IMG_1006First if all, my son, Raphael (no turtle jokes, please), celebrated his one-month birthday this past Saturday, and what better way to commemorate the occasion than to suit him up for spring ball.  As you can see young Raphael is expecting big things from the offense this season, because he is already working on his “touchdown” gesture.  (The actual truth is this one of the few shots I could get where he wasn’t crying, so one way or the other, I suppose he’s preparing for the season…)

And the other truth is that we might all be crying, because there are so many question marks on offense. Although with OC Mark Whipple at the helm, this is less likely than it was with Shawn Watson.  Nonetheless, there are many questions to be answered.  And so…where to begin?  In my opinion (as well as the opinion of Barry Alvarez, from whom I stole this quote) “It all starts with those big palookas up front”.

The Offensive Line

Projected Starters:

  • Nolan Ulizio – LT – rJr
  • Brandon Ford – LG – rJr
  • Jimmy Morrissey – C – rJr
  • Chase Brown – RG – rSr
  • Bryce Hargrove – RT – rJr

Projected Backups:

  • Carson Van Lynn – LT – rSo or Gabe Houy – LT – rSo
  • Carter Warren – LT – rSo or Gabe Houy – RT – rSo
  • Owen Drexel – C – rSo
  • Carter Warren – DE – rSo or Gabe Houy – RT – rSo
  • Jerry Drake – RT – rSo or Gabe Houy – RT – rSo

Age of Projected Starters (Avg):  22, 21, 21, 22, 21 (21)

Age of Projected Backups (Avg): 20, 20, 20, 20, 20 (20)

Player we can Least Afford to Lose:  Jimmy Morrisey.  He was 3rd team all ACC in 2018 and he’ll be the glue that holds this line together.

Potential Breakouts:  Bryce Hargrove, Gabe Houy, Carson Van Lynn

Wildcard:  rFr’s  Blake Zubovic and Jake Kradel

Michaelangelo’s Take:  The projected starting five are long on age, but they are short on experience, and that is what has so many Pitt fans worried.  The good news is that we were in a similar situation last season, and our grizzled O-line coach Dave Borbley managed to turn Pitt’s line into an all-ACC caliber unit, at least from a run blocking perspective.

Because offensive line is an area of great interest, and one of the two positions that will make-or-break the offense in 2019, I’ve made some discreet inquiries to insiders regarding the 2019 situation.  The insiders take from “people close to the team” suggests that there is talent to be developed, but my sources do acknowledge that there is a good deal of development that needs take place.  However, what I found most interesting was that the sources believe that coach Borbs is the right guy get it done.  Now all of this kind of stuff has to be taken with a grain of salt, but I would say it’s a better read than I initially hoped for.  Needless to say, spring will be an important time.

Personally, I believe Borbs will develop a similarly effective run game in 2019.  I am still skeptical about his ability to develop an effective pass-blocking line.  This is mostly due to Reed’s point that the Maryland’s pass blocking was a complete mess prior to Borbley coming to Pitt.  It is also partly due to the fact that our pass blocking was not very good in 2018 (actually statistically it was quite bad).  However, in fairness to Borbley, he has developed effective pass blocking lines in the past, at stops prior to Maryland.  (More to come on that in the offseason.)  So if we have the right talent on the roster (debatable), and if Borbs still has some magic in that old silk hat (plausible) then the O line has the potential to be very good at run blocking and at least average at pass blocking.  While this may not sounds like the tonic that our passing game needs, average pass blocking is an improvement over the last two seasons, and it would probably give OC Mark Whipple’s offense just enough oxygen to put up some halfway decent numbers.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Coach Borbley, here is a ‘mic’d up’ session that was published last spring.  He seems like an old-school kind of guy, with a bit of personality, which for Pitt is not a bad fit at all.

Regarding the actual players, it’s all going to start with Morrissey.  He’ll need to provide leadership and be smart enough to absorb a new offense and make sure all the protections are sound in the passing game.  Fortunately he’s the one player on the squad who is up to the task.  From what I understand, Bryce Hargrove is also reputed to be the real deal.  He seemed to play well in the ACC Championship and the Sun Bowl so that is encouraging.  Given the fact that Hargrove was recruited as an “Athlete / DE”, I feel like he might have the athleticism to swing out to tackle.  If that’s the case, I’d hope he’d be a step or two quicker in pass pro than Alex Bookser, whom he would likely replace.

