Who Is the Beef and Where Will They Play?

After I posted the last article about our returning and new running backs and other ball carriers, because the WRs, QB and DBs got a lot of carries also,  a few commenters stated “running back is the least of our worries“.

Which I can understand given the fact that our defense was shredded like G. Gordon Lilly’s Iran-Contra papers.  Any real worries Pitt fans have to start in the defensive backfield then work forward to the linebackers then end up at the defensive line.

But that isn’t to say there are some real areas of concern on offense also. Here you see the two-deep we had penciled in on the OL at the end of last season. syr-ol

What is scary in reviewing that is all of the left side tackles and guards are now gone, and considering both LT Aaron Reese and LG Carson Baker were slotted to be probable ’17 starters, that is six combined years of returning experience we lost.

Take away Mike Grimm who was a 4* recruit and leaves us a dearth of experience to fill out this next season’s two-deep lineup.  That makes me worry because as much as we want to think our ball carriers are great and will produce well – they do so because the guys up front have been excellent at what they do.

Here are the departing and the returning Offensive Lineman we have coming out of 2016 and going into the 2017 season. 

I didn’t list our ’17 class recruits in this prospective two-deep table since they are years away from playing (probably).   Those who have left the program are in red.  I listed in green the players I think may be juggled around to start for us in 2017

53 D. Johnson 6-5/315 OL Grad
62 John Guy 6-7/310 OL Grad
69 A. Bisnowaty 6-6/305 OL Grad
50 Mike Grimm 6-6/320 OL RS JR   INJURY ****
60 Aaron Reese 6-5/310 OL RS SR   TRX ***
72 Carson Baker 6-5/320 OL RS SR   TRX **
74 Alex Paulina 6-3/315 OL RS SO   TRX ***
70 Brian O’Neill 6-6/300 OL RS JR *** TE
76 C. Dintino 6-3/310 OL RS JR *** DT
77 Alex Galiyas 6-2/290 OL RS JR WO
78 Alex Bookser 6-6/315 OL RS JR ****
55  Jones-Smith 6-7/325 OL RS SR ***
63 Alex Officer 6-4/335 OL RS SR ***
59 Tony Pilato 6-5/320 OL RS SO ***
64 Aaron Britton 6-5/280 OL RS SO WO
68 K. Benbrook 6-3/295 OL RS SO WO
56 Brandon Ford 6-5/300 OL RS FR ***
67 J. Morrissey 6-3/295 OL RS FR WO
71 B. Hargrove 6-4/300 OL RS FR ***
77 Justin Morgan 6-6/365 OL RS FR ***

Lets be honest here and recognize that when you have this many changes and some new coaching staff members you never know how the dice will shake out for the opening game.

We do have some talent coming back though, especially with power house and flex-talented Brian O’Neill at the Right Tackle position.  Alex Boosker also played on the right side as a Guard last year but watch to see if one of those two experienced players move to the Left Tackle position to protect right-handed Max Browne’s blind side. 

Peterman had Adam Bisnowaty there last season and between Bisnowaty and LG Dorian Johnson we had a great foundation which resulted in our giving up only 10 sacks all season (look for that to go up and maybe by a lot this year).

Last season we passed only 37.1% of the time and that was with a QB who was 4th in the nation in yards per completion at 15.43 which is the about the best Pitt has ever had according to my research.  Plus Peterman was 8th in the nation in passing efficiency at 163.4. Our other high-efficiency QBs were David Priestly at 169.20, Matt Cavanaugh at 146.66 and Tyler Palko at 140.80… and in more modern times Chad Voytik’s 2014 season was a 140.2 rating.

If we didn’t pass more with him behind center last year I wonder just what OC Shawn Watson is going to do if Browne is passing as well as Peterman was. Is he going to balance out the offense more or will he stick with over 60% running plays?

Either way we will still run the ball at least half the time as Pitt always seems to do and depending on how well our ball carriers show up we need solid strength on that left side, especially early in the season when we play PSU and OSU in the 2nd and 3rd games of the year.

Here is a good article on Dorian Johnson and his NFL chances by PSN.

