Two weeks from today, Pitt football returns as the Panthers host Youngstown State.
This afternoon on the South Side, Pat Narduzzi and his staff will watch another Panther scrimmage. These Saturday scrimmages along with what happens on the practice fields during the week will determine who gets a helmet on game day.
What will the Pitt two-deep depth chart look like for the season opener? Honestly, this is a hard question to answer since the media isn’t permitted to watch the meaningful parts of Pitt practice but I’ll do my best to give my thoughts mixed with things I hear from various sources.
The first official depth chart won’t be released until Monday August 28th but here’s my best guess on what we could end up seeing when Narduzzi makes things public.
As I said prior to camp, despite what was being said and reported, Max Browne was and will be the Pitt starting quarterback. Pitt didn’t bring Browne in to sit for his senior season. Ben DiNucci is the likely backup although I’m hearing sophomore Thomas MacVittie is having a nice camp and could eventually be the backup. Freshman Kenny Pickett, who’s also looked really good, will redshirt this season.
This is the one position that we could see a rotating starter for a good portion of the season. Quadree Ollison, Chawntez Moss, Darrin Hall, AJ Davis and Todd Sibley are all talented backs who all have the ability to play now. What’s likely to happen? Injuries could play a factor but my guess is that Ollison and Moss will see a lot of the early workload. Assuming he’s healthy, Hall is a player that the coaches will find a way to work into the rotation. Last season, Pitt started off with Moss and James Conner before Moss eventually wore down a bit. It’s not likely a team only uses three backs so Davis is the freshman that I’d guess is used first although I’m sure Pitt would love to redshirt both of them.
One thru five this rotation is pretty much set with Jester Weah, Quadree Henderson, Aaron Mathews, Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Maurice Ffrench. Earlier in the week, wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman stated that a six to seven man rotation is likely for the season. The player that’s worked his way into the conversation for the top six is redshirt freshman Ruben Flowers. Injuries to one of these players could bring a freshman into the mix. Pitt has a real nice combination of fast, tall, athletic, physical wideouts in this group which bodes well for the future.
The top three is set with Chris Clark, Matt Flanagan and Devon Edwards. Flanagan has been a very pleasant surprise during camp and has solidified the Panthers tight end position. Will any of the three freshman play in 2017? My guess here is that much heralded Charles Reeves is looking at a redshirt season. As far as Tyler Sear and Grant Carrigan, I’d say that one of the two will get on the field this season.
This will be a combination of Brian O’Neil, Alex Officer, Connor Dintino, Jimmy Morrissey, Alex Bookser, Jaryd Jones-Smith and Brandon Hodges. Although he joined the team late, I have a feeling that Hodges will be a guy that’s one on the field someplace. Could we eventually see a combination of Bookser at center, Hodges at right guard and Jones-Smith at right tackle? We’ll see. It’s never a problem to have talent and depth on the offensive line.
I believe this is another spot where a position was earned during camp. I look for Pitt’s two starting defensive ends to be Allen Edwards and Dewayne Hendrix with redshirt freshman Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones backing up Hendrix and James Folston and Kaezon Pugh behind Edwards.
Following practice yesterday, defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said that if the season started today, Shane Roy would be a starter on the defensive line. Assuming that’s accurate, I’d guess it would be Roy and Keyshon Camp as the two starters with Amir Watts and Kam Carter behind them. However, like at running back, it probably doesn’t matter who starts because a bunch of different players will be used.
This is another position that I believe is set and has been so for some time. Look for Elijah Zeise, Saleem Brightwell and Oluwaseun Idowu to be the starting linebackers with Chase Pine behind Brightwell, Jalen Williams backing up Zeise and Anthony McKee second on the chart to Idowu. Quintin Wirginis will obviously work his way into the depth chart after serving his three-game suspension. Will he return to the starting lineup? I guess that will be determined by what happens in the first three games.
Senior Avonte Maddox will be one starter with either Dane Jackson or true freshman Damarri Mathis at the other spot. Due to experience, Jackson might have the edge but Pat Narduzzi has pointed out the play of Mathis multiple times during camp so I don’t believe a final decision on this will be made until the week of the opener. Jason Pinnock, another true freshman is in contention for playing time as he’s battling with Malik Henderson. Depending on when he returns, Damar Hamlin could also play some at cornerback along with playing some safety.
This is the most confusing and unpredictable position on the field for Pitt. Suspensions and academic issues have opened the door for other players to get playing time. When he returns from suspension, Jordan Whitehead will be one of the safeties. For week one, I’d say Dennis Briggs will start along with Jay Stocker and will be backed up by Phil Campbell and Bricen Garner. However, with two weeks of practice still left, the starting safety jobs aren’t set in stone.