Pitt’s 2018 football season just ended a week ago in then Panthers’ 14-13 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, but it’s never too early to look ahead to the 2019.
Actually, it is far too early. Pitt still has another signing period to bring in freshman to the 2019 class, still could deal with transfers out of and into the program, and doesn’t even have in place the offensive coordinator that will be making close to 50 percent of these decisions.
Next season, Pitt will have to replace 11 regular starters from 2018, and seven of them are on offense, so the new offensive coordinator is going to have an outsized say in what type of changes the Panthers will be making.
But lets pull out our Pittsburgh Sports Now crystal ball and take a look at what each position could look like come this fall. We’ll start with the offense and then take a look at the defense later this week.
1. Kenny Pickett
There will most likely be an open competition at quarterback, both this spring and all the way through next fall, but when the dust settles, Pickett’s experience starting and running ability will likely give him an insurmountable edge. That doesn’t mean he should expect to keep the job throughout the season if he doesn’t play better than he did in 2018, but it’s hard to envision another quarterback taking the first snaps of the season.
2. Jeff George, Jr. OR Nick Patti
George will enter the spring with the backup job, but this will likely be a three-way battle for the starting spot, with the first runner up settling in as the backup. George has experience, but Patti is a prospect with size, a good arm and tons of potential.
3. Davis Beville
Yes, Beville is a four-star recruit, and he’s probably not totally out of consideration, but playing at a public school in western South Carolina, he’s not coming to Pitt with a ton of experience against top competition. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi usually also likes his quarterbacks to redshirt, so that seems the most likely outcome here.
1. A.J. Davis OR Todd Sibley OR Mychale Salahuddin
Davis is the biggest and strongest of the trio and Salahuddin is the fastest, while Sibley might be the most well-rounded of the bunch. Pitt will feature at least two tailbacks, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think that all three will get playing time because Pitt’s lack of depth at fullback and tight end might lead itself to more two-back sets.
The thing that’s going to separate these backs is pass protection. Davis struggled with that in his opportunities in 2018, and it could be the thing that holds him back from taking the reins here.
2. Daniel Carter OR Vincent Davis
Expect both of Pitt’s freshman running backs to get a legit shot as a contributor, at least in a small dose, and use their four games. If one of them turns out to be the hot hand, it could easily be more than that.
1. Jim Medure
This is one of the least-sure spots on the depth chart. Medure played tight end and Pitt’s “G” position, which is something akin to an H-back, but he rarely lined up in the backfield, despite being listed as a fullback on the team’s official depth chart all season.
Medure is a smart player that has now played linebacker, defensive end and tight end, so it wouldn’t surprise if he’s able to make the move again. Former starter George Aston also got his start at Pitt as a walk-on linebacker, so there’s plenty of precedent there.
2. Jason Edwards
Edwards came to Pitt from Bluefield, West Virginia as a preferred walk-on and redshirted in 2018. He has the size (5-foot-10, 230 pounds) and athleticism to be an impact talent at the fullback position, but he’s definitely still a bit wet behind the ears.
If not Edwards, this could be a spot where someone moves from another position to fill in. Anyone want to see Chase Pine as a lead blocker?
1. Grant Carrigan OR Carson Van Lynn
These two finished out the 2018 season as co-starters, and there’s been nothing that’s happened since then that seems like it would change that. That being said, the fact that neither of them had a catch in 2018 should say a lot about the confidence the Pitt offensive staff had in this duo, and a new coordinator could have a different vision for the tight end spot and these players individually. Van Lynn moved from tackle to tight end and Carrigan has been someone that’s been mentioned as a possible tackle, at times as well.
2. Will Gragg
Perhaps with a different man in charge, a more offensive threat like Will Gragg will emerge. Perhaps Gragg will see how his playing time declined throughout 2018 and finish his collegiate career elsewhere. Plenty up in the air at this spot, and it’s possible none of these three are playing tight end at Pitt in 2019.
1. X Aaron Mathews, Z Taysir Mack, slot Maurice Ffrench
With his breakaway speed, Ffench was Pitt’s best offensive playmaker throughout the 2018 season and Mack is Pitt’s most polished wideout. Those two should get playing time and targets in bunches.
Of the rest of Pitt’s receivers, there are a bunch of different available skillsets, but Mathews’ size, prowess as a blocker and experience make for a solid tie-breaker.
2. X Dontavius Butler-Jenkins OR Michael Smith, Z Shocky Jacques-Louis OR Tre Tipton, slot V’Lique Carter
Butler-Jenkins and Smith have the size, Jacques-Louis and Carter have the speed and Tipton has the hands and route-running ability for any of these four to create separation and even move up a tier, but none of them were able to show it on the field in 2018. There’s plenty of ability to move around here.
1. Gabe Houy, Jerry Drake
This is a prime spot for Pitt to look for a transfer, but as things stand right now, Houy and Drake would likely be the starters. Houy got a spot start in the 2018 opener agains Albany, filling in for an injured Alex Bookser. The only other tackle that got significant playing time was Van Lynn, who was eventually moved to tight end. If he remains there, Drake would be the logical next option at tackle.
2. Carter Warren, Liam Dick
Warren is a big body and the coaches are very excited about Dick, a freshman early enrollee, but these two are an easy call because they’re the only other scholarship tackles on the roster right now.
1. Bryce Hargrove, Brandon Ford
Hargrove should be as close of a thing to a lock as there will be on an offensive line with four new starters. The fact that Ford came in when Hargrove was injured in the Sun Bowl is a good sign for his chances of earning the other guard spot.
2. Chase Brown, Blake Zubovic OR Jake Kradel
Brown has playing experience, coming to Pitt from the junior college ranks and could certainly push Ford or Drake on the right side of the line. Zubovic seems to be just a hair of fellow redshirt freshman Kradel.
1. Jimmy Morrissey
The only returning starter on Pitt’s offensive line, Morrissey is still rehabbing from a nasty ankle injury suffered against Wake Forest. Assuming he’s back to full health, he’s the man in the middle of Pitt’s offensive line and is poised for an all-conference type of season.
2. Owen Drexel
The young center was passed over in favor of moving Connor Dintino over from guard when Morrissey was hurt late in 2018, but that probably won’t be the case going forward, as he’ll be relied upon as depth behind Morrissey and looks like a potential future starter.
KICKER, HOLDER, LONG SNAPPER
1. Alex Kessman, Jake Scarton, Cal Adomitis
Nothing to see here after Kessman dismantled Pitt’s distance-kicking record books in 2018. He could still be more consistent, but is in no danger of losing his job.
Boy, did Scarton show how valuable a good holder can be with his absence in Pitt’s loss to Penn State early in the year. He should be back and hopefully can stay healthy in 2019.
Adomitis will be back for his junior year and there seems to be little reason to believe he won’t be the top snapper once again.
2. Scarton OR Will Connelly, Kenny Pickett, Jack Hansberry
After the Penn State fiasco, Pitt started working Pickett as an emergency holder, and the Panthers should be better-prepared if something were to arise in 2019. Hansberry, a walk-on linebacker, appears to be Adomitis’ top backup, while Scarton and Connelly are slotted behind Kessman.
Next time, we’ll take a look at Pitt’s 2019 defense.