“But it’s offensive guard Dorian Johnson that looks to be in line to take home the highest draft honors. Johnson was a three-year starter at left guard for the Panthers and the Belle Vernon native was one of the most reliable members of an offensive line that was twice nominated for the Joe Moore Award.”

Our returnees at the Center position are the experienced duo of Alex Officer and Conner Dintino again. That’s projected as staying and except for the maddening number of bad snaps – some in key moments of play by the full-time starter Officer – we should be OK there.  However If Dintino can firmly grasp the starter’s spot Officer may be moved to that left side to help out there.

For future seasons we landed some nice OL recruits in getting these guys on board in last year’s recruiting class:

Brandon Ford OL Pittsburgh, PA 6’5″ 304   5.5 3*
Zack Williams OL Citra, FL 6’5″ 265   5.5 3*
Justin Morgan OL Brooklyn, NY 6’7″ 335   5.5 3*

I do like OL Brandon Ford to climb up the ladder into the two-deep this season but as a rsFR that might not happen.  My prediction for him  is based on the total amount of time I spent drinking beer with his father the night before the Pinstripe bowl….on second thought maybe Brandon should be a starter because we hit it hard.

rsFR Justin Morgan’s name has been brought up as having real potential also.  He may be one that sees the field earlier than most.

High school coaches Matt Demarest and Rob Freeman weren’t in each others company while speaking about the monstrous left tackles they sent to Pitt in the 2017 recruiting class. Yet, they uttered the same phrase in estimation of Carter Warren and Jerry Drake Jr.

“The sky’s the limit.”  And between those two and local product Gabe Houy, there’s reason to be intrigued by some of the building blocks of Pitt’s offensive line — especially on the ends.

In the group of high school seniors signed earlier this month, coach Pat Narduzzi brought in three players who could project to the offensive tackle position, potentially bookends of Pitt’s line down the road. Drake is already an official Panther, enrolling for the spring semester, and when the other two arrive, 232 inches and 905 pounds will be added to the offensive line.

Well, that’s some nice words about the youngsters but we still won’t see them in action for any length of time for two years at least.

The offseason always makes me a little wary of how well or how poorly each individual unit is going to perform in the upcoming season.  There are just too many question marks at this point in early March for us to look at the OL contenders and say we’ll have a front five as good as last season’s.

But I just don’t think we will, and that doesn’t mean it won’t be good either – just not as good as 2016.  Losing an solid possible starter in Mike Grimm with his retirement due to hip injury is a tough blow for us.  However, having both Reese and Baker take off when they looked to be starters also is a wonderment to me. It isn’t a good thing and I don’t know why they did it.

Sometime when a player decides to ‘leave the team‘ it means either they tired of football altogether or their academics weren’t good enough to stay in school. I have no idea of those two’s reasons for leaving and can’t find any real references as to why they did.  But I don’t think it was going to be lack of playing time as they were well situated for either starting or certainly a firm position in the two-deep.  At least as I see it at this point.

As stated above Grimm’s reasoning is clear – he can’t pursue a football career any longer due to injury.

Back in January I wrote an article on all of the guys not returning when they had eligibility – Conner’s off to the NFL but the others just left the program.  We are not deep at OL and in a way I’m surprised Narduzzi isn’t shopping around to find a grad transfer OL to shore up the unit.

This will be the camps and regular season when we see if Pitt’s OL Coach John Peterson is what he’s cracked up to be.  I wrote earlier that I can’t tell if he’s a good position coach or not because he has worked with a two-deep that were Paul Chryst’s  recruits who were now upperclassmen.  

It is pretty easy to live off a reputation built around players like Bisnowaty, Johnson, Baker, Artie Rowell, Jared Jones Smith, Gabe Roberts and John Guy  who were already in the system.  But the main job of the OL coach is to target and get talent onboard and teach the incoming OL so that they are ready to step in when needed – and this is the year for Narduzzi & Peterson’s OL recruits to do just that.

Peterson obviously has done pretty well so far as the OL coach; getting Brian O’Neill to switch over to Right Tackle for the Defensive End position and then start right away is a feather in Peterson’s cap.  Also, getting the starting OL to play at the level they did last year was good also but this season is where he really has to coach up the out-of-nowhere kids onto the two-deep due to the departures.

