Well now that Chris Peak has gone ahead and posted his analysis on the 2016 recruiting class, I’ll go ahead and offer my take.
First of all, I think Chris makes an excellent point about coaching continuity in his article. Chris points out that any time that Pitt has had a coach for five successive years, the results have pretty pretty good in years four and five. It was such a good point that I actually went and did some of my own research on it. Here is what I found:
First, how good of a coach is Pat Narduzzi? Because these numbers make him out to be pretty darn good. Narduzzi has taken by-far worst recruiting class on the board, put them up against by-far the toughest schedule on the board and actually won something. Oh, and he did all this despite being saddled with the worst Pitt Offensive Coordinator in the last twenty years, a cobbled-together two-star offensive line, and a young, inexperienced quarterback. So say what you want about Pat Narduzzi, but 2018 was some fine coaching in my opinion.
Second, I don’t want to hear anything about bad losses. Yes Pitt was blown out by Penn State and Central Florida, and yes they lost to UNC. And you know what? During the eight “good” seasons listed above, Pitt has had a minimum of two bad losses every single year except one (yes, yes, 10 wins, four star talent…blah blah blah. I agree). Look, Pitt is what it is today. That can’t be helped. We had bad losses under Harris. We had bad losses under Wannstedt. We had bad losses under Narduzzi. Move our 2018 Strength of Schedule down towards the 2.0 range and two of those bad losses disappear.
Enough cheerleading for now. On to the 2016 recruiting class. Here is the rivals link. The focus will be on who is going to contribute this year.
Looking at this list, I count 14 guys that are probably going to see the field this year. I count 10 redshirt Juniors that could potentially return and play for us in 2020. That is a heck of an experienced foundation, and it’s what it takes to build a program. It’s often tough to draw parallels between basketball and football, but I believe that Narduzzi is more-or-less using the Jamie Dixon blueprint for success. During his heyday, Dixon never quite got the top guys, but he developed players well and played a lot of upperclassmen. That’s a lot tougher to do in football than it is in basketball, but it looks like Duzz for the most part is pulling it off. Will his plan pay off? We will see. In the meantime, here is the 2016 rundown:
Aaron Matthews – WR (Sr) – A tall and athletic receiver who played quarterback in high school. Pitt flipped him from PSU in 2015 by offering him a chance to play offense. Matthews was promptly rewarded by the hiring of Shawn Watson, and as a result he was grossly underutilized. How many times did Watson create a mismatch against a 5’10 DB and throw a back shoulder fade to the 6’5″ receiver who could jump? About zero by count. Watson did dust Matthews off and put him on the field against Notre Dame, and he made good use out of the slant route. Matthews caught four balls for 47 yards and posting some key first downs and then Watson promptly stopped using him, and pretty much avoided him for the rest of the season. You’d have to think Whipple will reverse that trend.
Phil Campbell – LB (rJr) – Switched to Linebacker this year after appearing in 8 games as a safety and collecting 26 tackles. While you have to take spring camp reports with a grain of salt, the coaches seem to like him. As a result, Campbell is listed as first on the preseason depth chart at the Star position. So as long as he keeps grinding you’d have to think he’ll see the field. Will be he an upgrade over departed senior Elijah Zeise? Only time will tell.
Damar Hamlin – S (Sr) – After injury-riddled freshman and sophomore campaigns, the four-star Hamlin broke out as a junior. 90 tackles, 2 INT, 3 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 Fumble recovery. 3rd team All-ACC. Named to the Bednarik award watch list. A year of experience as a starting is going to put him in an excellent position to quarterback this defense in 2019.
Therran Coleman – S (rJr) – Special teamer and reserve safety who played in all 14 games last season. Also a Pittsburgh guy. It’s unlikely that he will unseat Hamlin as the #1 guy this year, but he seems competent when he’s on the field, and he is primed to potentially step into the starting role in 2020 after Hamlin graduates. Came up big with an INT to seal the win over Syracuse.
Bricen Garner – S (rJr) – Another reserve safety, special teamer and Pittsburgh guy. Garner played in 12 games last year. He’s most likely a depth guy this year and maybe even next year as well. He did start 6 games in 2017 and notched 30 tackles and an INT so he’s got some talent.
