The 2019 Pitt football season is now two days from officially getting underway as the first fall practice will take this coming Friday morning.
The goal for the Panthers is to repeat as Coastal Division Champions and for Pat Narduzzi to win his first bowl game as Pitt’s head coach. For them to accomplish those goals players like Rashad Weaver, Kenny Pickett, Maurice French, Taysir Mack, Damar Hamlin, Paris Ford will be key.
However, football is the ultimate team game and players that aren’t getting attention or in the spotlight right now will need to emerge for 2019 to be a success.
Here are current Pitt sophomores or redshirt freshman that have received little or no playing time yet but will try and catch the coaches eyes in order to move up the Pitt depth chart.
#97 Jaylen Twyman, DL (6’2″, 290), redshirt sophomore: Played in 13 games last season and made 16 tackles and 1.5 tackle for loss. Twyman saved his best performance for the ACC Championship game where he collected a season-high 4 tackles. Twyman came to Pitt as a highly ranked recruit from Washington D.C. with offers from Florida, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee.
#9 Michael Smith, WR (6’1″, 215), redshirt sophomore: Played in five games last season but didn’t register a catch. Smith was considered a diamond in the rough coming from Vero Beach, Florida as he caught 66 passes for 1,556 yards and 24 touchdowns during his senior season. Smith was rated by ESPN as one of the top 75 overall prospects in Florida and earned an offer from Notre Dame.
#5 Deslin Alexandre, DE (6’4″, 265), redshirt sophomore: Played in 13 games last season, mainly as a reserve (5 tackles) and on special teams. Will have the opportunity this year to crack the depth chart at defensive end. Keep in mind that Alexandre is still developing as a football player since he didn’t start playing football at Deerfield Beach High School (Pompano Beach, Florida) until his junior season. During his senior season, he was rated as one of the Top 25 defensive end prospects in Florida by Scout.
#74 Jerry Drake, Jr., OL (6’5″, 310), redshirt sophomore: If you’re looking for a player that has the potential to make a big jump in 2019, it could be Drake. Drake was a big get in Pitt’s Class of 2017 as he selected Pitt over offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Michigan State, Mississippi State, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and UCLA. The big lineman from Palm Beach, Florida got into five games last season but will be competing for one of Pitt’s three openings on their offensive line. Drake comes from good blood lines as his father played six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals (1995-2000).
#77 Carter Warren, OL (6’5″, 320), redshirt sophomore: Big things are expected from Warren as he starts camp as Pitt’s starting left tackle despite not getting on the field during his first two seasons. The former 3-star recruit from Passaic Tech in Paterson, New Jersey appears to have the ideal size for a left tackle. Warren was rated by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports as one of the Top 10 prospects in New Jersey during his senior season.
#88 Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, WR (6’0″, 215), redshirt sophomore: This appears to be a huge season for the career of Butler-Jenkins at Pitt. He’s as athletically gifted a receiver as Pitt has on their roster. In his first two seasons with Pitt, Butler-Jenkins has stood out during camp but got injured his freshman season towards the end of camp and last season got buried on the wide receiver depth chart. Plenty of people believe that new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s offense is one that Butler-Jenkins has a chance to excel in. One thing going against him is that he’ll have a lot of players to jump on the depth chart.
#29 Albert Tucker, LB (6’1″, 220), redshirt sophomore: With the graduation of three linebackers from last season, Tucker will have a chance to open some eyes this season. The St. Thomas Aquinas product played in nine games last season (special teams and reserve Money linebacker).
#47 Kyle Nunn, LB (6’3″, 230), redshirt sophomore: Like with Tucker, the opportunity to show something will be there during camp for Nunn. All of his playing time in 2018 (12 games), came as a member of the special teams unit. Came to Pitt from Findlay, Ohio where he was a standout safety. Nunn comes from great blood lines as both of his parents were All-Americans at Tiffin (mother/basketball and softball, father/football).
