We’re officially less than two weeks away from Pitt football season officially getting underway as the team will host Virginia in primetime at Heinz Field on August 31st.
Despite being defending Coastal Division Champions, this year’s Pitt team has plenty of questions and things to prove such as what impact will Mark Whipple have on the offense, can Kenny Pickett’s arm lead Pitt to wins, can the running attack still be effect without Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall and who’ll replace Rashad Weaver?
While that seems like a lot of questions for a team with such expectations, the only one of those that could be a real issue getting production from defensive end and the overall depth at the position.
The good news for Pitt fans is that their seems to be lots of positions to get excited about and areas in which the Panthers can really be improved upon from 2018 such as wide receiver, defensive tackle, defensive back and tight end.
Maurice Ffrench caught 35 passes and Taysir Mack had 25 in 2018 a number that I believe they’ll both easily surpass in 2019. Those two will be the focus of Whipple’s passing attack and with an offense that won’t be so run heavy and with Kenny Pickett having a coordinator that believes in him, both players numbers will sky rocket with Ffrench turning into a legit NFL prospect.
While I don’t see anyone on the depth chart having better seasons than French or Mack, players such as Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, Shocky Jacques-Louis and V’Lique Carter will all improve, will have moments and will show that they have a bright future ahead with Pitt.
Prediction: After teasing the coaches during his first two seasons, Butler-Jenkins will emerge as a viable weapon for Pickett and this offense. It also wouldn’t surprise me if at some point this season, his play earns him a starting spot. Butler-Jenkins has all the tools to become a great wide receiver.
I believe this is Pat Narduzzi’s deepest and best position. While they’ve had better individual talent at the position, Pitt has not had this level of talent at the defensive tackle position in many years. Charlie Partridge will be able to use a rotation of Amir Watts, Jaylen Twyman, Keyshon Camp, Tyler Bentley and Devin Danielson without much of a drop off between the players. Narduzzi’s goal always is to try and stop the opposing team from running the ball and he’ll be able to accomplish that with this group of players.
Prediction: I’m not sure many people will be surprised by this but Twyman will become Pitt’s best defensive lineman and will begin the process of turning himself into a legitimate NFL prospect. I’m not going to start any comparisons between him and Aaron Donald, but I will say before he’s done, he’ll develop into Pitt’s next great defensive lineman.
The lost position in Pitt’s offense will once again be a position that opposing defenses will have to worry and game plan for. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the trio of Will Gragg, Grant Carrigan and Nakia Griffin-Stewart will surpass the grand total of seven receptions that Pitt tight ends combined for in 2018. Freshman Kyi Wright is another player that we might have to include in this group by seasons end. While I don’t believe this group will be as productive as the duo of J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff, I do think that this position won’t be a source of criticism from fans.
Prediction: Griffin-Stewart will develop into Pitt’s top offensive threat from the position and become a player that Pickett gets really comfortable throwing to. Pitt’s group of tight ends could turn into major threats in the red zone.
While at Michigan State, Narduzzi gained fame for having a deep and talented defensive backfield, many of which had NFL careers. It took a few years but as a result of some good recruiting classes, these Panther defensive backs will remind many of Narduzzi’s Spartans teams. Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford are big-time safeties while Dane Jackson, Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock are as solid a trio of cornerbacks as you’ll find in the ACC. Like at defensive tackle, Pitt has depth at defensive back with Therran Coleman, Bricen Garner, Erick Hallett, Jazzee Stocker, Judson Tallandier and Marquis Williams.
Prediction: After waiting for two years, Paris Ford will become the face of Pitt’s defense as he’ll be a ball hawk in the secondary and someone that will make plays in the run game. While they’ll be times he’ll make a mistake or blow an assignment, those will be forgotten because of the splash plays he produces on defense. Ford has NFL talent and it’ll be on display for Pitt fans in 2019.