Rashad Weaver – DE (rJr) – Besides Hamlin, Weaver is the other rising star on this defense. He’s got a nose for the football and plays big in big games, posting sacks & TFL’s against Penn State, Notre Dame, Virginia and Stanford. Consistently listed as one of the top three returning pass rushers in the ACC. Could be in line for double-digit sacks this year.
Patrick Jones II – DE (rJr) – Spent 2018 behind four-star transfer Dwayne Hendrix and was probably more productive on a per-snap basis. 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks during the season. Played well against Stanford in the Sun Bowl, with 2 TFL a sack and a forced fumble. Listed at 6-5, 260. That’s borderline man-child, folks. And it is quite an upgrade over his recruited weight of 230.
Keyshon Camp (rJr) – I’d personally like to see more out of Keyshon Camp. He played the first half of the season last year and then was injured against Notre Dame. Totaled 14 tackles, 2.5 TFLs and two sacks. That’s 28 tackles, 5 TFL and 4 Sacks in a full season. As a former four-star recruit you’d have to think Camp has more in the tank than that. He’s listed behind rSo Jaylen Twyman on the preseason depth chart so that should serve as some motivation heading into 2019.
Amir Watts (Sr) – I’d also like to see more from Watts. He’s another four-star recruit that just hasn’t become dominant. He’s got the athleticism. Heck he intercepted a pass against Syracuse last year. He’s got the size. 6’3″, 295. Has he put in the work?
Bryce Hargrove – OG (rJr) – Promising, promising offensive guard. Played very well in the Sun Bowl. Insiders tell me that the graduating offensive linemen think very highly of him. Should be a good one anchoring the middle next to Morissy this year.
Jimmy Morrissey – C (rJr, walkon) – Just nominated for the Rimington trophy watchlist (goes to the nation’s top center). We know what he can do, and we hope he’s fully recovered from his knee injury. Looked to be carrying himself like a leader during the team trip to the waterpark, whatever that’s worth. If our inexperienced offensive line is going to have a shot at being good this year, it will be in a large part due to Jimmy’s leadership.
Elias Reynolds – MLB (rJr) – Man this guy sure has played a lot for a two-star we flipped from Rutgers. (At least I think we flipped him, if not, then Rutgers was one of our chief recruiting rivals.) Granted much of Reynolds’ playing time has been because the player ahead of him was injured, but he has not looked overmatched on the field, even in 2017 during spot duty. I still think he’s a little bit of a liability in pass coverage, but experience and hopefully a little extra offseason quickness work can overcome that. Reynolds slipped down to second on the preseason depth chart behind 5th year Senior Saleem Brightwell, but given Reynolds’ ability to stop the run and his experience over the last few years, he’s a virtual lock for playing time.
Chase Pine – LB (rJr) – Pine is a physically talented guy who has not been able to get on the field as much as many fans thought he would. The problem could be his football IQ. I remember Narduzzi saying something along the lines of “He’s still a puppy as far as understanding the game” during the spring. Still, when he gets on the field it seems like he’s always around the ball (I’m judging from what I saw in the Sun Bowl which was pretty much Pine’s only extended action last year). Here’s to hoping he spent some extra time in the film room over the summer.
Brandon Ford – OG (rJr) – Another upperclassmen who is just now getting his chance to crack the starting lineup. Played about a half in the Sun Bowl and I didn’t notice much of a drop off (vs the guy he replaced). Small sample size, but I think he’ll be a solid starter at Guard.
Maurice Ffrench – WR (Sr) – Will either be the most overhyped or most electric player on the offense this year. Considering he put up over 1200 all purpose yards last season and posted 10 total TD’s, and he’s been catching balls from Kenny Pickett since he was a freshman in high school (they played 7 on 7 together), I’m betting on the latter. Whipple has a proven track record of getting the ball to his playmakers., and Maurice Ffrench knows how to make plays. Will he be this year’s Andy Isabella? I’m saying there’s a chance.
Have fun talking about our 2016 recruiting class folks.
Hail to Pitt