When you have new OL getting up to be starters there is always a shake down period of a game or two before they really mesh and work as a unit.  Against Villanova in last seasons’ opener we had only 86 yards on the ground rushing for an average of 2.5 ypc.

In the next match against PSU we ripped off 341 yards at a 6.1 ypc clip and the running game was established from then on…

If Peterson can get his unit to pull that off again, starting against Youngstown State in the opener then in a real test at Happy Valley the next week, we’ll get that some off that offensive firepower back that we had last year. 

Not 40 points per game though, that was a one-off I believe but above 30 would be nice though. In 2015 we put up 28.2 ppg in Peterman’s first season and without James Conner.  I see us being a bit better than that with a new and rather inexperienced QB and again without a star RB like Conner.

But it all starts with those five players up front to get the play moving and then giving the players behind them the time and space to do their jobs effectively.

Note:  If you are planning to attend our Golf Outing on April 14th  please get in touch with Rick Caldwell or myself.  Single attendees fee is $75.00.  The team attendees and such are listed on the flyer as this:

As a sponsor of this event, your company could receive: (sponsor’s art files due by March 24th)

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Please consider a donation of the following:

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With each sponsorship you will receive a quality sign which will be posted at one of the golf holes.

Also, we invite you or your company to sponsor a team in the golf tournament. The cost of a four person team is $300 and includes green fees, carts, prizes, and a meal. What a thoughtful way of thanking your employees for a job well done!  Golfers – please provide each player’s handicap…

If you are interested in attending and/or sponsoring our event, and we hope you are, please call the POC Point of Contact Rick Caldwell at (717) 838-4855 ext. 246 (W) or me at (410) 997-0388 (H) or 410-782-9981 (C) or email  Rick at rcaldwell@whiteoakdisplay.com or me at rkohberger@gmail.com with any questions.





37 thoughts on “Who Is the Beef and Where Will They Play?

  1. I think Reese and Baker just want to move on with their life’s work. (both took their graduation with their class) Paulina also grew tired of football through injuries and lost desire.


  2. Mike Grimm gave up football because of injury. I think Baker and Reese graduated and are not playing football anymore aka scholarships not renewed for 5th year. Paulina was transferring to D2 I believe?


  3. Some of the best athletes on the entire team were offensive lineman last year (Dorian, Biz, O’Neill). I am not sure we have as much athleticism moving forward as a group. I like Ford a lot in the future and hope he gets some snaps this year but Oline is the most difficult position to learn in the college ranks (outside of QB).


  4. That would be very interesting if Narduzzi didn’t renew Reese’s and Baker’s scholarship as they were listed on the two-deep. To do that means they must have very strong beliefs that the underclassmen can take their places –

    I can’t remember any Pitt coach doing that over the off season – not renewing a two-deep player at any position.


    1. Narduzzi mentioned several times last year that the redshirt team was loaded. Most assumed on defense but it may have carried over to the OL.


  5. I agree Conjunto and it’s also a position that needs natural maturing as well as the man-made kind of maturing. Like lifting weights/technique etc…

    I really like this years recruiting class for the future of PITT’s O-Line.

    Bottom line this year is the depth as Reed has pointed out. The starting group should be solid.


    1. You nailed it! The starting five will again be really good, maybe not excellent but really good. Will this prove out to be negatively statistically significant? I don’t think so. Justin Morgan will prove his metal this season. Brandon Ford also has a high upside.

      The key will be avoiding the injury bug on the OL. This year we simply reload. The injuries hurt the OL reserves last season while the starters avoided that mine field. This season, it will be critical for the starters to remain healthy, because of the depth issue that Reed eluded to. If Pitt does that, no worries with this OL.


  6. Reed,
    FWIW, Tuesday evenings are always good for me also (though I’ll be out 3/14).
    On to the article. Certainly the OL is a concern at this point. Thanks for giving us the details as of right now. However, like everyone else, the D and specifically the D backs are of nightmare quality! Personally I feel it was a combination of both x and o’s and Johnny and Joes. Duzz forced his D system on a team that could not do it. It reminds me of Walt’s season where he thrust the Spread offense on an O who couldn’t successfully do it. We were like 0-5 or 1-4 and Walt pulled the plug and went back to the conventional O and won all or most of the rest of the games. Duzz refused to do that last year and it resulted in having the worst Passing D in the nation. So this situation is certainly HEAVY on everyone’s mind for 2017!


