ShareThis Page
Pitt

Replenishing offense key to Pitt's chances in 2019

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, 7:42 p.m.
Pitt’s Kenny Pickett drops back to throw the game winning touchdown pass to beat Duke in the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt’s Kenny Pickett drops back to throw the game winning touchdown pass to beat Duke in the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 at Heinz Field.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had a difficult job preparing his team to play No. 2 Clemson on Saturday night in the ACC championship game.

And an even tougher time trying to make the game competitive.

But his greatest trick in his first half-decade of handling the reins of Pitt’s football program would be returning Pitt to the top of the ACC Coastal next season after losing 19 seniors.

Gone will be important players from every position on the field, except quarterback and tight end. It’s nice knowing Kenny Pickett can be behind center for the 2019 and ‘20 seasons, but will he have enough support?

The first place to look will be where Pickett needs help the most: the offensive line. Four starters will be gone, and center Jimmy Morrissey will be recovering from an ankle injury that ended his season Nov. 17. Morrissey could return at some point next spring, but there won’t be much experience around him.

Narduzzi and line coach Dave Borbely must juggle bodies, possibly making tight end Carson Van Lynn a full-time tackle. Morrissey’s injury allowed Bryce Hargrove to start two games at left guard and that experience should help next season.

But young linemen Brandon Ford, Gabe Houy and Jerry Drake Jr. must grow up in a hurry. Ford and Houy are Upper St. Clair graduates.

Just like this year when Narduzzi recruited left tackle Stefano Millin from the graduate transfer pool, expect the coach to keep another close eye on seniors looking for a new home.

While Narduzzi is doing that, maybe he should try to find a pass-catching tight end. Maybe you didn’t realize how important Scott Orndoff was to the passing game until he graduated.

Recruiting athletes directly from high school is the best way to replenish the roster but not the only way.

Arkansas transfer Will Gragg has made almost no impact, and Pitt has only one tight end in its incoming freshman class. Jason Collier of Westville, N.J., will be hard to miss at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds.

Maybe Narduzzi doesn’t want to rely on a freshman. Don’t be surprised if Pitt keeps working on Ventura (Calif.) College tight end Travis Koontz, 6-5, 250. He’s a former Pitt commit and a Youngstown, Ohio, guy (just like someone else close to the Pitt program). Koontz has multiple offers, including from Michigan State and LSU.

There are plenty of options at running back, but someone who barely touched the ball this season must emerge quickly.

All of a sudden, highly touted 2017 recruit A.J. Davis will be a junior, but he had only 41 career carries for a 145 yards before Saturday. There are high hopes for sophomores-to-be Mychal Salahuddin and Todd Sibley, but their best work has been in high school.

And how do you replace vicious blocking back George Aston? There doesn’t appear to be anyone on the roster approaching that kind of special talent.

Wide receiver looks solid as Pitt only loses Rafael Araujo-Lopes, a steady pass catcher, and potential game-breakers Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench return with high expectations and resumes to match. Together, they averaged 18.7 yards per catch and totaled seven touchdowns (before Saturday).

The defense loses seven seniors, but leaders such as Amir Watts, Saleem Brightwell, Damar Hamlin, Jazzee Stocker and Dane Jackson will be entering their final seasons.

Also, look for defensive end Rashad Wheeler, who was inexplicably left off even an ACC honorable mention team, to take another big step in his development. If he gets bigger and stronger in the offseason, which is what happens to the best players, he should get close to double digits in sacks. He led the team this season with 5 ½.

Get the latest news about Pitt football and all things Panthers athletics.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me