Everything you need to know about what happened during Pitt’s offseason
And what you should expect for next year
It seems like everytime we check the local news, the The Pitt Football Program is in the headlines. The Panther's have been thrown a few offseason curveballs, to say the least. It can be hard to stay up to date on all the off season moves, so here are the crucial losses for the team, why you shouldn't be worried, and what to expect in the long run.
As expected, Seniors Jester Weah(WR) and Avonte Maddox(S) have graduated and are on their way to the draft. While it's no surpise these two were invited to the NFL combine, three of Pitt's juniors announced in December their intent to enter the draft. Fortunately, your Pitt Panther's elite staff prepared for this possibility.
Brian O’Neill (LT)
— Pgh Sports Now (@PghSportsNow) January 18, 2018
We live in a world where offensive line considerations tend to go by the wayside because the position is too boring, or just not sexy enough. However, a good offensive line is crucial for success.
After his stellar year at left tackle–the most important of the offensive line positions (because he must protect the QB’s back…thank you The Blind Side), O’Neill decided it is best for his personal career to go to the pro’s early. O'Neill will do well in the NFL as he has proved his inherent athleticism time and time again transitioning from Tight End, to Right Tackle, to Left Tackle.
O'Niell's exit means that Pitt's offensive line will be under-expereinced; only two starters will return. This is even more troubling considering the offensive line struggled to protect it's backfield last year.
O'Niells loss is damaging, but the Panther's gave us prospects to be optomistic about:
Blake Zubovic (OL)
— Ryan Donnelly (@L10Ryan) October 14, 2017
A Pennsylvania native, Zubovich is a great addition to the Panther squad. ESPN ranks him as the 16th best overall prospect, after a high school career of High School Championships and All-Conference Accolades. On top of all that, he is huge. Would you want to be going toe to toe with this 6”5’ 310 pound monster?
Jake Kradel (OL)
— Andy Rhodes (@arhodesCIO) December 18, 2017
Jake Kradel is a versatile, nationally sought after top recruit from Butler, Pennsylvania. To be honest, I have only read a few statements by the 6’4” offensive guard, but he is someone worth getting fired up about. Being the 21st overall recruit in Pennsylvania, Kradel had narrowed his plethora of offers down to seven (Pitt, Ohio State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, UCLA, Maryland and Rutgers–according to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette). On a weekend he planned on visiting a few of these Mid-Western schools, Kradel cut the trips short because he wanted to “stay at home” and play for his city. It is hard not to like the guy that chooses to play for the city he loves.
Chase Brown (OL)
Chase Brown is a transfer from JUCO Lackawanna College. He is considered one of the best offensive line tackles in the country. Brown is ranked as the 65th highest prospect at any position in the country, and the 2nd highest in Virginia. Oh, and he is 6’5” and weighs 315 pounds. Additionally, his teammate at Lackawanna College Devon Davis (6’3” and weighs 330 pounds) announced that he has committed to Pitt as a preferred walk on.
Jordan Whitehead (S)
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) December 11, 2017
Whitehead’s announcement to enter the draft instead of returning was not too surprising. Whitehead is one of the most highly anticipated players entering the draft, as he has proved over the last three years that he is not only a ball-hawker, but can play all over the defense. The three time All-American is projected to go in the first round (23rd by the Cowboys, specifically) according to a mock draft on Fox Sports. Losing Whitehead really hurts our pass defense, as Whitehead single-handedly made opposing teams think twice about throwing the deep ball against Pitt.
Avonte Maddox and Whitehead certainly created a lot of buzz during their time at Pitt, but here are a few players that could make the same mount, if not more:
Though the Panther’s are losing their star defensive back, three highly sought after backs have signed with the Panthers:
V’lique Carter(S)– After being committed to the Iowa Cyclones for about a month, V’Lique Carter de-committed to commit to Pitt. Carter had 13 offers from top schools, including Oklahoma, Purdue, UCF, and Kentucky.
Marquis Williams (CB)– Pitt getting Williams is a massive offseason win for the Panthers. Williams had more than 20 offers from big time schools such as MSU, Clemson, Rutgers, Wake Forest, Louisville, Nebraska, UCF, Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and many more. One might argue that it’s William’s destiny is to come and aid Pittsburgh with his Defensive Back Skills, as his uncle is Tyrone Carter, ex steelers safety that helped Pittsburgh win two super bowls.
Judson Talliender(CB)— Another huge commit for the Panther’s pass defense. Talliender had offers from another slew of schools, like Goergia, Rutgers, Syracuse, BC, Marylan, blah blah blah.
