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Does Pitt Have a Tight End Problem?



Starting tight end Tyler Sear announced on Tuesday that he’ll seek a transfer from Pitt, one week after stepping away from the team.

Sear said on Twitter that he stepped away to focus on his mental health, and one such departure should not raise any red flags.

But Sear leaving the program is the sixth such loss at tight end in just over a year for the Panthers.

On Oct. 8, 2017, Class of 2018 tight end recruit Jay Symonds de-committed from the Panthers, instead choosing to attend Stanford after a late offer from the Cardinal.

On Dec. 21, 2017, fellow Class of 2018 recruit Matt Alaimo, who was scheduled to play both tight end and for Pitt’s baseball team, de-committed from the Panthers. Alaimo was the high school teammate of Pitt quarterback recruit Nick Patti and the Panthers were also recruiting his younger brother as a Class of 2020 quarterback, but just one day after Alaimo did not sign with the Panthers when the early signing period opened, he rescinded his commitment and eventually ended up at UCLA.

Leading up to Pitt’s spring practices, it seemed that Chris Clark was set to become the full-time starter after sharing the role with Matt Flanagan in 2017. But on March 27, 2018 Clark stepped away from the team for personal reasons and eventually transferred to Towson.

Pitt was never able to replace Alaimo or Symonds in their 2018 recruiting class, but secured the services of Arkansas graduate transfer Will Gragg and also added junior college recruit Travis Koontz, the No. 2 JUCO tight end in the country, to their Class of 2019.

It seemed that Sear, Gragg and redshirt freshman Charles Reeves would be the primary options at tight end for the Panthers in 2018.

Pitt TE Charles Reeves in warmups before Oklahoma State. — ALAN SAUNDERS

But on July 13, 2018, Reeves was dismissed from the team after returning home during the summer conditioning period and not staying in contact with Pitt’s coaches. Reeves eventually transferred to Youngstown State.

That left Pitt’s depth at the position pretty thin, so walk-on linebacker Jim Medure and New Jersey defensive end Kaymar Mimes were moved over to tight end during training camp. Medure was eventually awarded a scholarship.

On Oct. 2, 2018, Koontz de-committed from Pitt, citing the lack of a role in the offense for Pitt’s current group of tight ends. Through seven games, Pitt’s tight ends have just seven catches: Gragg (four catches, 28 yards), Sear (two catches, nine yards) and Medure (one catch, 15 yards).

Koontz’s announcement was quickly followed on Oct. 9, 2018 by Sear’s departure from the squad.

In just over a year, Pitt has had three tight end recruits de-commit and another three tight ends decide to transfer. That’s six players in a year at a position that’s typically only responsible for four or five scholarships.

Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem visited with Koontz on Monday in an effort to get the junior college recruit back into the fold and Koontz has told Pittsburgh Sports Now that he will still consider Pitt.

Salem has also been plastering the country looking for other junior college tight ends to go along with 2019 commit Jason Collier in the upcoming class, in addition to prospects for beyond like Lukas Ungar, the No. 5 tight end in the Class of 2020.

Since he arrived at Pitt, Salem has been one of the team’s better recruiters. As the primary recruiter for New Jersey and New York, he’s helped Pitt land players like Saleem Brightwell, Phil Campbell, Owen Drexel, Maurice Ffrench, Mimes, Patti, Kenny Pickett, Elias Reynolds, and Carter Warren.

But regardless of his overall abilities as a recruiter, there’s clearly been a problem with Pitt keeping commits and rostered players with the program.

Given Pitt’s pro-style offense that likes to run the ball, it should be an attractive destination. The Panthers also have four former tight ends that have played in the NFL over the last two seasons in J.P. Holtz, Manasseh Garner, Flanagan and Scott Orndoff.

At 3-4 entering their off week, the entire passing game struggling, the Panthers probably have bigger problems than the revolving door at tight end, but until it gets fixed, the departures in that area are going to stand out.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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