Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pittsburgh 62 Delaware 0

Well, that was nice to see.  Yes, it's Delaware, but Pitt has struggled with these teams in the past. Not only did Pitt crush them but they played a perfect game. And a perfect game against anybody is a good sign for the future. Some highlights:

1. I've loved James Conner since I've first seem him and I sometimes felt like I'm the only one that thought he could be a superstar. Yes, it's inferior competition but he was still sick with 145 yards on just 13 carries.  He also ran for 4 touchdowns. He looked quick, tough, and good.

2. Tyler Boyd was great on punt returns averaging 11.5 yards a return. He also caught 3 passes for 20 yards, and a touchdown, and ran for 17 yards on 2 carries.  of course the downside is that he dislocated his finger on a punt return and didn't return to the game. It's unknown as of now if it will cost him any time. On a related note, I don't understand why Boyd was returning punts in a 28-0 game over a team that clearly wasn't coming back. Kevin Weatherspoon fumbled a punt previously, but I'd rather him fumble again, or put in Ronald Jones, then to risk Boyd's injury in a meaningless situation.

3. Chad Voytik wasn't called on to do much but he was poised and productive when called upon. The redshirt sophomore ended up going 12-15 for 92 yards, 2 TDs, and no interceptions. he also ran twice for 10 yards.

4. The offensive line looked excellent and Jaryd Jones-Smith saw time at LT throughout the game. That may be something to keep an eye on as the games started getting more serious.

5. Chris James is very impressive. He's very short, which is good for a running back, and he's so quick darting through the hole that he seems to teleport from one spot on the field to the next. For the game he had 14 carries for 78 yards, and 2 TDs.

6.  Rachid Ibrahim was his usual slippery self and contributed 92 yards on 14 carries.

7.  I didn't agree with Paul Chryst putting in backup QB Trey Anderson in at his own 1-yard line with the game still 21-0.  A fumbled snap or bad handful there and all of a sudden it's 21-7. So what happens? Pitt went on a 99-yard drive without throwing a pass.

8.  The defense was excellent.  Delaware has a couple of NFL prospects so they're not exactly duds, but the Panthers gave them no room to breathe at all.

9. The Panthers defense held the Blue Hens to 40 yards rushing on 32 carries, and 71 total yards.

10. The Panthers rushed for 407 yards and had 506 total yards.

11. Pitt's defense was notably more aggressive and had 3 interceptions (Thomas, Webb, Galambos)

12. This was Pitt's first shutout since 2005.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pitt Football Preseason Coaching Grade, Season Prediction, and State of the Program

Coaching: Two seasons and a 13-13 overall record shows that Paul Chryst still hasn't gotten over the hump but that's not a surprise considering how messed up the program was when he arrived. His game coaching is still hit or miss, but that may be because he's still learning on the job. At least unlike past Pitt head coaches he doesn't make a lot of egregious errors.

Chryst has also gotten better at hiring a staff. He has a nice mix of veterans now in Joe Rudolph, Jim Hueber, John Palermo, John Settle, and Troy Douglas, and younger go getters like Greg Lewis and Inoke Breckterfield. There are still some questionable choices Matt House as defensive coordinator, and Chris Haering, but at least the program is trending up.

As far as recruiting, Chryst and his staff are not very aggressive with the big time players, but their evaluation of under recruited players may prove to be outstanding.

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


The truth is, this Pitt team has the look of a 7-5 team. They have good coaching and just enough star caliber players to be better than average. But they are also the youngest team in major college football and have little depth at most positions.

The deciding factor is that the schedule for the Panthers is very much in their favor this year. There is no Florida State or Clemson on the schedule and Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech, and Iowa are at home. The only two difficult road games all season are at North Carolina and Miami and even those games are winnable.

But while fans see probable, or at least very possible, wins against Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Boston College, Virginia, and Boston College, those schools see the same against Pitt.

