Well, the two areas that I personally felt had to be dealt with by Pat Narduzzi over this offseason have been addressed with the firing of Defensive Coordinator Josh Conklin (and he was being let go) and now the same (mutual agreement!) with Offensive Line coach John Peterson.
We have discussed Conklin’s work and his shortcomings on here often so that’s old news, but what are we losing with Peterson departing?
Not much I believe and the play on the field by the last season’s OL proves that. Here is a chart that breaks down the two main jobs of the OL – QB protection and the running game. I included the last three years as that is Peterson’s tenure at Pitt.As you can see I highlighted in red the very poor play by the OL last season. That is a very dramatic drop in play.
We understand that OL play also depends on who is running the ball and who the QB is behind them – for instance in 2016 we had both Peterman who had a quick release and great field awareness at QB and James Conner running the ball and who was able to bull his way through the LOS even if his OL wasn’t blocking well.
But still – to be 101st, 99th and 84th in these three categories last season is pretty damned bad and can’t be replicated this next season.
Now, with any position coach a lot of the quality of play depends on his personnel he has available to field. Here are the starters for Peterson’s three years with a guess at 2018’s OL lineup.
What helped with that group of lineman is that Johnson was a 5* recruit with Bookser and Bisnowaty being 4* players. Since 2015 we have landed no blue-chip OL and populated that part of the roster with 2* and 3* kids.
What I see for next year is an inexperienced group with only Bookser and Morrison having starters’ games under their belt. Also, and in my opinion, I don’t think this is nearly as talented a group of OL as we have seen in years past. If true that is a real problem.
What I think Pat Narduzzi saw here was first off the poor OL play we had in 2017 – that was brutal and hard to miss. But secondly he sees a younger lineup (my gut tells me he’ll play a underclass OL in place of Herndon) which means these starters, and especially the two-deep, are young, inexperienced and are going to need a very good teaching coach.
Peterson didn’t fit that bill. He inherited almost all his starting OL, save Morrison, and didn’t have to do much teaching but more practicing toward game day. An exception maybe Brian O’Neill who was switched from TE to the interior, but he’s such an exceptional athlete I think he was an easy student.
Narduzzi must feel that if he can’t get his new and younger OL up to speed quickly and taught well to play successfully at this P5 level then he’s screwed for not only ’18 but years afterward.
That really worries me especially if this next OL hire isn’t as strong as we like. Let’s keep our fingers crossed we can pay someone established and previously successful a decent salary for this so important position coach.
I believe this is a great move by our head coach. It was proactive, necessary and sends a clear message that poor performance won’t be tolerated. This is what he should have done before last season with DC Conklin but he waited hoping things would drastically changed. As we saw the defense got a bit better but was still not strong enough for us to win games by it.
It is a good thing he is making this move to stave of any repeat of that with the OL. My wish? Pay what you need to get Jim Hueber back on the Pitt staff as the OL coach – he is one of the best in the business.