Quadree Henderson (WR)
Henderson’s declaration to join the draft early came as a bit of a surprise because his season of slot receiving season was…underwhelming. Henderson finished with only 17 catches for 186 yard. Nevertheless, Henderson reminded us that his true value is as a return specialist.
Henderson leaves Pitt with a few impressive accolades, including most returned touchdowns in school history (7), 1st Team All-ACC in 2016 and Consensus All-American in 2016 and All-ACC teams.
Losing Henderson not only means the loss of a few specials team’s touchdowns, it means we lose the threat of punting against us. Henderson influenced opposing coaches to go for it on controversial 4th downs, fearing that Henderson might run one back on them.
— Cardiac Hill (@PittPantherBlog) December 5, 2017
Quadree's 17 receptions on the season are so bad, that he really didn't impact the season much in terms of recieving. To put in perspective, Memphis's Anthony Miller, and West Virginia's David Stills V both had 18 Touchdown receptions alone–more TD catches in 2017 than Henderson had on the season.
— Kentucky (@spot_ken) December 19, 2017
Pitt went out and got one of the best wide receiver prospects in the nation, Jaques-Louis–who had 24 offers from massive football schools. Both Jacques-Louis and the Pitt staff think that the fit couldnt be more perfect. Both parties have high hopes.
Two top prospects from Pitt 2017 recruitment classes to transfer
Last week, four Pitt players requested, and were granted, release from the school and team: Kam Carter (DL), Kaezon Pugh (DL), Henry Miller(DB), and Malik Henderson(DB). All seek more playing time. All four players were top recruits, but the most notable losses are Carter and Pugh (Miller and Henderson were busts, no offense).
Kaezon Pugh (DL)— Pugh was part of Pitt’s 2016 recruitment class as a 4-star linebacker. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pugh was moved from Linebacker to Defensive End. This resulted in him falling behind other, more experienced DE’s. Pugh did not see the field once in 2017. Out of Aliquippa High School, Pugh was rated as the 13th player at any position in all of Pennsylvania, according to NBC Sports.
Kam Carter (DL)— Out of Highschool, Carter was a 4-star recruit for Penn State, but was dismissed by the team in 2016. At that time, Carter was ranked as the 5th best player at any position in Maryland, and compositely ranked 238th in the country overall, according to 247sports.com. Carter transferred to East Mississippi Community College, where he was one of the subject’s of Netflix’s documentary show Last Chance U. At EMCC, Carter had 25 solo tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception.
While both recruits aren’t the dominant performers they were in highschool, one must wonder if too much potential is going by the wayside.
Reasons why you shouldn't worry (besides the fact that they stunk anyway)
Wendell Davis(LB)— This new 3-star recruit out of Virginia was a “big one for the LB’s.” Brian Batko reported that Pitt Director of Player Personnel Graham Wilbert wrote that the staff was so excited that they were blasting the Pitt fight song throughout the office. The 6’2” outside linebacker is ranked in the top 25 outside linebackers in the country.
Derick Hunter (DE–Non Committal)–For anyone to gain the status of a 4-star recruit, one must be one of the best players in the nation. Defensive End Derrick Hunter is considering football offers from across the nation. He is ranked as the 85th best player at any position in the country. While he hasn't chosen a school, Pitt is optimistic as Hunter believes that one should go to a school for their program, not just for their coach–as head coaching jobs are much more unstable these days. Hunter believes that Pitt football is on the steady rise. Additionally, he loves the idea of loyalty and fraternity. Pitt already has Jacques-Louis, who is a friend of Hunter’s.
QB's Ben DiNucci and Thomas MacVettie Will Never be Pitt Alumni
After a super whacky season of Quarterback shakeups, QB’s Ben DiNucci and Thomas MacVittie both announced in December that they planned on transferring from Pitt. Last year, Pitt brought in USC transfer Max Browne to lead the Panthers during his last year of NCAA athletic eligibility. Not good, not-the-worst-we-have-ever-seen-but-still-pretty-bad-okay-wow-this-guy-is-pretty-terrible first three games, Coach Narduzzi decided to start DiNucci against Georgia Tech for their first conference game.
DiNucci opened up the drive with a TD pass, making Narduzzi look like a genius. But as the game went on, DiNucci clearly wasn’t the messiah that would save the Panthers. Narduzzi put Browne back in towards the end. The following week, Maxi-Pad shutdown the haters. According to ESPN, Browne threw 28 for 32 (87.5 completion percentage), for 410 yards, 4 touchdown passes, and a 236.4 QB Passer Rating. 236.4. Those numbers are better than almost all NFL quarterbacks put up any given Sunday.
