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A Look Into the Future of Pitt’s Tight End Depth



As I was looking at Pitt’s roster Tuesday night in the wake of Eric Ingwerson’s commitment, I noticed that the tight ends section seemed light.

Was I missing someone? Gavin Bartholomew, Karter Johnson, Cole Mitchell, Jake Renda, Dylan Deveney — wait. Where is Deveney? Well, his absence makes an already thin room even thinner.

There are just four tight ends under scholarship on Pitt’s roster, two of which haven’t taken any snaps, so it’s not as if there’s a plethora of options. There’s a potential star, a solid backup and… unknowns.

Pitt has to add another tight end via the transfer portal once it opens back up later this spring, following spring ball, and despite Ingwerson’s commitment, Pitt needs another commitment — or two — in the class of 2024 as Pitt could enter next season without any experienced tight ends.

So, let’s take a look at where Tim Salem’s unit stands right now, following Ingwerson’s commitment.

Gavin Bartholomew — Jr.

2022 stats: 21 receptions for 283 yards (13.5 yards per) and two touchdowns

Career stats: 49 receptions for 609 yards (12.4 yards per) and six touchdowns

I don’t know what to make of Gavin Bartholomew’s 2022 season, honestly.

He offered his own thoughts on the 2022 season last week, saying he improved as a blocker but would’ve liked a few more catches. He declined to talk about why he didn’t receive more chances in 2022, of course.

“But as long as we’re winning, I’m happy, so I can care less about that,” he said.

He also said that he’s going to have a big 2023 season. I thought he was going to have a monster 2022 season, and I think he should be much better than he was in 2023 than he was in 2022 still.

He’s 6-foot-5, 260 pounds — rocking the mullet and a full beard. He looks like a grown man despite the fact that it will only be his third season with the program. And if he’s proven anything at Pitt, it’s that good things happen when the ball is in his hands.

He may not be a guy who will create a ton of separation, or a guy who will showcase his ability to hit every route in the tree, but Pitt doesn’t need to overthink it. He’s shown the ability to make the most with the least. Get him the ball in space and let him rack up yards after catch. Look at the Tennessee game. If there’s consistent quarterback play, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be heavily involved in the offense.

Frank Cignetti Jr. has long been regarded as a coordinator who makes the most of his tight ends, so now is the time. Especially with Phil Jurkovec or Christian Veilleux under center.

He lined up inline on 80% of his offensive snaps last season, forced to grow into a better blocker, but he should be utilized as a quick-start offensive weapon in 2023.

Pittsburgh Panthers tight end Karter Johnson (8) September 24, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Karter Johnson — R-Sr.

2022 stats: six receptions for 89 yards (14.8 yards per)

Career stats: six receptions for 89 yards (14.8 yards per)

Karter Johnson followed a rather unconventional path to arrive at Pitt last spring.

He originally committed to TCU as a four-star defensive end, weighing as much as 338 pounds and almost falling out of love with the game of football during his time in Fort Worth, before he transferred down to the JUCO level. He transformed his body, began his career as a tight end and wound up at Pitt.

He served as Bartholomew’s No. 2 last season, receiving just 12 targets over the course of the season, but he still emerged as a dependable blocker down the stretch.

Pitt’s staff lauded his versatility as he integrated into the system last year, and that should only be more apparent this coming season.

Pittsburgh Panthers tight end Jake Renda (88) September 24, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Jake Renda — R-So.

2022 stats: N/A

Career stats: N/A

Pat Narduzzi said that Jake Renda was the No. 2 last year during spring ball, but he was passed up on the depth chart by Johnson and Kyi Wright (who is now at JMU) over the remainder of the offseason.

He’s bulked up since he arrived as a three-star out of IMG Academy, gaining about 40 pounds of muscle, but it still remains to be seen what his impact will be as he has not seen the field during his two seasons at Pitt.

Cole Mitchell August 11, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Cole Mitchell — R-So.

2022 stats: N/A

Career stats: N/A

Cole Mitchell has not played in any games over the last two seasons. We will need to see much more out of him before being ready to think he’s close to carving out any sort of role in the offense.

Eric Ingwerson — Fr. (verbal commit)

And we arrive at the newest member of Pitt’s class of 2024.

Eric Ingwerson committed to Pitt Tuesday, adding the first tight end commit since the 2021 class — which featured all three of Bartholomew, Renda and Mitchell.

He possesses a huge 6-foot-7 frame, currently weighing in around 235 pounds, and he’s currently better suited as a blocking option. Of course, as he adds weight, hits the gym at Pitt, he should grow as both a pass catcher and blocker.

As a recent commit, still unsigned, he’s still just a player to watch as he enters his senior season of high school.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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