Pat Narduzzi’s 5th camp as Pitt’s head coach gets underway one week from today at the UPMC Sports Complex.
The Panthers will be looking to build upon last years ACC Coastal Division Championship, the first in program history. In order for them to do that, they’ll need to replace some key position losses namely at running back, offensive line and a trio of linebackers.
The focus and sense of urgency will need to be there from the start since Pitt opens the season taking on Virginia, the preseason Coastal Division favorite.
While positions like quarterback, defensive end and the secondary are locked up, plenty of other players will be looking to impress and earn a starting position.
Pitt’s Top 3 Camp Position Battles:
Running Back: This might be the most wide open competition as Pitt will be looking to replace two 1,000 yards in Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison. While each of the potential candidates have plenty of talent none of them have experience, thus the reason for the wide open battle.
Candidates: A.J. Davis, Todd Sibley, Mychale Salahuddin, Daniel Carter and Vincent Davis.
Vuk’s Pre-Camp Favorite: A.J. Davis
Tight End: This is another position that doesn’t have a clear cut leader. Tight end has been a position of uncertainty for Pitt since the graduation of Scott Orndoff. Heading into camp, Pine-Richland’s Grant Carrigan is listed as the top man on the depth chart but he’ll have plenty of competition. Rutgers graduate transfer Nakia Griffin-Stewart has the most experience of the group, Will Gragg should be more comfortable as he enters his second year with the program and freshman Kyi Wright probably has as much physical ability of any of them.
Candidates: Grant Carrigan, Will Gragg, Nakia Griffin-Stewart and Kyi Wright.
Vuk’s Pre-Camp Favorite: Nakia Griffin-Stewart
Offensive Line (LT, RG, RT): Heading into camp, center Jimmy Morrissey and left guard Bryce Hargrove are the only players on Pitt’s line that should feel confident about starting on opening night vs. Virginia. The left tackle, right guard and right tackle spots are all up for grabs. Like at running back, the concerning thing for Narduzzi is that none of the candidates have a whole lot of experience. Redshirt sophomore Carter Warren is first on the depth chart at left tackle despite not having played in a game yet. Behind him is redshirt sophomore Carson Van Lynn, who played 12 games and made 5 starts at tight end in 2018. Senior Chase Brown is penciled in as the starter at right guard and will be challenged by a pair of redshirt juniors Rashad Wheeler, who’s making the switch from the defensive line and Brandon Ford. Two former WPIAL stars, Upper St. Clair’s Gabe Houy and Belle Vernon’s Blake Zubovic could battle for the right tackle spot. Two other names to keep in mind and players that have a real chance to possibly start are Michigan graduate transfer offensive tackle Nolan Ulizio and redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Jerry Drake. During his 3 years with Michigan, Ulizio played in 17 games at both tackle and guard. Narduzzi has recruited lineman that are versatitle so don’t be surprised to see players switching positions on the line during camp until the coaches find a unit they’re comfortable with.
Vuk’s Pre-Camp Favorites: LT Gabe Houy, LG Bryce Hargrove, C Jimmy Morrissey, RG Brandon Ford, RT Nolan Ulizio or Jerry Drake
*Freshman With Chance To Contribute?
Narduzzi has now developed some quality depth at certain positions namely at wide receiver, running back, defensive backs and because of this it might be difficult for some talented freshman to get on the field unless they really stand out during camp.
That being said, it’s not inconceivable to see some redshirt freshman or even a true freshman to have a meaningful role on the 2019 roster.
Freshman That Could Make 2019 Impact: Tight end Kyi Wright (true freshman), running back Mychale Salahuddin (redshirt freshman), running back Daniel Carter (true freshman), cornerback Marquis Williams (redshirt freshman), defensive tackle Devin Danielson (redshirt freshman) and defensive end John Morgan (redshirt freshman).