Brandon Ford should be a serviceable enough guard.  I seem to remember him stepping in during the second half of the Sun Bowl and not having his name called too many times, which for an O-lineman is a good thing.  Chase Brown could be a total bust and a career backup, or he could turn into a starting guard.  Time will tell.  I think there is also the possibility that one of the redshirt Sophomores steps up and becomes one of starting five.  Gabe Houy seems to be a guy that the staff likes.  Narduzzi spat some bombast about Jerry Drake a couple of seasons ago as well, but you know how that goes.  And of course it’s trendy to say that Carson Van Lynn will switch back to the O-Line and push for a starting spot, given that he started five games at Tackle…er Tight End last season.  Oh, I almost forgot about our grad-transfer du jour, Nolan Ulizio.  He started for Michigan when they had a run heavy offense, and was benched when they started to features the passing game, so this spring will be important for his development.

 The Quarterbacks

Projected Starter:

  • Kenny Pickett – QB – Jr

Projected Backups:

  • Jeff George, Jr – QB2 – rSr
  • Nick Patti – Qb3 – rFr
  • Davis Beville – Qb3 – expected to redshirt

Age of Projected Starters (Avg):  21

Age of Projected Backups (Avg): 23, 19, 18?

Player we can Least Afford to Lose:  Kenny Pickett

Potential Breakouts:  Kenny Pickett

Wildcard:  Kenny Pickett

Michaelangelo’s Take:  If you haven’t figured it out, Kenny Pickett’s development and ability to pick up Mark Whipple’s offense is really important to this team.  Yes, yes we have the heralded four-star freshman Davis Beville enrolling early so he can participate in spring ball, and I probably should have listed him as the wildcard.  But… I’m trying to make a point here.  The point is that Pickett has a full year of starting experience under his belt.  Yes, some of the moments seemed way too big for him, especially in the postseason, but he performed well in others.  Remember.  We wouldn’t have beaten Duke if Pickett didn’t throw an on-the-money last-second TD bomb to WR Maurice Ffrench, and we would not have made it to Charlotte if Kenny didn’t light up Wake Forest on the road.

And while there are plenty of people out there who will say that Pickett doesn’t have the tools, I believe that the Wake Forest game is a glimpse into what is possible if a) He has time to throw, and is coached to be more decisive, b) He is properly prepared, c) the game is properly game-planned and d) our scheme is such that our Wide Receivers can get open.  Mark Whipple brings all of that to the table, and that is why he was hired.  That is why I think Pitt fans should be cautiously optimistic about the passing game this year.  The other side of the Whipple conversation is that he knows quarterbacks so well that if Pickett isn’t the guy, it will become pretty apparent to him pretty early … I would hope.

For those of you in the Jeff George, Jr camp.  I want to point out that he’s a longshot to start at best, because he’s never done anything to show he’s an upgrade over what we have.  George has never thrown more touchdowns that interceptions; he carries a career 103.1 passer rating, and at this point he’s a one-and-done.  Unless George is clearly better than Pickett by the end of spring, I’d be surprised if Pickett isn’t tabbed as the starter.  Redshirt Freshman Nick Patti will probably be relegated to Qb3, given this is the first year he’s eligible to see the field, although if Narduzzi is to be believed, Patti was “making plays” on the scout team in 2018.  Beville is a wildcard, as I mentioned, if only because of his four-star status.  He will likely be given a chance to compete, but four-star or not he’s going to have to be pretty dang good to unseat a Junior with a 18 games under his belt, a 121 career passer rating and a 13-7 career TD to Int ratio (i.e one Mr. Kenny Pickett).

So yes, it’s probably Pickett or bust in 2019.  We all should be hoping KP is using Miami, Clemson and Stanford as motivation, and we all should be hoping Whipple can get the most out of him.  Because if Pickett falters, we could be in for a long season.

Be on the lookout for the RB’s, WR’s and TE’s article tomorrow.

Hail to Pitt

Michaelangelo Monteleone

 

72 thoughts on “Pitt Football 2019 Spring Preview: The Offense – Part 1

  1. First… the MOST important stuff.

    Really Cute Kid. And look at the size of those hands.

    Has all the makings of a future FIVE Star QB.

    Knowing how Narduzzi likes to operate, the OFFER could be coming soon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Been off POV for a year, but started reading again 4-5 weeks ago. Consider last year as my redshirt year.

      Seems like we hear the same OL fears every year (except maybe JC’s last 2 years). I really like the job Borbs did last year, and I expect the same this year. I am sure he realizes his OL last year left a lot to be desired in pass blocking. I expect he has been seriously working on this for several weeks/months.

