It’s 5 p.m. on Friday and it’s officially a football weekend, as the Pitt Panthers and Youngstown State Penguins are just 19 hours or so from kicking off the 2017 season at Heinz Field.
To get you the rest of the way through the week, here’s five reader questions about this week’s Pitt matchup.
Anthony @twsports7: “Does Max Browne’s arm strength allow for greater downfield passing game threat? Despite 2016 success, that still seemed to be lacking.”
This is really two questions. First, on the deep ball being lacking. Browne has the arm strength to make pretty much any throw that the Panthers could ask him to, but Pitt’s lack of downfield passing success in the past is probably more about the receivers than the quarterback.
Jester Weah is a legit home-run hitter, with track-star speed and size to go with it and you can expect Pitt to utilize him as a significant downfield threat.
But the rest of Pitt’s receivers last year were more of the possession or underneath type. I wrote Thursday about how the team wants Quadree Henderson to be more of a downfield threat, but I’m a bit skeptical of how that’s going to work. Maybe the plan is to play Henderson in the slot to get him isolated on a mismatch.
Either way, I think the running game, sweeps, screens and shovel passes are still going to be the bread and butter of the offense, if for no other reason than to try to keep the young defense off the field as much as possible.
As far as Browne’s arm strength goes, I think he has the physical tools to do whatever the Panthers want him to do. He seems to be stronger than Peterman without sacrificing much in the way of accuracy. But there’s a big caveat to all of that.
One of the things that made Peterman successful and valued at the next level was his calm under pressure and ability to avoid mistakes. Browne has looked wonderful in camp, but his numbers with USC tell a different story. It will be very interesting to see how things go when the games count.
Sean @seansramblings: “The secondary can’t be any worse than last year, right?”
I don’t think the secondary will be worse than they were last year, but whether or not they will have a significant improvement depends a lot on the development of some awfully young players.
True freshman Damarri Mathis is probably going to get a good bit of playing time at field corner as his battle with redshirt sophomore Dane Jackson continues. Redshirt sophomore Jazzee Stocker and redshirt freshman Bricen Garner are going to split time at field safety. That’s half the field manned by guys with little or no experience.
If I’m an opposing offensive coordinator, it’d be a long time before I tried the other side of the field.
@Lesnar588: “Is there anybody, that can step up and be a dominate edge rusher?”
I love this question, because I think my answer is going to surprise some people. Dwayne Hendrix has been heralded as a potential impact defensive end since he arrived at Pitt. But he had to sit out a season due to transfer, then spent all of 2016 injured. For whatever reason, he’s been limited throughout camp. Defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said they’re just trying to take it easy on his body, but it brings into question how healthy he is and how much of an impact he’ll have.
On the other hand, Allen Edwards has been an absolute beast. He’s always had the quickness, but he’s gotten bigger and physically stronger along with maturing into something of a quiet leader of the defensive line. Edwards is a senior and he seems determined to have a big impact in his final year. I’m expected big things from him this season.
Rashad Weaver is another player that has really come on strong. The redshirt freshman even pushed his way into being listed as a co-starter behind Hendrix and he’s likely to see a lot of playing time, as Pat Narduzzi said he expects to play eight defensive linemen. Weaver will still be raw, but he’s a big, strong athlete that will do some impressive things while probably also making the occasional freshman mistake.
John Pezza @Paruhdyme: “(Will) Hamlin see significant playing time this season?”
It’s impossible to say now, but my gut feeling is that he will not. Conklin said that Hamlin “missed the foundation” by missing so much time in camp while recovering from offseason surgery that also cost him all of spring ball.
Narduzzi said Hamlin is progressing, but he remained limited through the end of camp and is not on the two-deep.
It’s looking more and more like the Panthers mishandled his situation last season, when they let Hamlin attempt to play through the injury that required surgery and now, it may end up costing him another year.
At this point, if I’m Pitt, I wouldn’t play Hamlin until he’s 100 percent healthy AND able to provide a serious upgrade. Remember that he’s been moved to safety during this time, but that’s a position he’s never played. Kaezon Pugh is back on the scout team this year after moving to defensive end and he’s been relatively healthy. I don’t think its realistic for Hamlin to be a contributor any time soon.
Mike Vukovcan @PghSportsNow: “What will Pitt’s final record be?”
I’m going for a third straight year of 8-5, with this time Pitt getting a bowl game win. I think they’ll have a tough time with Penn State, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Miami, with the other setback happening against Georgia Tech or North Carolina.