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It’s game week.
The 2017 season has finally arrived, and as Pat Narduzzi and the rest of the University of Pittsburgh football team gets ready for the 1:00 p.m. Saturday opener against Youngstown State, I am going to go through some predictions for this season.
This team is extremely young. That has been well documented throughout training camp. With young teams comes opportunity for younger guys, and Pitt has a few true freshman that will make an impact this season. Damari Mathis and Jason Pinnock have both been mentioned as DBs that have really stepped up. When Phillipie Motley went down in camp, the door opened for someone in the defensive backfield to step up, and Mathis and Pinnock did just that. Mathis is a long instinctive corner with great hips, good size, and very good ball skills. Pitt fans will like the way both Mathis and Pinnock are able to make plays on the ball.
Jalen Twyman is another player on the defensive side of the ball that has started to turn a corner. Playing time is rare for a true freshman on the offensive or defensive line, but Twyman has shown that if need be, he could step in and hold his own.
Two other freshman to look out for are AJ Davis and Todd Sibley. The running back room is loaded with talent. Davis and Sibley both have different styles, but both have the talent to get on the field early, the biggest x factor will be what happens with both Chawntez Moss and Darrin Hall as far as staying healthy.
Paris Ford was a story before he got on campus, and became even more of a story when he arrived last weekend. Simply put, Ford missed a lot of football. It is extremely tough to play as a freshman, not to mention missing seventeen practices and then trying to play. That being said, I do think Ford will be on the field this season. When that is will be determined by what he shows in practice and how quickly he is able to show that he can make an impact while on the field.
Everyone wants to talk about how much the secondary struggled last year, which they did, but that was not the root of the problem. Last season the defensive line struggled to get to the quarterback with a four-man rush, causing the defense to have to rush linebackers more often than they would have liked to. This left the secondary vulnerable. This year, the defensive line will be the strength of this defense. The entire line is revamped with new faces, and guys that are finally healthy. This defensive line has a lot of versatility that will allow them to stop the run but also get after the quarterback.
Look for Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, Rashad Weaver, and Dewayne Hendrix to be big time playmakers on this new look defensive line.
This is the wild card unit. Pitt needs to find someone opposite Jester Weah that will step up and be a threat in the pass game. Tre Tipton was pegged by many as the guy that was going to make big strides, but an ACL injury will cause him to miss the 2017 season. Quadree Henderson and Maurice Ffrench will need to be more active in the passing game in order to open up the jet sweeps and create more room for Weah. Ruben Flowers was a highly touted recruit and is a name Pitt fans had been waiting to hear about. Flowers had a very strong camp, and has big play ability that the coaching staff is looking forward to seeing.
Dontavious Butler-Jenkins has been sidelined with an undisclosed lower body injury but has not been ruled out. Butler-Jenkins was very impressive before he went down, and he will be a big addition if he is able to get healthy sooner rather than later.
The saying, “games are won in the trenches”, has a lot of truth to it. Pitt has a very talented offensive line and a new look defensive line. If the d-line can live up to their potential, Pitt will surprise a lot of people this year. The youth movement is in full effect, especially on the defensive side of the ball. With youth comes mistakes, and growing pains, but this young team has loads of talent.
The season is finally here Pitt fans.