In the most Pitt fashion ever, Browne would suffer a season ending (and likely career ending) shoulder injury the next week, just as he was getting hot. DiNucci would start the next games against NC-state, but was benched for 3rd-stringer Kenny Pickett in the 3rd-quarter.
Narduzzi finally gave the starting job to Pickett on the last game of the year against the #2 Miami Hurricanes. The true freshmen proved to be the competitor Pitt deserves, as he led the Panther’s to a revolutionary takedown against Miami.
DiNucci has two years of eligibility left, while MacVettie has the same amount as Pickett. Since Pickett got the nod at the end of the season, both Quarterbacks realized they'd be riding out thier careers as Pickett's backup.
This left Kenny Pickett as the line Quarterback in Pittsburgh. Yes, he lead us to beat one of the best teams in the nation, but he is very young, and we have only seen him play one full game.
Why we shouldn't worry
Though Moss has some serious talent, his absence proved that Pitt’s other running backs are more than capable of taking on a feature shared back role, especially Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. The two backs have different skill sets–Ollison is more of a brutish, north-south, goal-line back (he played a little fullback last season), while Hall is more of an explosive, dynamic, playmaker.
Finally, Pitt’s Defensive Coordinator, Josh Conklin, has accepted a Head Coaching position at Wofford College. Conklin and Narduzzi came in to Pitt together. Prior to this year, Conklin and Narduzzi were praised for their strong defensive styles as we were able to stop some of the best football programs in the nation.
Reason to be optimistic
Ricky Town–Narduzzi is the king of bringing in player’s for their final year of eligibility, as Ricky Town has committed to Pitt. Ricky Town’s numbers are so impressive, that one must wonder if the starting position is Town’s for the taking. It is easy to believe that Pickett will back up Town for his sophomore year, while the coaching staff grooms Pickett to be an elite quarterback, both mentally and physically. Ricky Town is big for his position, standing at 6’3” and weighing 209 pounds. Town had a 69.5% completion percentage, 2,400 passing yards, 23 Touchdowns in his 2012 season, according to 247sports. Town is ranked as the 2nd highest rated “Pro-Style Quarterback,” and was named/participated in the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Pitt lost its best running back this season, Chawntez Moss. Moss started the season out hot, but was suspended for violating team policy. Moss claims that he was informed that if he did what he was supposed to during the suspension, he would be right back in the lineup. After Moss came back from his allotted suspension time, he received little to no playing time, eventually not dressing for games. When Chawntez approached Coach Narduzzi about the situation, Moss said that Narduzzi didn’t like Moss’s attitude. Eventually, Moss was suspended indefinitely.
While it may seem like dismal, there is no need to fret about Pitt’s Defensive coordinator. To start, Narduzzi has done such an excellent job of turning the Program around that he has already had to replace two offensive coordinators as Head Coaches, as they accepted other desirable offers (Jim Chaney became the Offensive Coordinator at Georgia, Matt Canada became the Offensive Coordinator for LSU). Being a Defensive Coordinator for most of his career, Pitt should have faith in Narduzzi expertise. Secondly, he has a few logical, good options. According to Brian Batko at the PPG, those are Pitt Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge, Linebacker Coach Rob Harley, and Middle-Tennessee Defensive Coordinator Scott Schafer.
Partridge–has three years of Head Coaching experience at Florida Atlantic, but only a year of Co-Defensive Coordinator at Wisconsin. Partridge would be a great sideline coaching presence and has a ton of experience in ‘major conference’ games.
Harley–has been the Linebacker Coach for three years, but is only 35, meaning he doesn't have much experience outside of that. However, Harley is regarded as one of the top up and coming coaches in football. Additionally, Pitt wouldn't skip a beat if Harley took the position. He has coached with Conklin at Florida International and has a similar style.
Schafer— Narduzzi and Schafer have a tremendous amount of chemistry and respect for each other, as they coached together at Rhode Island as well as Northern Illinois. Shafer has the experience as he was Defensive Coordinator for Syracuse for a year, Syracuse Head Coach for three, and is now doing well at Middle-Tennessee.
Football has a “next man up” mentality. Over the last few years, the Panthers have turned to their older guys to lead them to victory. Underrated competitors, like Nathan Peterman, Tyler Boyd, James Conner, Jordan Whitehead, Avonte Maddox, etc. Unfortunately, the next men up, the senior leaders, have left. The team will be young and inexperienced.
With most young teams, you can expect one or two rebuilding years, AKA the team will not be that good until the team is rebuilt to their full potential. That being said, the squad is full with young, talented recruits that all are NFL caliber. The future looks bright for Pittsburgh, but the next season, and possibly the one after most likely won't be too spectacular.