About 10 days ago, Pitt wrapped up spring football drills with the conclusion of the annual Blue-Gold game. It goes without saying that anyone who witnessed the game came away impressed with the energy surrounding the program.
For starters, several Panther greats were spotted on the sidelines including Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals) and Aaron Donald (St. Louis Rams) who were honorary captains as well as LeSean McCoy (Buffalo Bills) and NFL legends like Jim Covert and Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.
Over 5300 Pitt fans watched from Highmark Stadium with a beautiful view overlooking the city. And the play on the field was even prettier.
Just like our 2015 Spring Outlook for Pitt Football, DreamBackfield will start with the Pitt defense.
The biggest surprise of the spring was the emergence of Tyrique Jarrett, who spent a good deal of time in the Panthers backfield during the Blue-Gold game and won the 2015 Ed Conway Award for Defense, at Nose-Tackle. Jarrett, at least for now, has surpassed KK Mosley-Smith but the depth chart is hardly written in stone yet. He looked slimmed down perhaps to 325 lbs and much quicker than last fall.
Darryl Render maintained the DT starting spot and was decent against the run. Both Render and Jarrett, however, still need to improve on pass rushing and stunting as Panther QBs had sufficient time to find open receivers.
Pushing Render and Jarrett were KK Mosley-Smith, Justin Moody, Jeremiah Taleni and Connor Dintino. Out of that group, Moody once again emerged as the one to watch during the summer.
So lets start with the great news. Pitt received a commitment from sophomore defensive end 6’5″ Dewayne Hendrix, a former 4-star recruit, who decided to transfer from the University of Tennessee. Unlike former Volunteers QB Nathan Peterman, who will enroll at Pitt next month and be eligible immediately because he graduated, Hendrix will need to sit out a year but will have 3 years of eligibility.
For now, Shakir Soto and Rori Blair emerged as the starting DEs after spring drills concluded. Soto looked bulked up, perhaps to 270 lbs, and slower than a season ago. Blair still looked a bit undersized but serviceable.
Most of the attention was on Juan Price during camp and the feedback was positive. Price is still a bit rusty and undersized at 6’0 and roughly 255 lbs, but could be useful on passing downs as he’s probably Pitt’s best speed rusher at DE.
For now, the conclusion was Pitt still has major work to do at DE. It was only a shame that someone like TE Brian O’Neill wasn’t moved over to DE but perhaps incoming JUCO Allen Edwards or Zach Poker, Hez Trahan or Shane Roy could push Soto and Blair in the summer. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.
It looks as though Matt Galambos will indeed start again in the middle this year. Galambos doesn’t light up the stat sheet, but he’s a solid defender against the run. His main issue remains his quickness and he will need help from the safeties against the ACC’s bubble screens.
Perhaps the most interesting move of the spring was emergence of Mike Caprara at weak-side or WIL LBer spot, supplanting Bam Bradley who many thought would play on the strong-side this spring. For now, Caprara has seized the starting job but the Bradley / Caprara battle will ensue during the summer. Caprara has received a new lease on life with the new Pitt coaching staff and has responded with some impressive workouts. Even if he doesn’t win the job he will certainly see plenty of snaps this fall.
On the strong side, Nick Grigsby has more or less cemented the starting job. Former running back Jameel Poteat has been providing depth but is nowhere close to taking Grigsby’s spot.
For now Quintin Wirginis has been providing depth for Galambos at the MIK while Coach Rob Harley determines where to play Jamal Davis and James Folston.
When true frosh LBers Saleem Brightwell and Anthony McKee, two of Pitt’s highly prized recruits from 2015, arrive on campus in June, there will even be more depth.
Yes its true that senior Lafayette Pitts will probably keep the starting job at boundary corner this season. But perhaps the one of the biggest surprises during spring drills was corner Phillipie Motley, who at times really dazzled. Motley certainly looked to be a ball hawk and even picked a pass off for a quick six. Pitts better not get complacent this summer or Motley will supplant him.
