(This is the second of a longer series looking at our individual positions that need to be re-filled in 2017 and whether we will meet the PRODUCTION we had in those positions. We will not factor in true freshman at this point as we have no idea what they can and cannot do).
We have covered the other two skill positions on the offense in previous article; the QBs here and the RBs here. To refresh memories based on the production lost in those positions and what I think we have in the replacements on the roster I awarded the QB position a “downgrade” and the RBs a “draw“.
The “draw” for losing James Conner needed some explaining but again, it is the production we may, and in my mind will, get from the rest that was the basis for that.
Let’s move onto the last of the skilled positions in the WRs unit. I always wonder if the offensive linemen take exception at that “skill player” label the passers, rushers and receivers get. Any old OL guys out there care to chip in on that?
Our losses were not great in this unit by any means, mainly because our supposed primary receiver (coming out of fall camp) rsSR Dontez Ford broke his collar-bone in the game against North Carolina. He returned later in the year and did surprisingly well in ending up our 4th leading receiver over-all.
He will be missed, albeit not by much. But given his smaller role in the offense over the years he did produce exceedingly well for us with his career 46 catches for 843 yards and 5 TDs at a 18.3 YPC average.
The other departing WR was Zach Challingsworth who decided to leave after an injury riddled JR year. He played in only three games and had zero catches – and I don’t remember him being in the actual offense at all last season.
That leaves us with the bulk of WRs having produced on the year as we see the below. Now to review, this is the returning WRs, not RBs catching balls out of the backfield or TEs getting catches either.
You know what? As talented as we think that group is I’m not jumping up and down about it because I have no idea if the staff is going to try to get the ball to Henderson through the air more often or not. They only used him that way 26 times last year and there was a reason for that – his production as a runner was an astronomical 631 yards on 60 rushes for 10.5 ypc so they felt he was needed eslewhere.
I think he needs to get wrapped into the passing game big time because I’ve a feeling we are not going to see the longer passing plays this season like we did last year – and Henderson sure is a guy who can move with the ball if he is given a larger role in the short passing attack. He has to better that 11.5 yards per catch this season for us to get the most out of the WR corps though.
Then again – it all goes back to how well our running backs are handling their end of the offensive equation. Last season our WRs had 89 carries from scrimmage and that worked well but who knows what OC Sean Watson really envisions of his offensive players.
In his last work as an OC Watson in Louisville he didn’t use his WRs to carry the ball hardly at all. In 2011 they had zero carries by a WR, in 2012 one and in 2013 three. Three years running an offense and a total of four WR carries. Are we sure he’s going to replicate Canada’s offense coming into his first year at Pitt or is he going to do what almost every new OC does when they piss around the perimeter of the practice field to announce it is now theirs to run?
We saw that writ large with Chaney then with Canada… I’ll wait to see what Watson does.
Even so with the returning WRs we have on roster and the fact that we have five with game experience – including the gazelle SR Jester Weah coming back I’ll say it is a …
WRs – UPGRADE
Now let’s jump on over to the TEs and there we see it is a completely different story and it is a unit I have major concerns with. Departed SR Scotty Orndoff was a great all-around TE for us. He could block well in pass protection; get to the 2nd level and take out LBs for Conner and Henderson to romp downfield and also he was quick enough to get deeper down the field and block for other ball catchers to help extend their yards after the catch.
Top that off with a sterling reception showing himself and that is one big set of shoes to fill. Orndoff had 35 receptions for 579 at a 16.5 ypc clip with five TDs last year. You have to go decades back to find a Pitt TE not named Dorin Dickerson to match what Orndoff did in passing game production.
And really – he did better than All-American Dickerson in some ways in that Dickerson had 49 catches for only 529 yards at a lesser 10.8 ypc to go with his 10 TDs. J. P. Holtz didn’t come that close to Orndoff really, nor did Nate Byham…Darrel Strong came nearest with his 2007 year of 29 catches for 338 yards (11.3 ypc) and three TDs.
Interesting that we fans and the media went ga-ga over Dickerson at the time but Scott Orndoff’s quiet and wonderful work last season went almost unnoticed nationally.
We also lost rsSR Jaymar Parrish who, after being shifted from FB following the 2014 season to make room for George Aston (nice decision), was effective even if not too busy in his SR year. Four catches for 78 yards at a 19.5 ypc rate (!) didn’t show a ton but he used his 6’2″ / 260 lbs and became an excellent short yardage blocker also.
Who can forget this opening drive against Clemson that set the tone and told the Death Valley fans we were serious about winning that game:
- (15:00 – 1st) Greg Huegel kickoff for 65 yds for a touchback
1st and 10 at PITT 25
(14:55 – 1st) Nathan Peterman pass incomplete to Aaron Mathews
2nd and 10 at PITT 25
(14:28 – 1st) Nathan Peterman pass complete to Jaymar Parrish for 44 yds to the Clem 31 for a 1ST down
1st and 10 at CLEM 31
(14:00 – 1st) Nathan Peterman pass complete to Scott Orndoff for 8 yds to the Clem 23
2nd and 2 at CLEM 23
(13:39 – 1st) James Conner run for 8 yds to the Clem 15 for a 1ST down
1st and 10 at CLEM 15
(13:08 – 1st) Nathan Peterman pass complete to George Aston for 15 yds for a TD, (Chris Blewitt KICK)
What jumps out there? The work of our departed TEs.
Zach Poker, who was moved from DE to TE after the 2015 season also left the program but he wasn’t getting any playing time at all.
I said earlier I am very wary of who we have in the pipeline for the TE position this season. A year or two down the line I may be very satisfied – but that isn’t 2017. Here is the current roster at that spot:
|45||Devon Edwards||6-4/270||TE||RS SR||Columbus, Ohio/Eastmor Academy|
|81||Nathan Bossory||6-3/235||TE||SR||Chelsea, Mich./Air Force|
|87||Chris Clark||6-6/255||TE||RS SO||Ridgewood, N.J./UCLA|
|98||DeAndre Schifino||6-2/235||TE||RS SO||Penn Hills, Pa./Penn Hills|
Lets look at them one by one.
rsSR Devon Edwards is player whose best work has been spot duty in six games as a stop-gap DE last season. He’s done nothing at the TE position but has special teams experience.
JR Nathan Bossary is a converted QB who last play any real football was for the Air Force JV squad. Another guy with only three games special team experience. I expect nothing out of those two in 2017.
So who does that leave us with? Again reminding ourselves that we are not talking about true freshman at this point, only returning roster players. We have absolutely no idea how recruits Carrigan, Reeves and Sear will play or even if they will or won’t redshirt (let’s hope one or two do because that means someone else came through at the position).
rsFR DeAndre Schifino is a converted HS LB who walked-on, is a non-scholarship player and has no game experience. I believe one of the three recruits coming in will get more time than he will.
We also have a transfer TE coming on board in rsSR Mike Flanagan. He’s been a walk-on then a scholarship player at Rutgers but truth be told – and this is a great thing – his most notable collegiate achievements have been on the academic side. A three-year Academic All-Big Ten is nothing to sneeze at. But he has game experience and has caught passes – some for TDs…
Stranger things have happened then a seldom used player blossoming in a new situation – just ask Nate Peterman. So let’s hope this happens with Flanagan because we’ll need him and maybe not just for depth.
Which brings us to the kid staff and fan fingers are pointing toward to be the starter and main producer for us. But –
Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.
We have rsSO Christopher Golightly Clark coming to the town nearest you to play the game of Football – and that spelled with a capital F and that stands for…
I know I shouldn’t make too much fun of this young man, after all he did get off the train at Penn Station. Whether he knew exactly where he was is another story…
“Once upon a time a football player named Golightly Clark had just caught the North Eastern Railway Flyer on a one-way ticket eastbound when he woke up in…Well, he knew he wasn’t in Ann Arbor, Michigan because he committed to the Wolverines there earlier and then changed his mind…
Nor was he in Chapel Hill, North Carolina because he pledged his loyal commitment to the Tar Heels and then changed his mind again. He for sure knew he wasn’t in Los Angeles either because he just left there after playing one game for the UCLA Bruins.
So he must have been in Syracuse. He remembered talking with the Orangeman’s coaches – but they surely must have been joking about pulling that scholarship offer weren’t they because that would be going back on a promise. Oh well, he thought to himself, since I’m at Penn Station I’ll try Pitt.”
Look folks – a five-star ranking in HS for Chris Clarke means as much to me as I said it did for our QB Max Browne. Nothing. But at least Browne has a track record of playing some games against decent competition and battling through three years of waiting and adversity.
I’ll say this about the young man – if Clark is as adamant as he says he is about his maturation since he’s been on the Southside from last fall until now then maybe he’ll produce and give us what we are certainly missing now at the position.
“My recruiting process, I’ll be the first to admit — (it was) not embarrassing — (but) I definitely wish I could change a couple of things that happened throughout it,” he said.
“I got known as one of those kids who was so indecisive with a lot of things. I’ve definitely grown up a lot since then. I’ve changed. I have a different mindset now than I did back in high school.
“It’s helped me grow so much as a person, as a man and, obviously, as a football player. I’m really happy that I found a place like Pitt I can call home.”
Lord knows we need him to do so and that is pressure he truly hasn’t felt anywhere else once that train started down the track.
If he handles it and is as good as advertised than great and good for him. I’ll say this, he may well be the star everyone is supposing he’s destined to be – he has size and speed and now some insight on what has to be done to be a good player but more importantly a good teammate. Having seniors Orndoff and Parrish practice next to him every day must have been beneficial.
… but I ain’t counting chickens yet though.
TE – DOWNGRADE