PITTSBURGH — Looking ahead to Pitt’s upcoming football season, one thing pops out. They have an older, more experienced team than previous campaigns.
When you think of this year’s squad, you think of guys of the defensive side such as Damar Hamlin [returning for his fifth year], Jaylen Twyman, Paris Ford and Patrick Jones III [returning after looking into the NFL] or Keyshon Camp and Rashad Weaver [returning from injuries].
That’s a multitude of stars and Pitt’s defense has the obvious potential to be not only the best Pat Narduzzi has had at Pitt, but one of the very best in the entire country.
But when you think of Pitt’s offense, you probably think of quarterback Kenny Pickett. For that group to reach its goals, Pickett will need to have his best season as a Panther in his senior year.
So, what has Pitt’s leader been doing during his off-season? Besides throwing every few days, Pickett knows how important the mental side of things is as well as getting on the same page as his teammates.
“I’ve been watching some film,” Pickett said on Friday. “I’ve been just getting with the receivers and new guys, getting [freshmen] Jordan [Addison] and Izzy [Israel Abanikanda] involved, [transfer tight end] Lucas [Krull] as well. Trying to get our throwing sessions mapped out with everybody’s schedule.”
Pitt lost longtime passing game fixtures such as Maurice Ffrench and Aaron Mathews, but its receivers’ group will be filled with well-known names like Taysir Mack, Jared Wayne, and Shocky Jaques-Louis. With the additions of the newcomers, headlined by Addison and Krull, this could be Pickett’s most talented receiving crew.
In 12 games last season, Pickett completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He made some strides in the right direction, as in 2018-19, he completed 58 percent of his passes and threw for only 1,969 yards.
One of the main reasons for Pickett’s improvements were because of new Pitt offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple. But now, with a full season under their belt, Whipple and Pickett look for the offense to take a more substantial step forward this upcoming season.
“We’re way ahead of where we were last year,” Pickett said. “Just myself and just the rest of the offense, having an understanding of what we’re trying to do. I think as the season went on, we got a lot more comfortable with each other and with the offense that we were running.”
Regarding the new weapons that will suit up alongside Pickett this season, he referred to feeling more comfortable this year more than he has ever before.
“It’s something I’ve been a part of, you know starting as a sophomore and kind of taking the young guys under your wing,” Pickett said. “I did it last year. So, I think it’s just part of the process heading into next year.
“I think we definitely have a huge step up in spring ball now. … Being able to install faster and put some more things in that we are going to want to run during the season.”
It’s not just the talent that returns next year with Pickett and company, but it’s the talent along with the bond between the players.
“I think this season could be a different year for us, with the talent that is coming back,” Pickett comparing the expectations to previous seasons. “I think we have a real tight team, that’s the big difference that I’ve seen as I’ve grown in this program. The continuity with the players has only gotten stronger.”