The two biggest factors for the Panthers this season is the health and progress of quarterback Chad Voytik, and the general health of the team, especially James Conner, Tyler Boyd, and the offensive line.

I have enough faith in Chryst's ability to assume that Voytik will just be fine, and I can't predict injuries. The offensive line should be solid for the first time, and while the defense lacks star power the Panthers defense usually plays hard enough as a unit to be at least solid. And it helps that they won't be facing a lot of excellent offenses.

With that in mind I am going to bite the bullet and predict an 8-4 regular season record for the Panthers. With the right matchup in a bowl the Panthers could have a program changing Top 25 9-4 record. However, if Voytik is hurt or fails, or if there is a rash of injuries to the star players, the Panthers will not come close to that record, and may in fact have a losing record. That's the life of a building program that doesn't have a lot of all-star caliber players yet.

State of the Program:  All of a sudden it's year three for Paul Chryst and so far there is no definite proof that things are any better. Todd Graham was 6-7 in his one season and Chryst followed with a 13-13 overall record in his first two years. In the college football world Pitt is still just there- not great, not poor, just mediocre. But there is a chance that underneath the cursory glance that shows mediocrity, Chryst just may be building something more.

A lot of the future of Pitt depends on this season. After the disaster of the Dave Wannstedt firing, the Michael Haywood hiring and firing nearly simultaneously, and the Graham fiasco, Chryst had a lot of work to right the ship. My preference was to go for a sure thing. I wanted Pitt to pay a known successful head coach a lot of money and give him more money for his staff and the program as a whole. The program was reeling and had reached embarrassing levels (if you consider mediocrity embarrassing). Something drastic needed to happen or Pitt football was never going to be a national player again.

But instead the Pitt administration eschewed the big name and took the safe choice in Chryst. He wasn't dynamic, was never a head coach, and wasn't considered somebody that could recruit. My biggest worry about his hiring is that he would have to learn on the job, something I felt that Pitt had no time for. To make matters worse, Chryst hired a staff that was just as inexperienced and questionable, especially after Bob Bostad decided to flee immediately, and Dave Huxtable was replaced after one season.

Right hand man Joe Rudolph is a quality coach, and wide receiver coach Bobby Engram was a gem. Others were more questionable. But things are better with that staff now. Veterans like Douglas and Settle are nice additions. I never agreed with the hiring of Breckterfield, not because I didn't think he was good, but because I didn't see the point of hiring somebody with west coast ties when an equal coach could have been hired with east coast ties. I still don't agree with it, but he's far from a disaster. He's proven to be a solid coach and he's now starting to get some east coast ties at least.

The hiring of House as defensive coordinator is still a head scratcher. With Chryst and Rudolph being offensive minds it would make sense to have a veteran defensive coordinator. Instead House was inexperienced and nothing in his first year as coordinator showed that he was without a doubt the right choice. He may prove to be the right choice, and he can do that this year with a defense that lacks stars, but until he does it's still going to be a major question about Chryst's decision making in this case.

As far as recruiting, it is frustrating that the Panthers are not considered a major player with the most elite local recruits. While some of the players in question clearly seem like prima donnas, you can only win so many games with boy scouts. I know this is controversial and I'm not saying that Pitt should take a lot of egotistical kids who are dazzled by the flash of the James Franklins, Urban Meyers, and Dana Holgersons of the world, but the cold, hard facts are that many of the best players are like that. The great Pitt teams of the 70s and 80s were filled with such players. Of course Pitt may have decided that they would rather be a top 25 team every once in a while with all good kids, instead of being a top 10 team once in a while with some prima donnas, and if so that's their prerogative.  And, by the way, it definitely does seem that is what they've decided to do.