    1. Your concerns will be set at ease early on this season. The reinforcements are now here. Coleman, Hamlin, Jackson, Stocker, M Henderson, Miller & maybe even Paris Ford transform this defensive secondary this year. If Jordan Whitehead decides that this year is his to excel, then Pitt could be declaring a “no fly zone” soon enough.


      1. That strikes me as wildly optimistic. I think we’re more likely in store for “less awful than 2016 but still an exploitable weakness.” I don’t think they’re going to be able to fix something that broken in a matter of one offseason.


        1. Hey Jeff, The good Dr is the breathe of fresh air so needed in our PITT nation. Rational? I say why not. Also Jeff. You planning on joining the round table discussion with Reed this evening?


  7. Concern about LT is legit – when Jones-Smith entered the games last season he looked a bit heavy-footed to me and seemed to have a full Erector-set worth of hardware on each knee. Maybe he improves his mobility over the off-season.

    I’ve wondered about moving Bookser to LT, although Bookser and O’Neill make such a strong unit side-by-side. But seems like it’s easier for a new guy to play at guard versus tackle, especially left tackle…

    I think Dintino is going to be a star at either center or guard. Strong and quick.

    Reed’s post shows that injuries to the OL could be tough to deal with this season.

    Go Pitt.


  8. Barring a rash of injuries, the OL only needs 2 or 3 reliable subs, since they can often play multiple positions. I believe this past year only Jones-Smith and Dintino saw any action except for garbage time.

    Ford, Morgan and maybe PIlato or Hargrove may be in the mix; also Jerry Drake may be a consideration because of early entree. Drake, Warren and Huoy appears to be a pretty good OL crop.


  9. The incoming recruited class will/is probably a year or two away from significant playing time but there are some good players in this class. In fact maybe all of them. C Warren is 6’6″ 320 and Drake as noted enrolled in Jan is 6’7″ 311lbs. These two could see playing time this year. Houy needs to grow as does Drexel, who is 6’2 and a half 270lbs. I’ve already pointed out Drexel as an up and comer along while ago and he really turned heads this past year. A natural center with a baby face and a nasty streak. These four players will keep the O-Line in great order in the next 4 years.

    BTW, I can’t remember if Kam Carter was mentioned as a possible surprise player on the D-Line this coming year? AT 6’4″ 300 lbs and a great all around athlete he could be a big surprise this year. He’s basically working on his last chance. Which reminds me of Rescke. Not much of an uproar over Carter signing on to play at PITT? Isn’t this a very similar story as Rescke? …… ike



  10. “Which I can understand given the fact that our defense was shredded like G. Gordon Lilly’s Iran-Contra papers.”

    Oliver North and his assistant, the lovely Fawn Hall actually did the shredding.


  11. Politics are forbidden. I thought it was Liddy. There was a Bob Lilly who shredded opposing Offensive Lines….once a time ago.


  12. Pitt seemed to run Right when they needed yards….most of the Reverses went right as well.

    Which was interesting since the two suppposed better ones were on the left.


    1. Emel – that was what I saw as well. Keep Bookser and O’Neil together – rebuild the left side with the next two guys up.

      Didn’t Conner’s goal line stuff in the bowl game happen on the left side?


  13. My big concern is Center….as Officer was at times terrible on shotgun snaps. Damn near got Peterman killed in the Bowl Fiasco.

    If he’s gonna stay at Center he needs to lose some weight….might help.


  14. Key to me is what happens in the weight room and what these big guys can do to improve their footwork. If those things are solid in the off season, then the results should be there come September.


  15. Remember O’Neil and his adjusted eating habits. That transformed Brian into a NFL prospect when none of saw it coming.


  16. I have to believe with Baker and Reese leaving with a year of eligibility left that the depth is better than it appears on paper. Hope it doesn’t get seriously tested though.

    Disagree about Officer, not that many bad snaps. But I do think he may be playing guard not center.


  17. You’re right gc, Reese did get a few snaps last year but not many. I don’t think Baker played at all. They weren’t necessary next in line, at least not considering this year. They both already had 4 years in and couldn’t find the field. This is a statement about the future of PITT’s O-Line. Morgan and Ford are unknown with high expectations. Among others.


