Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Preseason Grades for Pitt Football- Offense

Quarterback:  The quarterback unit is the most important position on any team, but even more so with Pitt this season. The Chad Voytik era is set to begin and Pitt's present, and near future, depends on how well he performs. Voytik is listed at 6'1" and 205 pounds, which is probably a stretch, but he's still plenty big enough to be a college quarterback. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but it's strong enough, and it helps that he has a very good release. He also has good athleticism and can run for yardage if he has to. Intelligence, maturity, and leadership round out the traits that should help Voytik be a good quarterback. He definitely has the raw skills to be a plus player, and Paul Chryst has the ability to turn any quarterback with skills into a productive player.  But he has yet to prove, even in camp, that he's going to succeed. He better because after him things get even more questionable.

Former walk-on Trey Anderson is the backup. The redshirt junior is listed at 6'0" 195 but he's probably closer to 5'10". While Anderson admirably stayed at Pitt after the coach who brought him, Todd Graham, scurried off, it's very doubtful that he could win an important game if Voytik went down.

The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster is 6'6" true freshman Adam Bertke, whose size, arm, and mobility in the pocket could make him a good player down the road. But if he plays this season it will probably mean that the Panthers are having a long, miserable season. If Voytik does go down with a season ending injury or fails miserably don't be surprised to see Chryst bite the bullet and start the big freshman.

Bottom line- Voytik is unquestionably the most important member of this team, and it's not even close. If he does well, the Panthers will probably do well. If he gets injured or plays poorly, the team may be lucky to win more than they lose even against a less than stellar schedule. At the moment, depth and inexperience is a major problem at the position.

Last Season's Preseason Grade: C
Last Season's Final Grade: B-
This Season's Preseason Grade: C-

Running Back:  James Conner was so good at times last season that one wonders why nobody else thought of him as a running back. Luckily for Pitt, they did, and the result is that now the 6'2" 250 pound sophomore is one of the more exciting young running backs in the country. And as if his size and tenacity wasn't enough, he also has very good, and underrated, speed.

It seems like 5'11" 210 pound senior Isaac Bennett has been around forever, but he's finally in his last season. Like Conner, Bennett is a straight line runner with good speed. He started for most of last season but Conner has much more upside so the sophomore should get most of the carries this season. Bennett battled injuries in the preseason, and combined with the excellent young talent at the position, it may not be surprising if he loses significant carries this season if the rest of the unit stays healthy.

Last year's third down back is true sophomore Rachid Ibrahim, who was a big surprise last season as a true freshman.  The 6'1" 185 pounder has good hands and is sneaky quick. The competition is tougher this season but he had a good camp. He had just 27 carries and 9 receptions last season, and he may not get any more than that this season, but if he's called on to carry the load in an emergency I  expect that he will produce.

The wildcard here is 5'10" 210 pound true freshman Chris James. He is a short, but muscular back with good agility and quickness. He has a high ceiling and is the favorite to be the main back of the future.

Another true freshman, Qadree Ollison, was slightly lost in the the public consciousness because of James, but the 6'2" 215 pounder has good speed and a strong, bullish running style. His future is also bright, though the depth may force him to redshirt this season.

A third true freshman, Dennis Briggs, will redshirt.

Bottom Line- This is a potentially excellent unit. Conner has the ability to be a major force this season, Bennett and Ibrahim are solid, and James could have an exciting freshman season.

Last Season's Preseason Grade: C-
Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B

Wide Receiver: Chryst's receivers have been very productive at Pitt but 6'2" 180 pound sophomore Tyler Boyd is on a different level than the likes of Devin Street and Michael Shanahan.  The 6'2" 185 Boyd used his great speed, quickness, and hands to be a star right off the bat, and he should only get better. It would be a crime if the Pitt quarterbacks can't perform well enough to get the ball to him because he's one of the most explosive players in Pitt history.

Starting opposite Boyd is fifth year senior Manasseh Garner, who dropped some weight after being an H-Back last season. He still is a muscular 6'2" and 220 pounds. That frame, along with good speed and great hands, should help him have a productive season against single coverage.

As the season starts, the slot receiver should be 5'8" 170 pound redshirt junior Ronald Jones, who missed last season after a suspension. Size is obviously a negative for him but he's fast and quick. The other second string receiver, and somebody else who will be in the mix for the slot is 5'10" 185 pound redshirt senior Kevin Weatherspoon, who had the position last season. He has decent hands but doesn't have Jones' skills of running after the catch.

