If you haven’t heard, Pitt’s football training camp is going to start this week.
For those of us who have suffered through a long, quiet off-season that is welcome news.
And believe me, a quiet off-season is a good one. I don’t think I can remember an offseason where nobody got hurt, and nobody had a run-in with the law.
On the contrary, by all accounts the Pitt team spent their summer quietly focused on conditioning. Just like all good football programs do.
While football is a team game, no one position is as important as the quarterback, and it’s no secret that Pitt’s success season will rest on the arm of Junior Kenny Pickett. Pickett has also been putting in work during the offseason. With his personal coach Tony Racioppi…
And with a couple of guys down south…
And with a few guys on the team…
Yep, Pickett can drop the ball on a dime if he’s given time. The question is, will he be given time? Pitt is replacing four starters on the offensive line this season, and well, that could be a recipe for disaster. After all, Pitt’s O-line ranked 116th in sack rate in 2018. And none of the guys that are going to be starting this year were able to crack the starting lineup last year. The optimist will cling to the hope that Pat Narduzzi’s desire to put juniors and seniors on the field meant that that he sat younger, more physically talented guys in 2018. That same optimist will say that with another year under their belts, last year’s backups ideally will be ready to play in 2019. That optimist will point out that grizzled OL Coach Dave Borbley isn’t as bad at teaching pass blocking as everyone makes him out to be, and that he got dealt a bad hand at Maryland. The pessimist will say all of that is hooey and Kenny Pickett is going to be running for his life. The realist wills say that we aren’t going to know for sure until August 31st, but you can be darn sure we are going to be reading in between the lines of every Dave Borbley and Mark Whipple interview this August.
The running backs are as unproven as the offensive line. And as with the OL, most Pitt fans should have a pretty good understanding of the situation because it’s been much discussed during the off-season. With that being said, I’ll go over it again, just to refresh your memory.
Neither of the two junior running backs in the room has shown anything special in their first two years. AJ Davis, who is number one right now on the depth chart, did log a 4.2 YPC rushing average last year on 32 totes, but his body of work suggests he’s a straight-ahead power back without the capability to make anyone miss. His senior season highlight film would seem to confirm this. Davis’ best assets coming out of high school looked to be his vision and his balance, with some decent (but not great) top end speed. Andre Powell is a good coach though, and he’ll get the most out of Davis. If Pitt is forced to roll with Davis as the lead back, the running game should be solid, but not great.
Todd Sibley, the other Junior on the depth chart, and currently listed as #2, is cut from a similar cloth. His strengths seem to be power and burst, and he looks to have a little more top end speed than Davis. If he gets a crease, there’s a good chance he’ll take it to the house, but he’s probably not going to create something out of nothing. I like to think of Sibley as a shorter, stronger version of Darrin Hall. (Who by all rights was not a bad college football player)
I think the most telling thing about the running back situation was that Pitt moved officially moved V’Lique Carter to running back in the spring so he could learn the position. Carter, you’ll remember had a breakout game against Duke. Shawn Watson, brilliant tactician that he was, went on to use Carter the exact same way in every single game after that, and so the Duke game was Carter’s only real tour-de-force performance. Nonetheless, Carter demonstrated enough shake-n-bake ability to have Pitt fans salivating at the prospect of new OC Mark Whipple finding a way to get him 10-15 touches per game. And yet Running Backs coach Andre Powell downplayed Carter’s progress during the spring…
I will do nothing of the sort…
Editor’s note: I added this after a couple of readers had pointed out that Salahuddin had been omitted. Redshirt Freshman Mychale Salahuddin is another wildcard. He flashed in a few games last season and then went down with a knee injury. Depending on the severity of the injury Sala may or may not be back to 100%. If he is back at full strength, he has a chance to make an impact. If not, well there is always next year.
True Freshman Daniel Carter (5’10” 220) and Vincent Davis (5’8″ 170) are the other two wild cards in the deck. Here are their high school films (Sorry I couldn’t get them to embed). Carter is more physically ready, but that Vincent Davis is electric. Would be very surprised if we didn’t see V. Davis play in at least four games this year
As far as Wide Receivers, Pitt is going to run with three starting WR’s in Whipple’s new offense. Two of them have proven they can perform well at the ACC level…they would be Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack. Tre Tipton is listed as starting slot WR, and he did some damage in the spring game, catching two TD’s from Kenny Pickett. Highly touted Florida sophomore Shockey Jacuqes-Louis is listed right behind him. That one should be an interesting camp battle to watch, and SJL is a heck of a nice insurance policy if Tipton gets injured (again). On top of all that, new WR coach Chris Beatty has coached up a few pretty good receivers in his day, and it sounds like he’s a lot more detail-oriented than his predecessor. If the OL can give Pickett time to throw, the WR’s could be a very pleasant surprise…
Finally, Tight End. Well the good news is that the depth chart only calls for one of them. The other good news is that we have a senior grad transfer riding on on a white horse to save us from what has been an unmitigated disaster. What’s more, it appears that this metaphorical white (Scarlet?) knight can can both block and catch. While he may not be great at either, he seems pretty good at both, and for Pitt that’s an upgrade.
On the defensive side, This. Is. The. Year. I’m saying it right now. This is the year that Pitt’s unit finally lives up to its potential. We’ve got a decent DC who spent years teaching linebackers how to defend against the read option (which is all they run at Nortwestern). We’ve got two good pass rushers (Weaver and Jones II). We’ve got two solid-to-very-good interior lineman (Camp and Watts), and an additional DT who could potentially be a wrecking ball (Twyman). In the linebacking corps, Chase Pine is finally old enough for the coaches to feel confident about putting him on the field, and the rest of the guys around him should be solid. And in the secondary we have two starting corners coming back, and a couple of all-city Safeties in Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin. If this year’s defense doesn’t perform, there is no hope for for Defense in Pittsburgh.
So my question to you readers, where do you think the camp battles will be fought? And who do you think will emerge? Offensive line is probably the biggest question mark, and so I’ll leave you with the current two-deep (courtesy of Pittsburgh Sports Now), and a list of he offensive linemen on the roster. But there are some other battles sure to emerge as well. Enjoy.
Here are the scholarship linemen listed and sorted by year.
- Chase Brown – rSr (juco a couple years ago)
- Nolan Ulizio – rSr (Michigan transfer)
- Jimmy Morrissey – rJr (named to at least two pre-season watch lists)
- Bryce Hargrove -rJr (played in last three games of season last year)
- Brandon Ford – rJr (played in Sun Bowl)
- Jake Kradel – rFr
- Rashad Wheeler – rJr (flipped from Defense)
- Carter Warren – rSo (Ed Conway award winner, currently penciled in at Left Tackle)
- Gabe Houy – rSo (played against Albany)
- Carson Van Lynn – rSo (palyed TE second half of the season last year)
- Jerry Drake – rSo (seems like he’s been around forever but he’s just a Sophomore)
- Owen Drexel – rSo
- Blake Zubovic – rFr
- Liam Dick – Fr
- Matt Goncalves – Fr
Guys that could potetentially flip to OL
- Jason Collier – Fr – TE – 6’5″, 285