It looks as though the plan is for sophomore Avonte Maddox to push Pitts at the boundary corner spot this summer but for now, he’s been manning the field corner position. This is of course until Jordan Whitehead, Pitt’s prized 2015 recruit, arrives on campus in June. Maddox, though, was taken first in the team draft for the Blue-Gold game and didn’t disappoint. He broke up several passes and even forced a fumble.
Early enrollee and trush frosh Malik Henderson also saw some snaps this spring. He will probably redshirt this year but he will have the leg up on his classmates for arriving 6 months early.
Coach Renaldo Hill will certainly have some tough decisions to make this summer. DreamBackfield thinks Maddox, who is bit undersized, is a strong hitter and perfect for a nickel or dime defense but Coach Hill will need to see what Whitehead can do.
As predicted, former RB Dennis Briggs moved to the secondary and provided some nice depth at corner this spring. He too will factor into the Pitt secondary this year.
Perhaps the captain of the Pitt defense will truly be free safety Reggie Mitchell, who has more or less locked down the starting job after spring drills.
Mitchell looked very versatile all spring and was very instrumental in the “on paper” turnaround of the Pitt defense. Its hard to say based on a few scrimmages and the Blue-Gold game.
Unfortunately, strong safety Pat Amara was held back for a good portion of the spring and that led to Jevonte Pitts, who is a hard hitter, taking temporary control of the position.
Falling back and perhaps out of favor has been Terrish Webb, who many thought was a slamdunk to start. Webb really didn’t make much of an impact all spring and will have an uphill (no pun intended) battle this summer.
Coach Hill also saw walk-on Oluwaseun Idowu and redshirt frosh Jalen Williams, who picked off the final pass of the Blue-Gold game to seal the 17-10 Team Fitz (Blue) win over Team Donald (Gold), provide depth and options for the summer.
Incoming true frosh Jay Stocker will most likely redshirt this summer.
It was a rather pedestrian day for the Pitt offenses during the Blue-Gold game and there wasn’t much to take away.
Chad Voytik threw for 177 yards and a TD in the Blue-Gold Game but looked very poised and nimble on his feet, as he did last year. There’s no reason for Voytik not to emerge this year as one the ACC’s best QBs.
Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman arrives on campus soon and will try to push Voytik for snaps but chances are Voytik will be the man this fall.
Pitt fans got the chance, however, to take a quick look at the future with redshirt frosh Adam Bertke. At 6’6″, Bertke displayed some really nice velocity on his throws, despite the wind, as well as a few nice side-arm touches. With the right coaching, Bertke could emerge as the starter once Voytik graduates.
A few new wrinkles were added to the Pitt QB depth chart this spring when 6’3″ 225 lb walk-on QB Nate Bossory transferred to Pitt from Air Force, where he played tight end as well as walk-on QB Joe Repischak, from nearby Upper St. Clair.
Lets also not forget true frosh QB Ben DiNucci will also arrive in June but will certainly redshirt this year.
There’s really no need to mention how great James Conner is or whether he will start at tailback this year. That’s a given. What interests Pitt fans is how Coach Jim Chaney plans to cut him loose out of the backfield this year for screen passes and other inventive plays that will showcase his soft hands.
This will not only preserve some wear and tear on Conner but also keep defenses honest from stuffing the run. That’s bad news for Akron of course.
Sophomore tailbacks Chris James and junior Rachid Ibrahim looked sharp and poised to spell Conner this year. James looked a bit bigger than a season ago and much crisper on his cuts. Ibrahim looked like a finished product, particularly as a 3rd down pass-catching specialist, and one of the elder statesman in the Panthers backfield.
Pitt fans also noticed sophomore RB Qadree Ollison finally emerge out of the shadows this spring. He not only ran with power but also displayed some really nice wheels in the process. He too will factor in the Pitt running game this year.
Incoming true frosh Darrin Hall, Jr will definitely redshirt this year.
Jaymar Parrish will assume the H-Back role this season. A few walk-ons including George Aston, Joey Kerle, and Colton Lively will provide depth.
