Tre Tipton who has shown good hands and speed and could be a real weapon in the passing game.
Who are yours?
Note: We’ll do a defensive breakout picks soon…