When Pat Narduzzi talked about his quarterback depth entering spring ball last month, he referred to Ben DiNucci, Kenny Pickett and Thomas MacVittie as three players that could compete and push one another throughout Pitt’s extended 2017-18 offseason.
In the blink of an eye, that depth is gone.
On Thursday, DiNucci announced that he intends to transfer from Pitt after MacVittie had done the same earlier in the week. If Pitt had to play a game today, the depth chart at quarterback would be Pickett and walk-on junior Jake Zilinskas.
Zilinskas, a former Indiana High School star, wasn’t even the primary quarterback on the scout team in 2017, which should not stoke comfortable feelings in the hearts of Pitt fans. There are reinforcements on the horizon, but he lack of depth is still troubling.
If there was any doubt — and there probably wasn’t much — as to whether or not Pickett would be the Day One starter in 2018, that has now been removed. But it’s not as simple as having QB1 taken care of and letting the rest settle itself out.
Pickett will be a true sophomore with essentially two games under his belt, when combining his start against Miami with three quarters against Virginia Tech and a couple series against NC State. There’s far from a guarantee that he’d play up to a level that deserved starting all 12 games next season, though it at least seems likely.
On top of performance, Pickett is a dual-threat quarterback that puts his body at risk of injury every time he takes off out of the pocket and Pitt could potentially have as many as three new starters on the offensive line.
It’s not exactly surprising that DiNucci and MacVittie have decided to move on. When a scholarship quarterback gets passed on the depth chart by a younger player, that’s a pretty typical outcome. After all, only one quarterback plays at a time.
But Pickett will need backups. At this late stage, does Pitt have options to backfill the roster?
Well for one, St. Joseph’s Regional (Montvale, N.J.) star Nick Patti will be joining the club. Patti is expected to sign with Pitt on Dec. 20 and the three-star prospect should go a long way toward replenishing Pitt’s depth. But the Pitt coaching staff will probably also want to redshirt Patti in 2018 to separate him a bit from Pickett and give him the prospect of starting for two years down the road. But Patti won’t even arrive on campus until next summer.
In the meantime, another walk-on, Erie Community College quarterback Tyler Zelinski will transfer from his junior college to join the Panthers. Of course, Pitt usually carries four scholarship quarterbacks, so the Panthers should have space to make some additions to Pickett, Zelinski and Zilinskas if they’d like to.
The late date probably precludes most 2018 freshmen from being options, and it’s doubtful Pitt would want two quarterbacks of the same class year, anyway. Another junior college player could be an option, though Zelisnki was already rated as one of the top such player.
The most likely method of addition for the Panthers going forward is the same way they experienced their subtraction: a transfer. But it’ll be a tough sell, for the same reasons that DiNucci and MacVittie left. Pickett is probably going to start and it’ll take poor play or an injury for anyone else to see the field. That’s not a lot to recruit with.
Pitt may also look outside the box, bringing in a player that plays quarterback in high school, but is being recruited as an athlete instead. The Panthers have a few of those type of players already on their roster, as Therran Coleman, Aaron Mathews and Chase Pine were quick to point out on Thursday.
I’ll Make A Tape With Straight Passes If You Really Want Me To 😂😂. I Only Put Like 2 On My Tape
— Therran Coleman (@Raw_4_) December 14, 2017
Everyone is forgetting that I play QB too! 😏
— Aaron Mathews (@Mathews_A1) December 14, 2017
But everyone remembers I was actually the better quarterback https://t.co/Rlk4I22klx
— Cheyton Pine (@PineStar11) December 14, 2017
Whichever route the Panthers take, it’s clear that their quarterback depth for 2018 has taken a hit. That’s the price to pay for having a true freshman quarterback step in, step up, and look like a starter going forward. That’s not all a bad thing.