Pitt wideouts look to get separation in battle for 3rd pass-catcher spot
Pitt freshman Adonis Jennings hasn't completed his first week as a collegiate wide receiver, but he already knows what matters:
Play through pain and embrace the expectations.
Jennings missed drills Tuesday and Wednesday with a sore groin, a recurrence of a problem that surfaced in high school. But he returned Thursday because he knows what's at stake.
“This is a lot different than high school,” he said. “I'm just getting adjusted to it, but they want me to get adjusted to it fast. There are big expectations.”
Pitt has the chance to build a productive offense, with playmakers such as wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Manasseh Garner and running back James Conner supported by an experienced offensive line.
But there is room — indeed, a need — for a third pass catcher, and Pitt coaches hope Jennings (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) can help fill it.
Ignoring his groin pain is a start.
“Every year, I get through it,” he said.
If he can't, there are plenty of prospects lining up to seize the job.
Senior Kevin Weatherspoon, who is one of the candidates, said there is more depth at wide receiver than at anytime since he arrived at Pitt in 2010.
Wide receivers coach Greg Lewis didn't want to single out anyone, but when asked about Jennings, he had to tell the truth.
“You're getting a guy who's big, tall, fast, strong,” Lewis said. “You can't have enough of them. Getting Adonis here is a big positive for us.
“He looks the part, and he's playing the part.”
Coach Paul Chryst refused to gush, but he did say of Jennings, “He looks like a freshman we are excited about.”
Lewis, an eight-year NFL receiver, has 13 players in his group. He likes some of what he sees but grimaces at other times.
“Too many balls on the ground,” he shouted Thursday. Later, when players were jumping offsides and ruining the rhythm of practice, he said, “Wasted reps.”
Yet, the fourth day of practice Thursday offered a unique opportunity for wide receivers to catch Lewis' attention. Chryst gave Boyd the day off to keep him fresh — he'll be back Friday — and he plans to do the same for other key players throughout training camp.
Into the void stepped junior Ronald Jones, the smallest of the group at 5-8, 170 but Boyd's No. 1 backup at the moment.
Jones was suspended for the 2013 season for violating a team rule, but he never missed a practice. He emerged holding the coaches' trust and with an opportunity to make a difference.
“It was hard,” Jones said of the suspension. “I couldn't really be in the locker room on game days. It was like hitting me in my heart.”
One of the most athletically gifted of the candidates is redshirt freshman Jester Weah (6-3, 205), who played more basketball than football at Madison (Wis.) Memorial High School. Lewis said Weah is learning valuable lessons.
“He is feeling more confident about the plays, the concepts, the alignments and all the little details,” Lewis said. “Now, he can let his athletic ability show, and he is making the most of those opportunities.”
Everyone has flashed some ability to make plays, but Chryst wants more than flashes before he makes a decision.
“The consistency is what's going to drive all that,” he said.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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