The wildcard is 6'3" 190 pound true freshman Adonis Jennings, a big time talent with great speed and athletic ability. Injuries and inconsistency has slowed him some, but he's the kind of player that could get good in a hurry during the season and immediately become a factor. At least that's the hope.

Others that could break into the rotation are 6'2" 205 former walk-on Chris Wuestner, a redshirt sophomore, 6'2" 190 pound redshirt freshman Zach Challingsworth, and 6'2" 205 pound redshirt sophomore Dontez Ford, a transfer from Syracuse.

Redshirt freshman Jester Weah has great size at 6'3" 205 pounds, and has elite speed, but he's still too raw to see action. Two local freshmen, 6'2" 160 pound Jaquan Davidson and 6'2" 190 pound Elijah Zeise, have good futures but will redshirt this season.

Bottom Line- As long as Boyd stays healthy this is a good, and improving, unit. But if the quarterback position doesn't succeed, it will be a wasted group.

Last Season's Preseason Grade: B-
Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: B

Tight End: This unit has had good players for a few years now but surprisingly they haven't been utilized by Chryst. Junior J.P. Holtz is a tough 6'4" and 245 pounds, and he will be the starter for his third season. He's only had 46 catches over his first two seasons and it would be beneficial for the Panthers if he matched that total this season.

Backing up Holtz will be 6'4" 260 pound redshirt freshman Devon Edwards, who has great size but limited agility. For that reason he will be more of a blocker.

At H-Back, 6'2" 270 pound sophomore Jaymar Parrish will start. The big, athletic Parrish was a surprise starter at times last season and is a matchup problem with his unique size/speed combination.  Backing him up is a personal favorite of mine, 6'5" 260 pound sophomore Scott Orndoff, who missed the end of last season with an injury, but showed when he played that he could be a major factor down the road. I still expect him to explode one of these years, and maybe this will be that year.

Both 6'2" 220 pound redshirt freshman Tony Harper and 6'6" 245 pound true freshman Brian O'Neill won't crack the rotation unless there are injuries.

Bottom Line- Holtz, Orndoff, and Parrish are three talented players making this is a very good unit. Now they just need to be utilized, something Chryst has yet to do since he's been at Pitt.

Last Season's Preseason Grade: A-
Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: A-

Offensive Line- This has been the bane of Pitt's existence for many years now but there are signs that this unit may finally be close to turning the corner. Last year's starting left tackle, 6'6" 300 pound redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty, returns after a less than stellar first season. He's still slightly smaller than most major college left tackles, and he doesn't have the elite left tackle feet, so he may eventually move inside or to right tackle as I've always predicted.

At left guard, 6'5" 300 pound sophomore Dorian Johnson is looking to make a big improvement after having a very difficult first season. In his defense, like most incoming offensive lineman he probably should have redshirted, but instead he was forced into action. Hopefully he can overcome that traumatization because even though he's also still slightly undersized, he has great athleticism and a high ceiling.

At center, 6'2" 315 redshirt junior Artie Rowell returns as the starter. He's adequate at best, but he's a favorite of his teammates who see him as a leader. If 6'5" 305 pound redshirt sophomore Gabe Roberts can snap more consistently (who knew that could be a  thing?), or if big 6'4" 335 pound redshirt freshman Alex Officer can develop fast, Rowell may have to fight to keep his job in the future.

At right guard, 6'6" 335 pound redshirt senior Matt Rotheram obviously has the size and experience to finish his career strong. He's one of the team's two best linemen, along with the guy next time.

That guy would be 6'6' 315 pound redshirt senior T.J. Clemmings, a former defensive lineman who moved to offense prior to last season. He learned on the job last year, and did okay, but now that he has experience he could have a breakout season.

The most interesting reserve is 6'7" 335 pound redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith, who looks the part both with his large frame and good feet. If Bisnowaty and/or Johnson struggles, don't be surprised to see him move into the left tackle slot with Bisnowaty either going to the bench or taking Johnson's spot.

Roberts is a tough kid that could get snaps at either guard or center and equally tough Carson Baker, a  6'5" 330 pound redshirt freshman, could also see time at guard. Behind Clemmings, 6'6" 300 pound Alex Bookser may see time if Chryst wants to burn his redshirt. A former elite recruit, Bookser has star potential.