      I presume we will be a run heavy O again this year. If so, KP doesn’t need to be All ACC. But he does need to be able to throw well enough to keep the D honest. And that starts with the OL.

      Since Nard is opening with a league game, he may be forced to show (to psux) more of his O than he would like to. It would be nice if we could take out UVA with the run game, and not have to give away the playbook.

      Oh yeah – nice job with the blog Maestro! Glad I decided to take a peek!! However, my neck gets stiff having to read everything off the ceiling….. I’ll adjust!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Good to see you here, savannah.

        One point – last season, 4 of Coach Borbely’s best 5 Olinemen we’re guards. Guys best suited for playing on the inside.

        Seems to me that OTs are a special breed. Big and strong enough to not get bull-rushed, but nimble enough to handle the speed rusher. There aren’t a whole lot of those guys out there. And the obvious ones likely aren’t coming to Pitt.

        So we need to find some raw big athletes and coach them up, but they have to have some quickness to them. A tough task.

        Warren and Drake are awesome looking big offensive linemen. I’d guess bull rushes would be no problem for them , but can they move laterally well enough???

        Coach Borbs has a big challenge ahead of him…

        Go Pitt.

        Like

  2. Another great article Mike, thanks. So far one seniors starter and we don’t know that for sure yet. Maybe Raphael and Auggie can meet sometime and become good ole PITT buddies through the years.

    and thanks to Peter, maybe this can answer all the skepticism and questions about who, what and why PITT recruits this way or that to all us layman football fans? I really think as fans we pretend to know a lot more than we actually do. jus saying I’m guilty as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Clarity, I meant one senior starter on offense so far (not counting rb’s and receivers) and this team will be ultra young and inexperienced this coming season. I’m guessing they may only start 4 players with only one year of eligibility left? I still have very high hopes for this team though. I do have to say.. that dam Stanford is stuck in my craw!

    Like

  4. In the line with the post on Powell, some SURPRISING and welcomed words on recruiting by Deion Sanders today at the Combine.

    Basically… if Recruits haven’t passed the SAT or if they don’t have the grades required of regular Students by a College, what are they doing on Campus?

    I concur. In fact, have done so multiple times on this Blog.

    Like

  5. Mike, the mini Maestro is looking good. Thanks for sharing.

    …and another awesome article. Don’t know how you are finding the time my friend, but much appreciated.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. First, Raphael can’t possibly be a Pitt fan….he doesn’t have that frustrated look we all acquire. Seriously cute though…congrats.

    It seems like forever since we entered a season with the OL in solid shape. This year is really hard to read. 4 new starters doesn’t bode well. What’s really troubling is that we’re still on the “grad transfer” merry-go-round. At some point, we have to recruit tackles who are capable of stepping in as starters after a couple of years.

    As for our QB situation, Whipple better have some magic dust to sprinkle on Pickett because GTECH aside, he was pretty awful last year. I also hope that Whipple has some magic for the WR’s because they had a hard time getting open last year. Throw in the fact that we have no real idea of how the running game is going to pan out and the offense is a complete crap shoot at this point.

    Of course being a true Pitt fan, hope springs eternal (whether it is merited or not).

    ScottsValleyPanther

    Liked by 2 people

  7. In Whipple’s first interview he was asked what was needed to correct the bad passing game. He stated last years offense had spacing issues.
    That can be taken several ways. Of course, no reporter standing there asked him to elaborate on that comment.
    I took it as Watson had no clue how to spread the defense out. In fact, on Pitt Beyond The Script, Whipple stated that if teams pack the box you have to be able to throw and vice versa.
    My point, you can’t put pass blocking all on the OL coach. If your scheme sucks, you can have the best OL coach in the world and the best talent, the defense will still make you look bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The “spacing” comment certainly applied to that confounding roll-out pass play we ran so predictably. We had receivers at 3 different depths, supposedly, but only the 3 yard gain guy was ever open. Would love to see our season stats on that play.

      Go Pitt.

      Like

    2. This is very true and I’ve heard that some other knowledgeable football people have said the same thing. This gives me hope for optimism

      Like

  8. MM — you’re cookin’! Another excellent article.

    Raphael is a great blessing – Congrats to you and your wife, (and remember to count those blessings)…

    An interesting projection on the OL starters. My guess would be Houy at tackle and Hargrove at guard, but just a guess.

