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Pitt football outlook

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, March 12, 2017, 10:27 a.m.

Trib beat writer Jerry DiPaola gives a position-by-position breakdown of what to watch for as spring drills begin.

QUARTERBACK

Pat Narduzzi's decision to enlist transfer Max Browne raises two questions: Are Thomas MacVittie and Ben DiNucci making progress? Does Narduzzi believe Pitt only needs an experienced quarterback to put it over the top in its quest to win a championship? Browne is older now, but if Pitt had recruited him out of high school, fans would be delirious with joy.

RUNNING BACK

When A.J. Davis pulled out the Pitt baseball cap and wore it proudly on LOI day, coaches and staff members hooted, hollered and high-fived each other like they won the national championship. Guys, he's not even a freshman. Chawntez Moss, Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison provide a nice safety net. But perhaps Davis is the best of what we've been told is a promising group.

WIDE RECEIVER

remember when everyone said Jester Weah couldn't catch? Turns out, he runs better than he catches, but he does both well, recording a touchdown every 3 12 receptions. Beyond Weah, Quadree Henderson needs to do more than return kicks (he averaged two catches a game). If Tre Tipton can be as productive as he is enthusiastic about football, he'll be an All-American.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Pitt lost two starters, but junior Brian O'Neill may be the best tackle in the ACC. Will he move from right to left? Who's the left guard? Will center Alex Officer slide over one spot, or would that hurt two positions? No one missed a start last season, perhaps suggesting a lack of depth. We know this much: Jaryd Jones-Smith rehabbed his knee with an impressive work ethic.

TIGHT END

the knock on Chris Clark used to be he couldn't make up his mind about where he wanted to go to college. Now, he's endured a season-stealing knee injury and looks like Pitt's best bet (only hope?) at a position that produced 647 yards and five TDs in 2016. Clark, a sophomore, is the only non-freshman, indicating Narduzzi has a manpower shortage this spring.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Maybe even the coaches wondered how much better Pitt's defense would have been if DE Dewayne Hendrix hadn't missed the season with a foot injury. They hope he's the difference maker his reputation suggests? JC transfer Allen Edwards enters his third season with only 1 12 sacks. Sophomore DT Amir Watts flashed some ability last year. Can he take the next step?

LINEBACKER

Defensive coordintor Josh Conklin has been growing young LBs for two years, carefully placing them in key positions at strategic times. Now, it's time to throw Saleem Brightwell, Seun Idowu, Elijah Zeise and Anthony McKee into the deep water and see who swims. Zeise was a starter before missing most of the season (ankle). Senior Quintin Wirginis has a burst from the middle.

DEFENSIVE BACK

No position came under heavier scrutiny than the secondary, and for good reason: It needs help. Safety Jordan Whitehead missed four games, but he makes spectacular plays almost as easily as the routine ones. Will Narduzzi trust freshman Paris Ford, maybe his most talented DB, to start at free safety? Will Ford leave him no choice? Job open at CB, but little experience.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Henderson is an All-American returner, with 1,166 yards and four TDs (three kickoffs, one punt). Will coverage units get wise to him over the off-season? Kicker Alex Kessman, who hit a field goal from 56 yards in high school, came to Pitt as a walk-on, but he's a scholarship candidate, with Chris Blewitt graduated. Steady punter Ryan Winslow is back for his senior season.

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