Note: I started drafted this piece immediately after I posted the preceding article.
I wrote an earlier article detailing what I think are the major question marks found in Pat Narduzzi’s YSU two-deep that was just released by Pitt’s Athletic Media Department. They are many and I think they are compelling in the sense that it really highlights the lack of experience we will be fielding at Heinz field on Saturday. Here is that listing again:
But that two-deep, as in anything regarding Pitt Football, doesn’t tell the whole story. While I can’t really wrap my head around the fact that the HC and DC feel that SR DL Shane Roy is a starter, I can also look at the list and see things that I feel will be working hard for us to get a victory in this game. I’ll start with the offense.
Three players whom I feel could also have question marks next to their names also (but I didn’t award them that) are more in line for the positive . That would be Chris Clark at TE; Max Browne at QB and rsJR Qadree Ollison at RB. Now, I have written in the past that I have major reservations about Max Browne so let’s start with him.
Transferring from one program to another for a SR year is becoming less unusual than it was even five years ago. So Pitt is where Browne has decided to transfer to after a disappointing showing over his first four years as a D1 player – his FR year was a redshirt season. Pitt fans are excited about him pretty much only based on his #1 recruit ranking (overall) coming out of HS.
That fact doesn’t necessarily mean anything to me – I wrote earlier that I’ve had correspondence with a couple of bloggers and a sportswriter from the USC area and they were uncertain that Browne had what it takes to highly succeed at this level of play. That is understandable as his time in California was nothing to write home about.
But that was then and this is now.
I chuckle a lot at the always very lofty expectations Pitt fans have for players who join our program, either through the normal HS recruiting system or via transfer. Ask those fans and they will tell you loudly and often that everyone has stardom stamped on their (broad in Browne’s case) forehead.
But I’m not looking at Browne and wondering if he’ll be a ‘big star’ at Pitt because he doesn’t really need to be. It would be nice if that happened, but what I want to see from Browne is a QB who can execute the game plan as written and lead the offense down the field toward a touchdown or into position for a field goal. In other words fulfill the job description for QB play in Watson’s offense (whatever that is). As they stand now Brown’s career stats don’t get anyone excited, but remember these are historic and not what he’s done at Pitt… or will do at Pitt even:
I don’t know what the intent of the USC Offensive Coordinator was when Browne played there but I’m sure an average yards per attempt of 5.8 wasn’t one of them. Again, that was then. This season Browne will be asked to carry out a game plan that will be heavy on ball control and getting numerous consecutive 1st downs. His deep threat will be rsSR Jester Weah – but here’s the nice thing about Weah and his astronomical 24.2 yards per catch – a ton of that yardage came on what is called YAC – or Yards after the Catch.
That is where we will see our passing game really contribute this season and where I think Browne will be able to execute his duties best. Weah and our “new” WR Quadree Henderson will get those short and intermediate passes Browne is best at throwing and make things happen.
That said I have real concerns about Brown’s mobility talents when pressure forms around him. He isn’t like the last two QBs we had with Peterman and Voytik both being very mobile and both having very good situational awareness. I see our ‘sacks allowed’ rising, perhaps drastically, but when Browne if our OL can get that Browne that extra second to pass – I think he’ll do well at it.
No stardom for Browne in his year at Pitt I think, but he’ll be a good, decent QB for us. I see a prospective stat line of his to be around 60% completion rate, 2300+ yards, 9.0 YPA, and a TD/INT line of around 20-14. If he can do that and also make over 50% of those crucial 3rd down passes then I think we’ll be OK in the passing game. Let’s give Browne a for his 2017 season.
Another offensive player who concerns swell around is returning RB Qadree Ollison. If we remember he had a star turn in relief of James Conner when Conner sat out the 2015 season due to his illness. It isn’t a reach to say that Ollison surprised a lot of the college football world with his efforts and results when tapped to be the primary ball carrier for us. This is what he did back then (Yinz want details; yinz get details):
We see that as a rsFR Ollison did very well in his first year of play at Pitt. 1121 yards and a 5.3 YPC is just what we’ll need from him again this year – we’ll take more of course but that would be fine as long as we have a decent passing game complementing it.
An interesting projection for Ollison’s past 2015 season is this. If our staff would have given him the same amount of carries Conner had the year before (298) Ollison’s stat line would have been: 298 carries @ 5.3 YPC = 1580 yards with 15 TDs. He may well get those 290+ carries this season if he starts off hot and stays in as the starter.
But, as with Browne, there is a valid concern here also. Something went on with Ollison and the coaching staff last season and thus he wasn’t the featured RB subbing in behind a healthy Conner as we all expected him to be. His carries and YPC dropped dramatically from ’15 to ’16 and thus makes us wonder which Ollison will we see out there this season. I think he gets back to his 2015 form though and so he gets a solid from me.
I’ve been pretty critical of rsSO TE Chris Clark and his actions of bouncing around from program to program while wearing his prima donna tiara before he landed at Pitt last year. But he was younger then with a bigger head than he has now and has publicly acknowledged that he behaved that way – so now onto his football skills. Of which we know very little actually as he has only played one game at the D1 level and that was for UCLA back in ’15.
I easily could have designated Clark a “?” in the last article but as I was reviewing his part in the offense during fall camp I realized that 1) I started to see that he was indeed a ‘good hands’ TE and 2) that would fit in with the type of QB we have and the type of offense I think OC Shawn Watson will field this season, which would be the shorter passing game I described in Brown’s part above.