Too many kids that Pitt has recruited have gone too long without hearing from the staff, and amazingly a few didn't even know they had Pitt offers. That is inexcusable, and more than a little surprising considering that support staff like Bob Junko and Chris LaSala are veterans who are great at their jobs. Somehow between them and this staff there has been a disconnect because this is not something that has happened in the past. This appears to be a direct result of Chryst's laid back approach, which can be both his best and worst trait.

I've also been unimpressed with Chryst's ability to land a topnotch quarterback, especially given his reputation. This is the man who made Russell Wilson a star, not to mention coached Scott Tolzien to the Johnny Unitas Award as the best quarterback in the country.  Scott Tolzien!

Adam Bertke and Alex Hornibrook may both prove to be excellent and they are good developmental quarterbacks, but I'm surprised that Chryst hasn't landed that elite prospect at quarterback.  Worse yet he hasn't even tried hard to land a nationally recruited quarterback. He slowly and methodically looks for his quarterback and this season he came away with Alex Malzone and Kyle Shurmur first, both very good but neither national prospects, who both went elsewhere. Third in line was Hornibrook who was not highly recruited. Let me say again that Hornibrook and Bertke may both end up to be excellent but you'd think that Chryst would try for more of a sure thing instead of a development guy that will take two or three years. Especially since there is such a need for quarterbacks. Let's remember that Voytik is not a sure thing and if he fails then Chryst will fail.  The season before he again went with quarterbacks who weren't nationally recruited in Andrew Ford and Wade Freebeck.  They may also prove to be excellent but you would think with his reputation and the fact that Pitt is desperate for quarterbacks, they could come up with a nationally recruited gem who could be a major factor in year or two. Look no further than Penn State to see what an elite quarterback can do for a program. Christian Hackenberg started right away and he's the sole reason that the Nittany Lions will probably have a winning record this season. It's that important as we may see if Voytik fails or gets injured.

While I'm not thrilled with the quarterback recruiting or the aggressiveness in recruiting when it comes to nationally recruited players, there is another aspect of recruiting that Pitt is proving very adept at, and that's finding underrated players that have the chance to be very good college players.

Not many schools saw James Conner as a big time player, especially at running back.  Pitt did.  They also saw something in little recruited players like Matt Galambos, Rachid Ibrahim, Jaymar Parrish, Shakir Soto, Pat Amara, Quintin Wirginis, Avonte Maddox, Rori Blair, and Connor Dintino, all of whom should have bright futures. Others like Jaryd Jones-Smith, Justin Moody, Scott Orndoff, Chris James, Adonis Jennings, and Elijah Zeise were considered to be very good recruits that are better than they've  been rated. And the current classes doesn't have a bum in the group. Nick Bowers, Alex Paulina, Kevin Givens, Darrin Hall, Sekai Lindsey, Tony Pilato, Tre Tipton, Quadree Henderson, and Kraig Howe could all be very good players at Pitt. And I haven't even mentioned yet the local offensive line trio of national recruits Dorian Johnson, Alex Bookser, and Mike Grimm. Along with quarterback, this is the most important part of a football team so at least Chryst has been half right.

The Panthers have more underclassmen on their team than anybody in major college football making them the youngest team in the five major conferences. That's both scary and exhilarating. This season can go one of two ways. Injuries and Voytik's failure could mean the program flops again, and three straight seasons of mediocrity will finally start to put pressure on Chryst. On the other hand, if Pitt can go 8-4 or even 9-3 in the regular season, the latter possible if unlikely, then depending on the bowl Pitt can be 9-4 or 10-3 at the end of the season. To do that with the youngest team in major college football would put Pitt on the map again. Once again they will get the attention of the national media and the national prospects (though I wouldn't be surprised of the elite WPIAL kids still fall for the flash of Franklin and Holgerson).

