Let’s face it, the 2017 Pitt football season hasn’t gone as most people expected.
No one dreamed that Pitt would go 11-1 but not many had them winning only four games, which is their likely win total unless they pull a monumental upset of #3 Miami.
The easy and common thing for fans and cynics to do is pile on and make the situation worse than it actually is.
A redshirt freshman on the Pitt team put things in what I believe is proper perspective tonight with a tweet.
Trust the process….‼️ pic.twitter.com/1SIg82zeU4
— Shad (@ShadWheeler_) November 20, 2017
After what this program has been through it’s hard for the fans to do that and trust that this time things will be different but that’s what they have to do.
If you’re a true fan do you have any other choice?
That was probably the message that Pat Narduzzi was preaching to his players after the game and in team meetings Sunday. Instead of dwelling on their overall record, the focus must remain on what’s gone right this year and building blocks for 2018.
Trust the process.
In my opinion, the biggest thing that will come from this season is for the first time under Narduzzi, we have plenty of signs that a solid defense is being assembled.
Starting with the game vs. Rice, I feel the Panthers defense has been very solid and played winning football in five of those seven games. In four of those games, they allowed less than 20 points.
The encouraging part is that it’s been a total team effort by the defensive unit.
The defensive line keeps getting better and is is doing so with tons of young, talented players like Keyshon Camp, Patrick Jones, Amir Watts, Rashad Weaver and Rashad Wheeler with guys like Kaezon Pugh, Jaylen Twyman, Kam Carter and Devin Danielson on the way.
When a Narduzzi style defense is successful it all starts with the guys up front and Charlie Partridge appears to be building a stable of talent.
At linebacker, despite all being first year starters, the trio of Elijah Zeise, Oluwaseun Idowu and Saleem Brightwell have all gotten better as the season has progressed. Idowu has been a playmaker and Zeise has been a rock on the outside. Plus, freshman like Chase Pine and Elias Reynolds have gotten valuable playing experience that will help next year. Henry Miller is a name to look out for in the future.
A year after getting heavily criticized, the secondary has rebounded to become maybe the best story of the season. The duo of Avonte Maddox and first year starter Dane Jackson have been solid at cornerback while Therran Coleman, Jason Pinnock and Damarri Mathis look to have bright futures. It’s too bad we didn’t get to see more of Coleman who was battling injuries for much of the season. Coleman has a bright future on the Panthers defense.
If Jordan Whitehead enters the NFL Draft, the starting safeties will likely be Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford with Bricen Garner, Phil Campbell, Jay Stocker and Dennis Briggs in reserve. If Whitehead returns, the secondary could be really, really good.
The point is, a defense that has gotten much better will return virtually everyone next season. This unit truly has a chance to be dominating in 2018 and that’s not fanboy talk.
While the defense made strides this year, the offense regressed and have plenty of question marks heading into the offseason.
The biggest dilemma is who will be under center? Right now, it appears to be a battle between Kenny Pickett and Ben DiNucci unless Thomas MacVittie has a great off-season.
Pickett appears to be the leader as we close out the season but nothing is written in stone. It’s not likely that Narduzzi will add a graduate transfer again but who knows.
While running back looks to be in good shape with everyone returning plus the addition of Todd Sibley, the position of offensive line and wide receiver are areas of concern.
The inconsistency of the offensive line was as much an issue as quarterback was for Pitt this season. Too many moving parts at the start of the season was an issue plus really no one had good seasons.
A big question is whether Pitt’s best lineman will return or will Brian O’ Neil enter the 2018 NFL Draft?
If O’Neil leaves, Pitt will have four legitimate camp battles for starting slots (LT, LG, C, RT).
The other spot that needs major improvement in 2018 is at wide receiver. The quarterback position gets a lot of criticism but Max Browne and Ben DiNucci weren’t throwing to a reliable group of receivers.
Some receivers didn’t live up to expectation, some didn’t develop, some took a step backward and some couldn’t earn any playing time. It goes without saying that all the jobs will be open next year. Players like Michael Smith, Dontavius Butler, Tre Tipton and Charles Reeves will have a chance to be major contributors.
In the end it might all come down to the quarterback position. The defense appears to be set and there’s talent on the running back and wide receiver depth charts.
If Narduzzi and Shawn Watson can get quarterback play like they did in 2015 and 2016, next season has plenty of promise.
I know Pitt fans have heard that before and why should next year be any different from past disappointments?
The only thing I can say is “Trust the Process.”