One thing to look at with Clark is who he is replacing as the TE (or part-time replacing since Flanagan seems to have grabbed the starting TE spot). Graduated Scott Orndoff was as a productive TE in the Pitt offense as we have seen in a very long time.
Considering our leading receiver, Jester Weah, had 35 catches in ’16 that makes Orndoff’s 34 receptions really jump out at us. That is a lot of action for a TE and even more impressive was Orndoff’s 16.5 YPC, which helped him to be the 2nd leading TD maker on our offense last season.
So Clark has big shoes to fill but if we believe that he’s a speedy guy and a talented catcher of passes then he’ll mesh very well with our offense. I’ll put aside some of my concerns about Clark as a starter at TE especially now that we see that coaching staff has acknowledged what I have been saying all along – Clark’s worth to our offense is in receiving the ball and not being relied on to be an effective, and very much-needed, blocking TE. Transfer Flanagan will be that TE playing when the emphasis is on solid pass protection for Browne… especially now with the great blocker FB George Aston out for the long term .
Clark gets a for his prospective talents in catching the ball and moving it forward after the catch.
Another to hand out goes to a specific position rather than an individual player. With that I’m looking at our Slot Receiver position. There has been a lot of talk out of fall camp about the move of taking Quadree Henderson, out 1st team All-American return man and getting him the ball more often via a role as a pass catcher. Last season Henderson did some of that;
Henderson’s 26 catches is not bad but totaling only 286 yards on those catches is pretty low at an 11.0 average per catch. Moving him into the Slot and incorporating him into the base offense more seems promising. but there is a concern with Henderson and that is he dropped more than a few passes last season – even in his limited time as a receiver.
What I think may happen, especially if those drops still hang around, is that WR rsJR Rafael Araujo-Lopes may get called on for duty there. Lopes is one of the faster Panthers we have on roster and although he didn’t see a lot of time on the field last year with only three catches for 36 yards I think he’d make a good short yardage pass; big YAC type receiver.
We heard his name a lot this fall camp and if it gets to the point that we need Henderson way more of a healthy returner I can see Lopes getting a lot PT – and I think he’s got the potential to make that personnel move work.
He gets a from me for that. Actually the position and the look that it may get used more often than in our last few season’s offenses gets a regardless of who is in there – as long as OC Watson does as I say.
That is about it for offense in my opinion. Others have been recognized in the past for what they will bring to the table this season but I’ll skip over players who have already proved their worth to us by previous season’s play. Players like Weah, O’Neil and Bookser are proven commodities and need not be acknowledged as such now.
Finding guys on Defense to award s to is a whole lot harder than on offense. That’s because we have so many real concerns about our young and/or inexperienced players on that side. I wrote in detail about those concerns earlier in the last article.
But there are a couple to point out and I’ll start with our ‘new’ MLB rsSO Saleem Brightwell. This is a kid who played OLB in HS and was there at the Money LB position for Pitt in a back-up role last year. But even as a part-timer he opened some eyes, including mine, with his steady, some times big, play and looking like a more seasoned and experienced player out there when it was only his first year on the field. Here is what his Pitt bio had to say about that:
“Played in 12 games, starting two at Money linebacker (North Carolina and Duke)…compiled 26 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, two sacks, one fumble recovery, one PBU and an interception on the year…had a season-high five tackles in each of his starting assignments against North Carolina and Duke…against the Tar Heels, added an 11-yard sack, a fumble recovery and a PBU…had his first collegiate interception in Pitt’s 43-42 upset at Clemson…picked off Deshaun Watson at the goal line, returning it 70 yards to set up a Pitt TD in the fourth quarter.”
Ahhh, yes. That great INT that helped complete our win over Clemson in college football’s biggest upset last year. He showed a lot in that game and others but what I was impressed most with was that it didn’t look like he made many mental errors out there – or if he did he had the quicks to make up for them.
Let’s give Brightwell a for what he’ll do out there in a much-needed role. BTW – it wouldn’t shock me a bit if we see Brightwell quickly become the leader on defense making it all that much harder for the presumed starter but suspended SR Quintin Wirginis to come back and regain that middle LB starting role. Wirginis will get a lot of PT this year, especially in blitz packages, but I wonder if he’ll start again.
Now I’m really taking a hard look at that two-deep defensive listing and trying to find another player to award a check mark to on defense…
OK, let’s go with rsFR Keyshon Camp who has kicked his recruiting classmate 4* SO Amir Watts down onto the 2nd string. I think SO Amir Watts acquitted himself pretty well in his limited playing time as a true FR last season.
He started one game, played in six others and had a few tackles on the year. If you remember he really was thrust into action when injuries hit the DL for the bowl game. I can’t say I saw any sort of assured stardom ahead for him, but I did figure he’d keep that job going into 2017.
But obviously Camp impressed enough during fall practices that he grabbed the starting position alongside Roy in the interior of the DL. With that I can see him doing well as long as he doesn’t get double teamed all the time because the opposing OL feels like one man can handle Roy on a regular basis. If Roy can play above (my) expectations and really share the load, then I can see Camp holding his own out there and maybe flourishing.
Give a to Keyshon Camp also then.
There – along with my very real concerns and questions I listed yesterday we also have some existing bright spots… and some perhaps even very bright, as is star bright, things to look forward to seeing. If our wishes come true it can be an exciting season…
Note: please don’t forget to jump over to our tailgate page and use the poll there to let us know if you’ll be joining us at the POV Tailgate for the YSU game. An accurate count would help – and friends and families are welcome.
Also – tonight is the POV Roundtable Call-In show at it’s new 9:00pm start time – detail are as follows: