Here is a great take on our 2018 prospects to fill out the Offensive Line two-deep. It is written by man about town and golf bon vivant Erie Express.
PANCAKE MIX by Erie Express
My days at Pitt (1981 to 1985) were bookended or “Marked” by some great offensive linemen, starting with OT Mark May in 1980 and ending with OG Mark Stepnoski (from Erie) in 1986. While I was at Pitt, we had numerous OL All-Americans such as Jimbo Covert in ‘81 & ‘82, Bill “Pancake” Fralic in ‘82, ’83 & ’84 and Randy Dixon in ’86.
The Offensive Line is a notoriously difficult position to evaluate and project, and there are sure to be plenty of wild cards this season. Nevertheless, below is my 2018 preseason, pre-Spring practice player rankings with the top 10 returning linemen, all grouped together regardless of position.
Alex Bookser 4* (all ranking services) 5th yr SR w/26 starts & a total of 37 games played.
Jimmy Morrissey WO 3rd year SO with 12 starts.
Mike Herndon 3* (all services) 5th year SR with 1 start and a total of 30 games played.
Connor Dintino 3* (all services) 5th year SR w/1 start @ FB w/a total of 35 games played.
Tony Pilato 3* (all services) 4th year JR with 12 games played.
Bryce Hargrove 3* (all services) 3rd year SO with 1 game played.
Brandon Ford 3* (all services) 3rd year SO with 1 game played.
Justin Morgan 3* (all services) 3rd year SO – DNP
Jerry Drake 4* ESPN (3* others) 2nd year FR – Red Shirt
Carter Warren 4* ESPN (3* others) 2nd year FR – Red Shirt
Now, I believe HC Narduzzi looked at this group and it was obvious Pitt needed more experience. Thus, he went the JUCO and grad transfer route –
Stefano Millin 2* (all services) 5th year SR with 33 starts at Kent State.
Chase Brown 3* (all services) JUCO w/21 starts at Lackawanna JC with a 40 time of 4.76.
Devon Davis 3* 247Sports (no * others) JUCO with 20 starts at Lackawanna JC.
The key is about getting the best five on the field at the same time and playing together.
For now, that means rsSR transfer Millin at left tackle, rsJR Herndon at left guard, RS SO Morrissey at center, rsSR Bookser at right guard and JR Brown at right tackle. For Brown, it’s a position change but a familiar one. He started nine games at guard last year and 12 at tackle in 2016.
The tentative starting offensive line has a combined 72 career D1 starts. Brown has 21 JUCO starts, but I gave him a big fat zero for D1.
Depth and experience at offensive line is one of Pitt’s two biggest areas of concern (along with safety, IMO) entering spring practice.
In 2017, Pitt’s OLine was ranked #14 at the start of the season by Athlon Sports, just one spot ahead of Wisconsin at #15. The nits were ranked # 27. Oklahoma, Alabama, Clemson and Auburn were #1 through 4. Georgia was not ranked in the top 50.
My opinion is the 2017 OL underperformed. Brian O’Neill shifted from RT to LT while rehabbing a shoulder injury and never showed the star power he possessed in 2016. Alex Officer also changed positions from C to LG and seemed to take a step backwards in his development. Jaryd Jones-Smith returned from an injury that nagged him the prior 2 years and he struggled to be effective most of the season.
There is no doubt the Panthers have a need for experience on the offensive line in 2018, especially at tackle, where 2017 starters Brandon Hodges (graduation), Jones-Smith (graduation) and O’Neill (NFL Combine fame) have all departed.
Left guard Officer also graduated, leaving Pitt with just two returning starters in 2018, with right guard Bookser and center Morrissey. Bookser has some positional versatility, having played right tackle and center in the past, but grad transfer Millin brings something Pitt didn’t have on the current roster in an experienced left tackle.
“Playing together for some time usually helps the OL play. Unfortunately, Pitt won’t have that scenario going into next season. A major job ahead for the new coach IMHO.” – comment posted by jrnpitt
Enter new OLine coach Dave Borbely, who has more than three decades of experience coaching the OL at the collegiate level. He owns 37 years of experience overall, including tenures at ND, Colorado, Virginia, Louisville, Stanford and, most recently, Maryland.
Coach Borbely has worked with Pitt OC Shawn Watson at two prior stops. They most recently served together on Charlie Strong’s staff at Louisville during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, with the Cardinals achieving a combined 23-3 record, finishing in the nation’s top 15 both years.
Louisville’s 2012 team went 11-2, won the Big East championship and rolled past No. 3 Florida, 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl, to finish 13th in the final polls. In 2013, Louisville’s offense averaged 460.8 yards per contest en route to a 12-1 mark and No. 15 final ranking. The Cardinals capped that season with a 36-9 drubbing of Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Coach Borbely and OC Watson also worked together at Colorado. During Borbely’s four-year tenure (2002-05) there the Buffaloes won three Big 12 North titles.
Borbely’s 1st major-college appointment came as a grad assistant at Tennessee (1984-85) under Johnny Majors, the legendary former Pitt head coach.
Better, about the same, or worse than 2017? I’m going to say better because of one important point – talent-wise this group is about the same, but HC Narduzzi knows that the juggling of the OL that former coach Peterson did last year was costly. Borberly will be instructed to assemble the five best and stick with them unless injuries disrupt their chemistry. That consistency will make this group better.
My Two-Deep looks lyke this:
LT Stefano Millin RS SR/GT / Jerry Drake Jr RS FR
LG Mike Herndon RS SR / Devon Davis JR TR
C Jimmy Morrissey RS SO / Connor Dintino RS SR
RG Alex Bookser RS SR / Carter Warren RS FR
RT Chase Brown RS JR TR / Bryce Hargrove RS SO
These five starters need to eat, drink and NOT sleep together beginning now, to develop a good chemistry. And the four not named Alex need to mandate a 2 drink limit for Bookser.
The right side of the OL will be the run strength side and the left side will protect La Pickett when he throws bullets to his numerous weapons of choice – Ra Ra Lopes, Mo Ffrench, Tre Tipton, Rueben Flowers, Aaron Mathews, Shockey Jacque-Louis, Gronk Reeves, Chris Clark, George Aston, Qadree Ollison and the four RB’s carrying 4* ratings.
This Pitt offense has plenty of talent, IMO. The key to 2018 will be an above average offensive line. These guys need to be workout animals and get into the best shape of their collective lives. Because when the 4th quarter starts these guys need to be pancaking the gassed opponents and allowing the RB’s to run wild.
The Pursuit – clearly defined by HC Narduzzi, executed by his players and misunderstood (if not altogether unknown) by most Pitt fans.
Note: Here are the two-deep listings for the opener against YSU last season (left) and then the two-deep in the last game against Miami (right):