The rest of the unit is made up of players who won't likely see time unless injuries occur. That group includes 6'5" 310 pound redshirt freshman Aaron Reese, 6'7" 285 pound redshirt sophomore John Guy, 6'4" 280 pound true freshman Connor Hayes, and 6'6" 325 pound true freshman Mike Grimm.  It is Grimm who has great potential down the road and after a redshirt season will probably be the favorite to take Rotheram's spot next season.

Bottom line- Thanks to two potentially good veterans in Rotheram and Clemmings, and young exciting talent like Johnson, Jones-Smith, Bookser, and Grimm, the future for the unit may finally be bright. This season there should be improvement but it's still unknown just how much.

Last Season's Preseason Grade: C+
Last Season's Final Grade: D+
This Season's Preseason Grade: C+


  1. Chris .. great synopsis. Lots of promise but lots of questions. It isn't the best situation when your QB is at a C-. My "most important" position is the O-line. It can be responsible for getting Chad to a C+ or B-. Fortunately, he seems to be more mobile than the recent Savage, Sunseri and Stull line-ups but, it would help him a lot if he isn't getting face-planted 3 or 4 times a game and constantly running for his life. Hail to Pitt !

  2. Because it's only Voytik and he hasn't done it yet, it's a C- now but if he stays healthy and lives up to his potential it could be as high as a B at the end of the year.

  3. Excellent analysis. I'm thinking the OL is going to be a "B" and voytek will start slow but end up a "B". This could be blue and gold bias though.

  4. Hard to dispute that Voytik is the unknown variable who can make or break this season. Sure, the OL always can enhance the QB's peformance but for Pitt to takw the next step, CV must produce.

    If the OL doesn't show much improvement this year, I will be extremely disillusioned.


  5. Chris,
    Thanks for the ratings. As we all look forward to the season with our rose colored glasses, this brings everyone back to the reality of the situation.
    Much Appreciated!

  6. I think what really jumps out at me here is how big a question this O-line really is. We've recruited well, but Biz hasn't shown much yet and DJ is still a kid - who should be a rsFr. I'm very nervous about this line with a new and mobile QB. Voytik can't develop the habit of abandoning the pocket at first pressure which I fear will be instinctual for him.

  7. Beside Boyd there is not much speed

    1. Maddox, James, Weah, Jones, there's speed.

    2. Maddox is on defense and none of the guys that you listed will start. Let's hope that Boyd and Voytik stay healthy.

  8. For whatever reason I feel, perhaps unduly, optimistic about this year's team. I really think it will exceed, perhaps far exceed, our expectations. I am usually just hopeful, but not optimistic this time of year; but, this team just has a certain feel to it in my mind. Maybe because it really is a team so that the whole will exceed the sum of the parts which is something we haven't seen at Pitt in many years. Bottom line though, this is just a gut feeling, no more. So, we shall see.

    1. Out of curiosity, what would you say the expectations are that they would be exceeding? Not rhetorical, I like to see what fellow fans expect for the year. I would say the expectation is 8-4. I cant see doing much better than that, but I can see 7-5.

  9. If there is only little improvement from the O-line then Hueber needs to be fired. I know he's the king of the one liners, but it's a result-oriented business. I do think the unit will be much better than last season. Really, it has to be.

  10. Im ridiculously optimistic about the offense. It has some weapons at WR and TE and a beefy OL that should be able to generate some traction in the run game. Voytik has to be the dreaded "game manager" and this offense can put up enough points to win against any team on the schedule. I watch Chris James' highlight reel and I cant see how he doesnt make a big impact

  11. Could you imagine if we were able to pull in Malik Zaire, I've read hes had a hell of a camp at ND, even though Everett Golson was named the starter...or even if CV had real competition behind him, as in Tra'von Chapman. Still upset about him blowing his opportunity here.

  12. I always liked Voytik. Real hard worker. However, it didn't sound like he had a great summer camp.
    If the Oline doesn't perform this year, expect a new Oline coach next year. No excuses.
    I see some of the WR's being moved to DB. Zeise, Davidson.

    Overall average for offense is B- ???
    If that is the case, then average for defense is going to be C-.
    The defense will not be able to keep Pitt in the game.

    1. I can't see Hueber being fired for anything, unless he voluntarily retires, which is not out of the question, he'll be back no matter what. The Oline not performing has a lot to do with in experience and very little to do with coaching.

  13. Last season we scored about 27 and gave up about 27 per game. This year due in part to an easier schedule, I think we score about 31 and give up about 21. I think this translates to 8-4 regular season. All depends on key players staying healthy, however.