Pitt Preview 2006 - Offense
Pittsburgh Panthers
Posted Aug 1, 2006

Pitt Panthers Preview 2006 - Pitt Panther Offense

What you need to know ... Running game, running game, running game. Head coach Dave Wannstedt wants to move the ball on the ground more, but he might not have the horses to do it effectively at a high level. The line has the experience with four returning starters, and now it has to push someone around. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a small, quick back who'll need help to stay fresh and healthy. The receiving corps loses top target Greg Lee and now needs Derek Kinder to grow into a number one star and several true freshmen to play like seasoned veterans. QB Tyler Palko has to be a consistent leader who takes the next step up in his production and becomes the type of player who makes everyone around him better.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tyler Palko
193-341, 2,392 yds, 17 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: LaRod Stephens-Howling
96 carries, 434 yds
Receiving: Derek Kinder
37 catches, 374 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Tyler Palko
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore OT John Bachman
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FB/RB
Conredge Collins
Best pro prospect: Palko
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Palko, 2) Kinder, 3) RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, offensive line experience
Weakness of the offense:
Running back

More attention to the running game (even if it's not as productive as the team would like) should help Tyler Palko from feeling like he has to do everything himself. He has everything you'd want in a quarterback from smarts, toughness and a live arm, and now he has to play at a more even keel and has to be a more consistent decision maker. Bill Stull is the future and should get a little more work this year to prepare for next year. Recruits Kevan Smith and Dexter Davidson will provide more depth.
The key to the unit: Get the breakout season out of Tyler Palko he should've had last year and get more from Bill Stull.
Quarterback Rating: 7.5

Projected Starter
- Tyler Palko, Sr. - 193-341, 2,392 yds, 57%, 17 TD, 9 INT, 6 rushing TDs
He wasn't that bad. Palko has NFL size and skills, but he suffers from having some very bad games in high profile situations. Ohio was one of the worst teams in America last season and beat Pitt because of Palko's three interceptions. He settled down and became a good Big East passer once head coach Dave Wannstedt took a little of the pressure off by getting a little more from the ground game. He has been on the verge of big things for the last two years, and now he should finally come through with a great season helped by the experience of 23 starts.

Top Backups
- Bill Stull, Soph. - 1-2, 17 yds
The 6-3 Stull is a big passer with a live, accurate arm. He saw a little bit of time last year and now will be groomed as the heir apparent to Tyler Palko for next year. Expect him to see more meaningful action to get his feet wet.
- Matt Flaus, Sr.
The walk-on will only be used in emergency situations. He's a good scout team quarterback who has been around long enough to be even more effective.

Running Backs
This could be a problem even with the return of leading rusher LaRod Stephens-Howling. The most talented runner on the roster, Rashad Jennings, transferred to Liberty after things didn't quite work out with the coaching staff. Raymond Kirkley wasn't able to stay healthy last year, but he was a good back and will be missed. Stephens-Howling isn't big, so he'll need plenty of help in the rotation meaning Brandon Mason and Shane Brooks have to be steady reserves from the start. The fullbacks will be a strength as the season goes on despite the limited experience.
The key to the unit: Average more than four yards per carry. The running game was non-existent at times last season, and didn't exactly rock anyone's world in spring ball, so this will have to continue to be a focus of the coaching staff before the opener.
Running Back Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- LaRod Stephens-Howling, Soph. - 96 carries, 434 yds, 4.5 ypc, 9 catches, 41 yds
He's only 5-7 and 165 pounds, but he's tough and he can really, really move. He led the team in rushing even though he was dinged up for a few games with an ankle injury, and now he'll be the focus of the ground game needing to be more of a home run hitter. He proved he can carry the workload with a 23-carry game against Syracuse and a team-leading 96 attempts. He needs the ball in his hands at least 15 times a game both as a runner and a receiver.

- Fullback Conredge Collins, Soph. - 8 carries, 25 yds, 3.1 ypc
Collins ended up blowing his redshirt season by being a key blocker halfway through the season when injuries hit the fullbacks. He had a problem with a knee injury late in the year, but he'll be fine and should even be an upgrade over Tim Murphy and the other solid fullbacks who left.