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You very well may be correct my friend. As long as they can block I really don’t care who starts

      Like

  9. The offensive line will continue to produce in the running game. The reason is very similar to my comment on the defensive side of the ball article yesterday. In a nutshell, Pitt is easy to defend and difficult to defend. So what did that mean? The Pitt offense is easy to defend because we are so predictable and have been for much of the last 40 years, EXCEPT the Canada year, where everything aligned. We want to run the ball, simple as that. When 2 of 3 snaps are runs, it is easy to predict, which leads me to part 2 of my comment.

    Pitt is difficult to defend because we run the ball 2 out of 3 times. Look, the teams we play in the ACC recruit defenders based on propensities of the offenses they will play against. In the ACC, most offenses run the spread or the run, pass option. What this means is that our opponents recruit smaller, faster LB’s and DB’s to combat that strategy. For Pitt, being the opposite of all of our opponents is a bonus, especially in the run game. So I will say that we run well and continue to pass poorly because the opponents defense has been built primarily to stop the pass.

    Very similar to Navy. Defenses today are not built to defend the triple option. Pass defending DB’s aren’t used to being chop blocked or blocked at all for the most part in today’s game. They are used to 7 on 7 pass defense drills.

    Again, nice article MM. Looking forward to the RB’s and WR’s and TE article. In Pitt’s offenses over the past 20 years, they are plug and play for the reasons above. Talented, yes, but also the beneficiary of an antiquated system that allows for their success. Convince me otherwise Mike…lol! Good Stuff folks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Mike – great looking shadow and thanks for the excellent analysis.

    A couple comments:

    Repeating what I said after the UVA game last yr… I talked to a couple of the starting OL after the game when they came up into the parents sectio. They love Borbley – Borbs. They are a bit afraid of him and love him all at the same time. Said he is one of two assistants who can and does stand up to HCPN and he listens to him. (Guessing the other one is our DC). The situation at Maryland was a disaster and toxic, so I have a hard time putting any stock into what heppened to Borbley then..

    The guys we need to see take a step forward are Drake and Zubovic, based on their names alone. Jerry Drake – it’s a name that oozes lunch pail. A guy named Jerry Drake will never be a QB or a RB. I will admit though that a Guynamed Jerry Drake could sneak through as a WR, it it would be an anomaly. This guy has production line worker written all over it.

    Now Zubovic is simply a perfect name because he’s from the Valley. A DNA test would probably show that Joe Magarac is an ancestor. A guy name Zubovic could be a TE or an LB – never a safety or a WR. Imagine for a moment the sales of a 68 jersey if he does well. 🙂

    I think with Whipple there is a chance for the passing game to be OK since he will use the TE more than Watson. If he can get Pickett to look for the TE as an outlet perhaps we will have a bit of improvement And miraculously we will all be talking about the improved pass blocking.

    Final thought – greetings from Siesta Key gents!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Who wouldn’t use the TE more than Watson? But the TE’s use in Whipple’s offense will only take place if he feels he is the best option. If none of the TE’s impress Whipple much than few will be utilized in his game plan. Pitt has plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball for Whipple to utilize. My long shot(maybe not so long) favorite is Carter.

      Like

      1. Ffrench and Mack will probably be the main go-to guys based on last season. V’lique Carter and Shockey would be the younger guys who could gain some touches as well.

        RB Houdini looked the part as well in his limited playing time before the “red-shirt” was used.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. So I’ve kept my ear down to the ground and my eyes wide open and I can’t get a real grip on what the colors are going to be. I read mustard at times and yellow at others. Here’s hoping PITT goes back to the late 70 colors. << Yes, I’m one of those old weirdo’s that care about the old colors.

    Like

    1. Look no further than Pitt studios. It will be almost identical to the current throw backs. Royal Blue and yellow. Pitt didn’t spend all that money on that studio and other new signage to change it again.

      I am happy with that. It is pretty unique to college. Sells well in the pros, Warriors, Rams.

      Like

  12. From TheScoop.com –

    Arkansas State: North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott has decided to end his college career early to take a graduate assistant job at A-State.

    Like

  13. Thanks for another stellar synopsis, Maestro, which means teacher in Spanish, and best wishes for a great vacation JoeL. I know Reed hasn’t been real high on Coach Borbs, but like JoeL, I have been hoping that he was the odd man out at Maryland, at a program that now in hindsight was a major train wreck.Glad to hear that the players like/respect him and he has the moxie to tell Narduzzi what’s on his mind.

