Just a sophomore, Pitt WR Boyd in leadership position
Tyler Boyd hasn't finished his first school year at Pitt, but when he shows up Sunday for the start of spring drills, he will be older than all but two wide receivers.
Gone from his circle of influence are Bobby Engram and Devin Street, two men he trusted and followed over the past year.
“I was down about it,” Boyd said of Engram, the former Pitt receivers coach, leaving last month for the Baltimore Ravens. “But football — college and the NFL — is a business. He is trying to provide for his family, just like I'm trying to do.”
Boyd, 20, said accepting his coach's departure was easier because Engram spoke to him before taking the Ravens job.
“He came to me like a man,” Boyd said. “We had a long talk. That's an honor he gave me.”
Boyd might be faced with a similar decision after the 2015 season, which will be his third at Pitt. ESPN.com draft analyst Kevin Weidl said Boyd could be one of the top receivers in the 2016 NFL Draft.
“There are positives and a lot of intrigue (about Boyd),” Weidl said. “I don't want to go overboard and say this kid is unbelievable. But, absolutely, there is no question in my mind he will be draftable at that time.”
Boyd credits Street, who is available in this year's draft, with helping his development. Together, they totaled 136 receptions for 2,028 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013.
“He pushed me to be that kind of player,” Boyd said.
Now it's Boyd's turn to shoulder the mantle of leadership. More importantly, he and new starting quarterback Chad Voytik, also a rising sophomore, will carry the fortunes of the passing game.
“It doesn't matter how young (the team) is,” Boyd said. “It's how well you are coached and how fast you process what you are being taught.”
Boyd said he tries to lead by example on the field and in the weight room.
“Even when they are doing good, I push them to be even better,” he said of his teammates. “I push them to be great. You want to do great things.”
Practice will look different this season with the loss of Street, Engram and quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger and the additions of running backs coach John Settle and receivers coach Greg Lewis.
Lewis, who played eight years in the NFL, likes what he has seen of Boyd on video.
“My thing is I want to add to what Coach Engram has done and don't mess him up,” he said. “I definitely think he has all the tools. He can catch, he's quick and he's fast. It's just fine-tuning things to make it even better than it is.”
Asked if Boyd has an NFL future, Lewis said, “I don't want to put him in a box and say he's going to the next level and put pressure on him. I just want him to better than he was last year.
“I don't want him to be content with, ‘I was a freshman All-American.' All that's great, but as you get older, it's, ‘What have you done for me lately?' ”
Boyd said he understands the need to improve. He said his goals are “being more explosive, making huge plays, making plays when there is nothing there.”
Blocking also is part of his job.
“Instead of getting 5 to 10 yards, the back will get 15 or 20 (with good blocking by the receivers),” Boyd said. “I'm not the best blocker, but I put my nose in there.”
Boyd said he has thought about the NFL.
“Since I was a little kid, I said, ‘What if I can be that player that can make it to the NFL?' ” he said. “But I don't want to look ahead. There will be a whole bunch of (hurdles). I have to stay humble.”
Lewis' other important task will be finding a productive pass catcher to replace Street. The candidates include senior Kevin Weatherspoon, junior Ronald Jones, sophomores Chris Wuestner and Dontez Ford, redshirt freshmen Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah, and incoming freshmen Adonis Jennings, Jaquan Davidson and Elijah Zeise.
Total number of collegiate receptions among that group last season: 15 (14 by Weatherspoon).
Nonetheless, Lewis likes the look of the group, with only Weatherspoon and Jones shorter than 6-foot-2.
“I see a lot of big guys that have what you want,” he said. “If you are big and imposing, you are ahead of the game already.”