Bottom line, this may be the year that we know if Pitt did the right thing by taking the tortoise over the hare. Chryst just chugs along, doing his thing, like he knows exactly what he's doing and without a care in the world. It may be time we know one way or the other if he's a mad genius or just plain mad.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Preseason Grades for Pitt Football- Defense and Special Teams

Defensive Line:  The great Aaron Donald is gone so this unit is going to be very different this season.  Even with one of the greatest college defensive lineman seasons ever the line wasn't exceptional, so it's obvious that each individual player will have to step it up for the defense to be successful.

At end, redshirt senior, and former Ohio State fullback, David Durham, will start on one side. It's debatable whether or not that's a good thing. The 6'2" 240 pound redshirt senior started last season and had 21 tackles and no sacks. Clearly that's poor and he will have to get much better.

On the other side, 6'3" 265 pound Shakir Soto is much more talented and was more productive that Durham despite only starting one game. With Durham suspect, Ejuan Price gone for the season again, and freshmen as backups, Soto's quick development is crucial.

The backups have yet to play a down of college football.  Redshirt freshman Luke Maclean has the good size at 6'5" and 260 pounds to go along with good athleticism.  He could be a good player eventually, as could 6'4" 230 pound true freshman Rori Blair.  Blair is very athletic and has put on good weight since committing, but he still needs to get bigger and stronger.

The wildcard is star running back James Conner, who is not only the best running back on the team, but could also be an all-star defensive end. But obviously that's a double edged sword as you would not like to wear Conner down. In a perfect world Conner would not be needed here but the fact that he is needed here tells you all you need to know about the position.

Devin Cook, a 6'4" 240 pound redshirt junior, continues to disappoint. He has shown flashes in the past, and every season it's hoped that he will flip the switch, but he's behind two freshmen and two running backs at the position so it may be time to stop expecting anything from him.

Inside, things are a little better, both this season and in the future. Khaynin Mosley-Smith is back after a one year suspension and the 6'0" 310 pound redshirt junior will use his round frame at nose tackle. He has talent but so far he has done nothing with it. This is the time to start.

Taking over Donald's spot (at least on paper) is 6'2" 275 pound junior Darryl Render, who, while no Donald, could be due for a nice season. He's shown flashes in a reserve role over his first two season  and he's eager to take the next step.

Behind Mosley-Smith at nose tackle is the very intriguing 6'3" 335 sophomore Tyrique Jarrett, who is not only massive, but can also move well at that size. If he ever gets it, look out, because he could be a force if it ever comes together for him.

Behind Render at the tackle spot is 6'3" 280 pound redshirt freshman Justin Moody, who is another very promising player.

Two more promising tackles, 6'4" 320 pound Mike Herndon, and 6'3" 295 pound Connor Dintino, will likely redshirt as freshmen.

Bottom Line:  Without a good defense, you can't have a good team, and without a good line you can't have a good defense. Individually, there isn't a lot of high end talent here. Players like Soto and Render could be good, and in the future Moody, Maclean, and Blair could be also, but there's no sure star at this point so for this group to succeed it may have to be with everybody doing their part.

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

Linebackers: This unit has consistently been the weakest on the defense for years, but even though there are no real stars here, it's now the best group going into the season.

On the outside, two fifth year seniors, Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas, should be the leaders not only of the unit but the entire team.  The 6'3" 230 pound Gonzalez has survived suspensions and position changes to turn himself into a good linebacker.  The 6'2" 230 pound Thomas left the team last preseason but like Gonzalez he's proven to be a survivor.  He's yet to live up to his excellent potential, but he has one more chance to turn himself into an all-star.

The new starter in the middle is 6'2" 245 pound sophomore Matt Galambos. He has smarts and plays every down as hard as he can, two traits that's good to have in a middle linebacker. If he stays healthy I can see him making a lot of tackles this season. In reserve, 6'2" 220 pound redshirt sophomore Mike Caprara may finally get his chance to contribute as a backup.

Nicholas Grigsby is a tantalizing talent because of his speed, and because of that the Panthers invented a new position for him. Called the "Freeze' after Grigsby's nickname, the 6'1" 220 pound redshirt junior will come in on passing plays at different spots on the field.

