Tight end is one of the few position battles that is legitimately wide open as the Pitt Panthers approach the midway point of fall camp.
Grant Carrigan, Nakia Griffin-Stewart and Will Gragg are all in the running to be named the starting tight end on opening night vs. Virginia. At the start of camp, Pat Narduzzi listed Carrigan with the first-team but ultimately, the job will be won during the four weeks of camp.
Carrigan and Gragg both received playing time last season with Pitt in a reserve role. Carrigan (redshirt sophomore) played in all 14 games and made one start (vs. Virginia) while Gragg played in 13 games and recorded 5 catches for 31 yards, most among Panther tight ends.
While Griffin-Stewart is new to the Pitt program, he does have more college experience than both Carrigan and Gragg. While at Rutgers, Griffin-Stewart played in 25 career games, making 13 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Gragg did play in 10 games during his time at Arkansas, collecting five catches for 61 yards with the Razorbacks.
The tight end position was de-emphasized last season in Watson’s offensive scheme but that will change in 2019 as Narduzzi has stated that you’ll see more tight end production in the passing game.
With everyone getting a fair shot to win the job, Gragg worked hard in the off-season–especially in the weight room with Pitt strength coach Dave Andrews. The redshirt senior is actually someone Pitt fans might not recognize this year as he’s added 20+ pounds, mostly muscle, and looks like a completely different person.
“I was on a rigorous diet, a lot of training and I think it’s going to be real beneficial,” said Gragg. “With Coach Andrews it’s been a lot more weight lifting, at Arkansas, we did more skill and mobility. With Coach Andrews, it’s a lot more power lifting. He’s really specific with what he wants to do with different guys and how he wants to from their bodies. I feel like he really knows what he’s doing.”
Gragg feels the same way about his new offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, and from what he’s seeing during camp, this Pitt offense has a chance to put up a lot of points in 2019.
“I think it’s [the offense] limitless. We have play-makers everywhere from receivers, running backs and I know their are some questions about the tight ends but I believe we have playmakers too,” said Gragg. “We can do a lot of different things in the run game, the passing game, RPO (run, pass, option), play-action. Last year, we were kind of reliant on the run a lot with the two stallions we had but this year we’re working to our strengths, getting the ball to different places and guys are making plays.”
At his press conference on the first day of camp, Narduzzi emphatically stated that Pitt’s tight ends would be more productive this year. After two weeks of camp, does Gragg have the same opinion as his head coach?
“Yeah, I hope so. In the past, Coach Whipp has had Adam Breneman at UMass and had Jimmy Graham at Miami, so I feel like we’ll be a big part of the offense.”
Gragg, who tries to pattern his game after Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, has one more shot to live up to the high expectations he created for himself out of Dumas High School in Arkansas.
With Pitt’s new offensive coordinator, a new playbook and a confident quarterback in Kenny Pickett, 2019 could be a breakout year for Gragg and the other Pitt tight ends.