Tyler Boyd was more or less preserved this spring so that new Pitt WR Coach Kevin Sherman could audition options to start opposite him at Split End this year.
For now, Coach Sherman found his answer in Dontez Ford, who won the 2015 Ed Conway Award for Offense. Ford looked like a solid complement to Boyd and will certainly provide Voytik a nice option in the passing game. His main weakness is speed, which WR Jester Weah has plenty of but again his trouble has been securing the rock.
It was nice to see both Zach Challingsworth and Elijah Zeise catch TD passes in the Blue-Gold game. Ziese, in particular, displayed some really nice wheels and tremendous hands in the process. Look out for him this year.
WRs Chris Wuestner and redshirt frosh Jaquaun Davidson will also push for playing time this summer.
The incoming true frosh WR foursome of Quadree Henderson, Dane Jackson, Tre Tipton and Gentry Ivery will all probably redshirt this year but Henderson may see playing time immediately in the slot since Ronald Jones was dismissed from the team in the off-season.
New Pitt TE Coach Tim Salem has to be grinning from ear to ear with the tandem of JP Holtz and Scott Orndoff at the TE position this year. Both players didn’t disappoint and looked poised to make a big impact on the Pitt offense this season.
While Holtz continued to see snaps as a blocking TE, he was also used more frequently as a receiver and made some really nice plays in the passing game this spring. Orndoff is not quite the blocker Holtz is but he too is a fantastic target for Voytik, particularly in the red-zone.
It looked like Devon Edwards could emerge at TE this spring but dropped a pass in the Blue-Gold game and was a bit sloppy in his assignments.
We didn’t get to see much of Tony Harper or fan favorite redshirt frosh Brian O’Neill but hopefully that will change this summer.
Its always tough to evaluate an OL during the Blue-Gold game, especially when a few starters are on one team and a couple of starters are on the other.
However, what we learned this spring is that new OL Coach John Peterson isn’t afraid to shake things up.
At left tackle, Adam “Biz” Bisnowaty has apparently settled as the starter on Voytik’s blind-side. Biz is a heck of a run blocker but still needs to work on his foot speed on passing downs.
At left guard, junior Dorian Johnson will return as the starter. He looked effective again and will hopefully have a huge season this year. Redshirt sophomore Carson Baker will apparently provide depth at left guard.
At center, redshirt sophomore Alex Officer has retained the starting job thus far despite being pushed by redshirt junior Gabe Roberts. It doesn’t look like former starter Artie Rowell is ready yet to become a factor after going down last season with season-ending torn ACL against BC.
Among the surprises this spring was the emergence of Alex Bookser at right guard. Many Pitt fans had him pegged at right tackle but Mike Grimm really didn’t seize the right guard position so far like many thought.
Redshirt frosh Mike Herndon actually pushed Boosker at right guard.
Redshirt sophomore Jaryd Jones-Smith looks like he will cement the starting right tackle job. Moving Smith over from left tackle was an interesting move in the off-season and he has adapted nicely to the new position.
John Guy (behind Biz) and Aaron Reese (behind Jones-Smith) will provide depth at the tackle positions.
Incoming true frosh Alex Paulina (guard) and Tony Pilato (tackle) will almost certainly redshirt this year.
Tyler Boyd and Jordan Whitehead should be your kickoff receiving tandem with Boyd fielding punts as well.
Incoming true frosh Dane Jackson might factor on special teams early in his Pitt career.
PK Chris Blewitt looked solid in the Blue-Gold game including a booming 55 yarder that split the uprights. Walk-on PK Joel Reighard also nailed a 28 yarder in his Pitt debut.
Punter Ryan Winslow and Long-snapper David Murphy will return in the same roles this year for Pitt.
Pitt Hires a New Athletic Director:
Not long after the Blue-Gold game, Chancellor Pat Gallagher announced the hiring of Scott Barnes as Pitt’s new Athletic Director effective July 1st. Barnes, the AD at Utah State, was the unanimous choice among the University’s search committee that included Coaches Pat Narduzzi, Suzie McConnell and Jamie Dixon.