    Like

  14. Thanks Mark, I’ve been wanting to give JoeL a shout out you lucky dog. Gonna be 9 degrees up here tonight. Have a great vacation buddy.

    EE, What do you think the significance and cause of Elliott leaving UNC? I also see that UNC’s other veteran QB, Chazz Surratt has been moved to LB, leaving 3 freshmen if I’m reading that right?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t care how many players UNC loses. I’m not predicting another pitt win against them until pitt wins against them

        I’m also cashing in my season tickets and curtailing any future posts on this blog ! (Joking joking)

        Liked by 2 people

  15. new coach at UNC, maybe he’s changing the offense …. plus I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought in a transfer QB

    Like

  16. ^^ wwb, that’s what I was thinking. Debating? Not so much. Their only two QB’s that have any playing time experience not playing QB this coming year.

    Like

  17. Bucco’s vs Orioles tomorrow in Sarasota, guys . Missed the games at McKechnie over the weekend. Very nice down here – I have sunburn. It’s like windburn one gets by walking outside too long in the winter, but I got it wearing swim trunks and a t-shirt.

    POD – No UNC fan spends one minute thinking about Pitt’s football roster. They know they suck and they really get nothing out of owning us since the Meineke Car Care Bowl many yrs ago. They are the epitome of provincialists and if it’s not happening on Tobacco Road, it’s just not happening. They don’t take Pitt seriously as a school, much less an athletics program. Want to get their attention? Beat them on the basketball court.

    Like

  18. In BB, both Syracuse and UVA each took 25 three-pointers in their game tonight.

    Syracuse made 8. Not horrible.

    UVA made 18! And of course they won handily.

    I guess that’s one way to beat a zone…

    Go Pitt.

    Like

  19. Not to piggyback or steal info from another site but I read that there is a “possibility” that a former PITT Panther could potentially return to the Panthers?? Knowing that Michael will be bringing forward another depth chart article fairly soon I just thought I would throw this out there until then. Any guesses who it could be if this is true?

    My guess is Sear and no, I don’t get the premium site and have no idea who it is. I also realize the POV goes to bed very early around here so I don’t expect more than one guess. . . .ike

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m burning the midnight oil. But I have no idea. I like the idea of Tyler Sear though so let’s go with that

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s reeves. I saw a tweet @munchiiee_10. Looks like he’ll have to sit out. Says 2020

      Like

  20. If you ask me – and nobody did – Reeves coming back makes no sense whatsoever…

    None. He didn’t even do anything at YSU last season. I don’t get it.

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I hope he’s coming back as a preferred walk on and not on scholarship. And if that’s not the case maybe as another TE to OL transplant.

    Like

  22. I always liked Reeves, compared him to the Steelers Eric Green from back in the day because of his size, and several thought he looked slow in the spring game. Watched him play twice in person while he was in high school. Maybe he comes back committed. He will get a year to learn another new offense too. No downside in my opinion as we do not have great talent at TE.

    Chris Clark or Tyler Sear could have been good guesses too, given the TE hiatus this last year or so.

    Like

  23. This is all very strange, especially since Reeves has to sit out a year. If I remember correctly the reason he left was never made clear. Let’s just hope he becomes Superman in his second coming as a Panther.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Cute kid and good info.

    Pass protection is only as good as the O- Tackles so no way to know but no warm and fuzziest at this point.

    Same with KP, will he get better, probably, but how much and will it be enough?

    This is the year that we find out if Narduzzi’s recruiting has been good enough.

    At least most of the starters will have a year of eligibility left which bodes well for the 2020 season if they do ok this year.

    Like

  25. ^^ NRS above, are the studio colors all that bright of a yellow? It just looks to me that the blue and the yellow are a tiny bit darker than the retros right now?? and I’m asking cause my wife thinks I’m color blind as I can’t tell the difference from brown and green.

    Like

  26. BTW, looks like it is Reeves coming back or possibly coming back. Does that point a finger at Watson or what. I’d put him on the Brian O’Neil diet, I don’t think his future is in catching footballs for money.. . … ..ike

    i all i got
    i all i need
    H2P!

    Like

  27. MM, what an adorable baby!! Blessings to you and your wife. Enjoy every minute of him. They grow up so fast- it doesn’t feel that way at the time, but before you know it they are off to college. My baby is graduating college this year and I can’t believe it. I still see him as the little boy who loved his mommy… In fact, I miss THAT kid). 😉 Great articles too. How do you find the time?? Don’t burn yourself out!!

    Liked by 2 people

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