Who Will Replace Dontez Ford?
PITTSBURGH — Pitt wide receiver Dontez Ford has a broken collarbone, according to a report by KDKA’s Richie Walsh.
Ford, the team’s starting wide receiver, left the game against Penn State after making a tackle on an interception in the second quarter.
Ford was later seen on the sideline with his right arm in a sling. Collarbone injuries can take from four to eight weeks to heal, depending on the severity of the fracture.
The interception was the only play he was targeted on in the game. He made two catches for 14 yards in the opener against Villanova. Ford is the team’s leading returning receiver with 26 catches for 505 yards and two touchdowns in 2015.
Expect freshman Aaron Mathews and redshirt freshman Tre Tipton to step up in increased roles in place of Ford, but wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman said it’ll be a group effort.
“It’ll be all those guys,” he said. “It’s Tre Tipton, Rafael Araujo-Lopes. Jester Weah has to continue to come on, Zach Challingsworth has to step up, Quadree Henderson has to continue to get better. Aaron Mathews is getting better every day and every week. He’s going to have to get used to changing from one opponent to the next and seeing different things from week to week. We’re going to have to continue to get better at little things and the details to make things slow down for them.”
The passing game in general is a place the Panthers haven’t shown much through two games in 2016. Quarterback Nate Peterman was 11 for 15 but attempted just two passes of 10 yards or longer and one of those was intercepted. The Panthers are 99th in college football with a 190.6-yards-per-game average.
Most of that success has come from Henderson. Henderson has blazing speed, as shown by his four straight games with an 80-yard or longer kick return. But he also has excellent natural instincts with the football in his hands. Thus far, Pitt has utilized him in something of a hybrid role, taking just as many carries on jet sweeps as he has catches and has been the Panthers’ most dynamic offensive weapon.
“We’re able to slip him out, move him around and get him open. That’s the beauty of this offense,” Sherman said.
But at just 5-foot-9, he can be hard to find downfield in and around the linebackers that typically patrol the short zones. Ford’s injury could open up a spot outside, but Henderson needs to work on his route-running in that area.
One thing that his early success with the underneath stuff has given him is confidence. That’s something that’s helped Weah, as well.
“No question. That’s something where both of those guys have done that (now). Jester’s come a long way. I like where he’s at right now. The thing I like about Jester from Saturday’s game was that he didn’t have much production in the throwing game, but he blocked his butt off. That shows you where he’s maturing as a player.”
Weah, a redshirt junior, made his first career catch and first career touchdown against Villanova.
“I felt like it was a relief,” he said. “It was an awesome feeling and something I’ll never forget,”
With deep-threat speed and a 6-foot-3 frame, Weah is a likely spot for more downfield targets during Ford’s absence. He’s always had that potential, but the Wisconsin native now feels that he’s primed to take advantage of it.
“I feel like my confidence is (through the roof),” he said. “I’m playing faster, and I’m making plays when the opportunity presents itself.”