Monday, August 29, 2016

Rating the Pitt offense for the '16-'17 season

QUARTERBACK: Fifth year senior Nathan Peterman returns as the starter and a senior quarterback that returns as the starter almost always have a good season. There's no reason why Peterman won't do the same. His arm is strong enough, he is accurate, he is mobile, and he's very though. If he stays healthy I expect him to have a very good season. Not an All-American season, or maybe not even all-conference, but he's good enough to be a plus quarterback.

After Peterman, though, things get a little murkier. Another fifth year senior, Manny Stocker, will be the backup. Pitt is Stocker's third school, and he's never been on the field much in his career. He's very athletic, but his passing is very hit or miss. If Peterman goes down for any length of time, the Panthers will be even more run heavy with Stocker, and that won't be good.

Redshirt freshman Ben DiNucci is not nearly ready to see the field in a meaningful game yet and it's very unlikely that he will. The wildcard is freshman Tom MacVittie, who may be the starter next season, so it will be interesting if Pat Narduzzi gets him into a game. It really won't hurt the program if MacVittie doesn't redshirt. If he ends up being a star he could leave after three years no matter what, and if he's not good enough to leave early then it won't matter anyway.

Summary- Peterman should have a good year. If the Panthers need to go to a backup that will be trouble, but the same can be said for just about every team in the country. Grade: B

RUNNING BACK: Football fans never thought they'd see James Conner in a Pitt uniform again. First, it looked like Conner would take his immense skills to the NFL, and then he was diagnosed with cancer. But one of the better players in Pitt history is back, and it appears that he is pretty healthy. Will he regain his All-American form? That's the big question, but because of his health and the Panthers' depth at the position he probably won't match his huge numbers of two seasons ago. But don't be surprised if he still ends up with over 1,000 yards. He's that great of a player.

Behind Conner I think you can expect to see sophomore Darrin Hall the most. Of the reserves he has the most talent and the highest upside. Last year's ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison is also back, and while he won't carry the ball nearly as much as he did last season, it's good to know that he's there as a safety valve.

Also looking for playing time will be redshirt junior Rachid Ibrahim, who is back this season after a bad leg injury, and true freshman Chawntez Moss, who surprised in camp. Ibrahim always seemed to make good plays in the past, but he still may not be all the way back yet, physically. Moss is good enough to play now, and it seems like the staff seems determined to play him some even though he may not play much because of the depth.

When the Panthers use a fullback, they have redshirt sophomore George Aston, who has already reached mythological status among fans due to his toughness and vicious blocking.

Summary: What's not to like? This may be the best, most deep running back group in decades at the school. At the very least, Conner, Hall, and Ollison could put up well over 1,000 yards if they were the starter. And if that wasn't enough, the Panthers have a vicious blocking fullback, too. Grade: A

WIDE RECEIVER: Tyler Boyd is gone, and no receiver that remains is as talented as he is. That's the bad news. The good news is, the Panthers relied on Boyd entirely too much last season so it may help the offense in the long run to spread the ball around more.

The three starting receivers heading into the season are redshirt senior Dontez Ford, redshirt junior Jester Weah, and sophomore Quadree Henderson.  Ford quietly had a good season last year starting across from Boyd, but it remains to be seen how well he will do as the No. 1 starter. Weah has barely played in his career, mainly because he has shown poor hands, but he also has elite speed. If he has improved his hands, his speed will cause problems. Henderson is just 5'8" but he is electrifying with the ball in his hands. He is my pick as the breakout player on offense. Expect him to be used in a variety of ways.

Behind those top three, redshirt freshman Tre Tipton, former junior college transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes, a redshirt sophomore, redshirt junior Zach Challingsworth, and tall true freshman Aaron Mathews will be the main backups leading into the season. Tipton is a local kid that could be very good, Araujo-Lopes is a quick slot receiver that will give Henderson competition, and Challingsworth is a veteran that was solid in limited time last season. Mathews has flashed enough that not only will he avoid a redshirt, but I would also not be surprised if he ended up starting before the season is over.

True freshmen Ruben Flowers and Maurice Ffrench have bright futures, but both will probably redshirt, though if needed Ffrench could be called on to return punts sometime during the season.

Summary: This is probably the most interesting unit on the team this season, and may prove to be the most important. None stand out as a sure star, but on the other hand there's a lot of players with promise. Weah and Henderson, especially, can fly, so their development is especially huge. I wouldn't be surprised if this group did well this season, but right now there's too many questions to rate them too highly. Grade: C+

TIGHT END: J.P. Holtz is gone, after starting for nearly four full seasons, and now it's time for senior Scott Ordnoff, who has been as the other tight end his entire career. The 6'5" 255 pound Orndorff has the size and athletic ability to be a star, but so far he has not put it all together. He has NFL potential and this is his last chance to prove it.

After that, the tight end position has more questions. Former fullback and H-back Jaymar Parrish is an excellent blocker and very athletic for his size, but he was mostly forgotten last season. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada needs to find a better way to utilize him because former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney clearly didn't. Redshirt junior Devon Edwards is big, and he has blocking ability, but he's not a threat in the passing game. Redshirt junior Zach Poker is a former defensive end.

Summary- This one is a hard grade. Orndorff has star potential, but he hasn't done it yet, and Parrish has good skills, too. If the Panthers have to go beyond those two, though, it could be a problem, and Orndorff has had injury issues in the past. If Orndorff stays healthy and lives up to his position, this position will be a strength, but he hasn't done it yet. Grade: C+

OFFENSIVE LINE: Back to the good news, and boy, is it good news. The offensive line had been a problem for the program for years not that long ago, but thanks to former Pitt head coach Paul Chryst this unit is absolutely loaded right now.

Left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and left guard Dorian Johnson, both locals in their last year, have all-star and NFL potential. Expect the Panthers to run behind them constantly. But they are far from the only two good players on the line. In fact, there are at least four more really good lineman.

On the right side, there are a pair of redshirt sophomores that are at least as talented, even if they are less experienced. Another local, Adam Bookser, will be the right guard, and former tight end Brian O'Neill will be the right tackle. I would not be surprised to see O'Neill be a first round draft pick in the future if he continues to improve as quickly as he has so far. At center, giant redshirt junior Alex Officer will get the start after starting at guard last year and taking over as the starting center two years ago when Artie Rowell was injured.

All five of the starters have NFL potential, as does big redshirt junior Jared Jones-Smith, who should be the top reserve at tackle, and who can also play some guard. Redshirt senior, and former walk on, John Guy, has improved enough to see time at guard if he's needed. Redshirt juniors Aaron Reese and Carson Baker, as well as redshirt sophomore Connor Dintino, are all listed on the second team and may see action.

Summary: There's at least six very good offensive linemen in this group, and there are a few others who would do well in a pinch. It has to be considered one of the better offensive lines in the country, with at least the top six of them having NFL potential. Grade: A

Overall: Barring injury, this offense, on paper, has very good potential. Peterman now has the experience to be very good this season, and the running backs and offensive line are both loaded. Any team that has those three factors should be a really good offense. In fact, there isn't a coach in the country that wouldn't kill to have all three of those strengths. The key, other than injuries, will be the wide receivers, and to a lesser degree, the tight ends. Opposing defenses will stack the line to stop the Panthers running attack and Peterman and the receivers will need to make them pay. If they can, the offense could be one of the most efficient offenses in the country.

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