The second team outside linebackers are 6'2" 230 pound Bam Bradley and 6'2" 220 pound true freshman Quintin Wirginis.  Bradley is at least solid while Wirginis is an interesting talent that was my sleeper in this class.

Rounding out the unit are 6'2" 245 pound redshirt sophomore Devon Porchia, who appears to be getting passed over by younger players, 6'2" 225 pound redshirt freshman Reggie Green, a very good athlete that came to Pitt as a wide receiver, and 6'4" 240 pound redshirt freshman Zach Poker. Two freshmen, 6'2" 200 pound Jamal Davis, and 6'3" 200 pound James Folston, will likely redshirt.

Bottom Line: My how things have changed.  These unit is not dazzling by any stretch of the imagination, but for the first time in years we can actually say that the Panthers have a good group of linebackers.

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

Defensive Backs: This was the most disappointing unit last year. What looked like should be a good unit instead struggled for much of the year. Unfortunately, because of a lack of depth the group may not be much better this season.

One of the main reasons the secondary disappointed last season was because of the poor season of 5'11" 195 pound redshirt junior Lafayette Pitts, who after a strong redshirt freshman season looked like a potential all-star.  Instead he struggled all season. With the unit in a bit of disarray his return to form is an absolute must.

At the other corner, projected starter Titus Howard was suspended for the season and then the next in line, Trenton Coles, transferred.  That means the new starter is former Wisconsin safety Reggie Mitchell, a 6'0" 185 pound redshirt sophomore. He has talent but is new to the position so he's a question mark for now.

The two main backups are 5'9" 165 pound true freshman Avonte Maddox, and 6'0" 195 pound redshirt sophomore Ryan Lewis. Maddox is small but can fly. If he can compensate for his size he could be very good. Lewis is also a speedster, but is a former safety who played mostly on special teams last season.

To show you how potentially dire things are with this group, 5'10" 200 pound redshirt senior Ray Vinopal is the leader, even though he was nearly booed off the field in the first half of last season. To his credit he rallied in the second half of the season and if he is at least solid and consistent that will be a big help.

The other starting safety, 5'11" 180 pound sophomore Terrish Webb, was a surprise letterman last season and he is capable of having a good season.

The reserves at safety, 5'11" 205 pound redshirt sophomore Jevonte Pitts, and 6'2" 190 pound true freshman Pat Amara, have no experience. Amara could be good and hopefully that will be as soon as this season.

Fast 5'10" 170 pound corner Phillipie Motley, and athletic 6'2" 180 pound safety Jalen Williams, will probably be redshirted as freshman unless they are forced into action or develop quicker than expected.

Bottom line: When the two most accomplished players in the unit are Pitts and Vinopal, two players that struggled mightily last season, then there's a reason to worry. However, on the other hand, Pitts could regain his form and Vinopal can continue to improve over the second half of last season. Mitchell may make the transition to corner and Maddox and Amara could hit the ground running. It's certainly not crazy to think that the best case scenario can happen and that this will be a solid unit, especially since new defensive backs coach Troy Douglas has a good track record of having successful units.

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

Special Teams: This unit has been hit or miss over the past few years. Some facets were good and some were awful. It's impossible to say how the kick and punt coverage will do, but the rest of the group looks pretty good on paper.

The most exciting development this season is that Tyler Boyd will return kicks and punts. He has All-American potential at both. Kevin Weatherspoon, who returns punts last season, will handle the returns when returning from deep in Pitt's own zone. Giving help to Boyd on kickoffs are Ronald Jones and Avonte Maddox, two explosive players.

Sophomore Chris Blewitt survived countless jokes about his name to have a very good season as a true freshman. He should only get better.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Winslow gets his first chance to be the punter and at 6'5" he has a strong leg.

Bottom Line- At the very least the return game and placekicking should be very good.

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

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+