#87 Habakkuk Baldonado, DL (6’5″, 250), redshirt freshman: Played in only one game last season so he kept his redshirt. Baldonado is another player that started playing football late, only playing one season in the United States. He moved to Clearwater, Florida prior to this senior season from Rome, Italy. As a senior, Baldonado had a monster season collecting 83 tackles, 30.5 sacks, 9 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries.
#31 Erick Hallett, CB (5’11”, 190), redshirt freshman: Hallett redshirted during his first season with the Panthers. Due to the veteran depth at cornerback, Hallett’s best chance to make an impact, barring injuries, will most likely be on special teams. Hallett was a play making cornerback during his senior season in Cypress, Texas as he made 38 tackles, six interceptions and eight passes defended.
#18 Shocky Jacques-Louis, WR (6’0″, 185), sophomore: This play making wideout from Fort Myers, Florida was a big get for Pitt. Jacques-Louis showed some early promise but appeared to be a victim of former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s vanilla offense. Look for things to change for Jacques-Louis in 2019 who is someone that could excel because of his ability to run after the catch.
#92 Tyler Bentley, DT (6’2″, 300), redshirt freshman: Another highly rated defensive lineman, who picked Pitt over offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan State, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Ohio native could team with Twyman, Devin Danielson, Keyshon Camp and Amir Watts to give Pitt pretty formidable defensive line depth. Bentley was a three-year starter at Lakota West High School (West Chester, Ohio) and rated as one of the Top 20 prospects in Ohio by ESPN.
#14 Marquis Williams, CB (5’8″, 170), redshirt freshman: Williams enters camp as the 2nd team cornerback despite playing in only 4 games last season. Williams was rated one of the Top 100 overall prospects in Florida by Rivals. The Cardinal Gibbons High School product has elite potential and could make an impact this season. Williams is the nephew of long-time NFL and former Steeler defensive back Tyrone Carter, who won the 1999 Thorpe Award given to college football’s top defensive back.
#95 Devin Danielson, DT (6’1″, 295), redshirt freshman: The former Thomas Jefferson star is someone that could be a surprise former in 2019. Danielson is someone that’s really impressed the coaching staff and will be a serious candidate for major playing time. While at Thomas Jefferson, Danielson was as dominant a player that the WPIAL has seen in years.
#68 Blake Zubovic, OL (6’4″, 315), redshirt freshman: The Belle Vernon native redshirted in 2018 but will be in contention for playing time this year. Zubovic was rated as a Top 20 prospect in Pennsylvania during his senior season by ESPN, Rvials, and 247 Sports. He will be looking to earn his way on the depth chart as a guard.
#6 John Morgan, DE (6’2″, 255), redshirt freshman: Played in three games last season, including the last two games of the season vs. Clemson and Stanford. Much will be expected from Morgan this season as he’ll have a serious opportunity to crack Pitt’s two-deep at defensive end. Coming out of DeMatha Catholic, Morgan was rated as the #1 defensive lineman and one of the top overall players in Maryland. Morgan has great burst off the line and could develop in Pitt’s next great defensive end. Comes from strong bloodlines as his father played at Bowie State and his grandfather played basketball and ran track at Alabama A&M.
#20 Wendell Davis, LB (6’2″, 240), redshirt freshman. Played in four games as a true freshman, getting snaps against Virginia, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Davis made a lot of strides last season and probably could’ve played more but Pitt didn’t want to burn his redshirt. Because of the openings that exist, Davis is someone that you could hear a lot about this season. The Richmond, Virginia native was rated as a Top 20 prospect in Virginia by 247 Sports and ESPN. His father played at Temple and went on to play three seasons with the San Diego Chargers (1998-2000).
#53 Jake Kradel, OL (6’3″, 300, redshirt freshman. Didn’t play at all in 2018 but developed big-time in the Pitt weight room. Was one of Pitt’s top recruits in their Class of 2018 as he selected them over offers from Boston College, Iowa, Maryland, NC State, Ohio State, Purdue, UCLA, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Wisconsin. It’ll be interesting to see which position Pitt decides to keep Kradel because he’s talented enough to play at multiple spots.