  18. Reese had a shoulder issue and maybe Baker was just finished with football. Just nine scholarship linemen available since the true freshmen should/will redshirt. That’s dicey. Need three kids in the 2018 class along with a JuCo tackle. Pretty sure a JuCo has been offered.


  19. Reese and Baker may have been listed in the two deep but I think it meant as much as Stocker being listed as the backup QB in the Bowl game.


  20. Can’t wait to listen in on the round-table with Reed, Pittman4ever, PittPT and Upitt and hopefully others tomorrow night or whenever! Provocative for sure!


    1. Stallings actually was quoted here “But I’m satisfied with how I’ve tried to coach and educate and lead these guys.”

      That may be the problem. Without the 2 ‘alleged cancers’, the team only scored 2 points in 10 minutes and 0 FGs vs UVa. They were completely directionless. And BTW, they also gave up 19 points in the 1st 10 minutes against one of the lower scoring teams in the NCAA …. even without the due who allegedly can’t play defense.


  21. Starting 5 will be good, depth is an issue. Peterson is a damn good OL coach. I don’t buy the argument it wasn’t his players. Then Canada gets no credit because it wasn’t his players. Powell gets no credit for James Connor, etc.

    Give the guy credit where credit is due.

    Jones-Smith was returning from a horrible injury. He should be back to his old self in the fall.


  22. PC gets the credit for recruiting them; Peterson gets at least partial credit (if not more) for their development.

    Same goes to defense. PC gets blame for lack of talent/speed of his recruits but PN/OC gets partial blame for not improving them. However, I still say when you play against the passers and WRs that Pitt did this past season .. I don’t care what defense you play, you’re going to take your lumps.

    I believe I read that Pitt played against 8 or 9 WRs who were invited to the NFL Combine.


  23. Credit was given to Peterson…

    “Peterson obviously has done pretty well so far as the OL coach; getting Brian O’Neill to switch over to Right Tackle for the Defensive End position and then start right away is a feather in Peterson’s cap. Also, getting the starting OL to play at the level they did last year was good also but this season is where he really has to coach up the out-of-nowhere kids onto the two-deep due to the departures.”

    I believe that a position coach’s main job is teaching the FR and SO’ how to play at the college level first and foremost then get them built up physically over their first two years to be ready to contribute.

    That is what we will see of Peterson’s impact of the younger kids who are now going to be in the two-deep this season.

    These OL players are now Peterson/Narduzzi kids almost fully and thus we’ll see how well Peterson does in all aspects of his job as the unit’s coach.

    That’s what I mean when I said this year we’ll see the whole ball of wax.


  24. It’s all about the trenches on both sides of the ball. Win the trenches, win the game. Chryst, Hueber and Bolstad are the flag bearers in the OL space. I am hopeful that Jared Jones Burger Smith comes back strong. In my opinion, he was fast tracking towards early entry into the NFL Draft but was curtailed by a non-contact injury. If he is as strong and quick as pre-injury, I see great things for the line. O’Neill and Bookser are steady and both will be drafted. Agree that they should stay on the same side of the ball to keep continuity.

    Officer is the one I can’t figure out right now. Just when I think he is about to explode, he implodes and vice versa. Consistency is critical out of the center spot. I like him at center but he may best fit at Left Guard to team with Burger. That leaves the center spot. Maybe it is Dintino. I also like Morgan especially with his size and girth. I see him similarly to Drake so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Morgan and Drake as backups on the left side. I like the new Center pick up and he should redshirt for sure as will Houy as a RT prospect. I am certain that Hargrove, Ford and and Zack Williams will battle for interior position. Overall, we are a solid three OL recruiting class away from being solid for years to come.

    Peterson needs to develop mental toughness and cohesiveness in the group and we will be just fine. Also, the trickeration is great for OL. They love it and it breaks up the monotony of blocking the same dude, the same way, all game. Control the trenches!


  25. Jaryd-Jones Smith, Bookser, Dintino, Officer, O’Neil will be a solid O-Line. Issue will be with depth. Ford, Morgan and others will have to step up.


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