Top Backups
- Brandon Mason, Soph.
A much bigger option than LaRod Stephens-Howling, the 215-pound sophomore ended up redshirting last season and now will be the power back in the mix. He's a physical back who can also be used as a fullback if needed.
- Shane Brooks, RFr.
A physical 230-pound back, Brooks is a talented between-the-tackles runner who'll get every shot to make an impact. He has a little bit of speed to go along with his power.
- Fullback Mark Yezovich, Jr.
A special tamers as well as a blocker, the 245-pound junior is a bigger option than Conredge Collins at fullback. He hasn't seen any time yet and it'll be a shock if he gets any carries. 

It all depends on the freshmen. It's asking the world of new recruits to make a big impact, but Elijah Field and Dorin Dickerson have to be instant stars or the corps isn't going to scare anyone. Derek Kinder is a nice complementary receiver who has to turn into a number one target now that Greg Lee and his 19.6 yard-per-catch average is off to the NFL, while Joe DelSardo has to turn into a clutch possession receiver again. The tight end situation is better even after the loss of Erik Gill with the expected emergence of former wide receiver Darrell Strong and veteran Steve Buches to make Tyler Palko's life a lot easier.
The key to the unit: The freshman need to play like veterans and Derek Kinder has to become special.
Receiver Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- Derek Kinder, Jr. - 37 catches, 374 yds, 10.1 ypc, 3 TD
Kinder's the number one man now that Greg Lee is gone meaning he'll have to be more of a deep threat. He has the size to be physical and the speed to make big plays, so consistency will be the key needing to get the ball in his hands at least five times a game.

- Joe DelSardo, Sr. - 15 catches, 156 yds, 10.4 ypc
DelSardo became a forgotten man in the passing game after catching 49 passes the year before. He ended up backing up Greg Lee at split end, and now will take back a starting position using his great hands and good quickness to make plays underneath as a top possession receiver.

- Tight end Steve Buches, Sr. - 17 catches, 168 yds, 9.9 ypc, 2 TD
A part-time starter over the last two seasons, the 250-pound junior won't be the blocker Erik Gill was, but he should turn into a more dangerous receiver. He has the speed to make several deep plays and is experienced enough to be a decent all-around blocker.

Top Backups
- Marcel Pestano, Soph. - 1 catch, 5 yds
Pestano saw plenty of time in his first season playing in every game. Now he has to be a top producer using his good quickness and 6-1 size to make more big plays. He might not be Greg Lee, but he'll push defenses deep.
Elijah Fields, Fr.
He's 6-2, 210 pounds and explosive scoring 31 touchdowns as a high school senior. While he'll have to push to get on the field as a true freshman, he'll provide the missing pop the receiving corps is lacking with Greg Lee's departure. He could also see time at defensive back if needed.
Dorin Dickerson, Fr.
While not quite the recruit Elijah Fields is, the 6-2, 200-pound true freshman is a top deep threat who fits the mold of other great Pitt receivers. He scored 30 touchdowns as a high school senior.
- Tight end Darrell Strong, Jr. - 16 catches, 226 yds, 14.1 ypc, 1 TD
The former wide receiver bulked up to 260 pounds to become a matchup nightmare. He's big, fast, and has great hands with a 14.2 yard-per-catch  average over the last two seasons.
- Tight end
Nate Byham, Fr.
One of the nation's top tight end recruits, the 6-3 freshman isn't all that big, but he's fast and has terrific hands. At 215 pounds, he could use a year in a college weight room before being a major factor.

Offensive Linemen
The line should be far better with the return of four starters after doing nothing for the ground game and allowing 30 sacks. The one missing starter, tackle Charles Spencer, will be tough to replace with undersized John Bachman and oversized Chase Clowser looking to fill the void. It's too big a line not to be better at opening holes and too experienced not to be more consistent. The depth is relatively inexperienced, but it's not bad.
The key to the unit: Use all the experience to come together and be a cohesive, steady group.
Offensive Line Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- OT John Bachman, Soph.
The only new starter to the line, the 6-4, 260-pound sophomore is easily the team's smallest option up front. He has the athleticism and the technique to be a key blocker at left tackle taking over for Charles Spencer.
- OG C.J. Davis, Soph.
Davis got the call over the second half of his true freshman season starting the final six games. He's a physical blocker who should grow into one of the team's stronger run blockers.
- C Joe Villani, Jr.
The former walk-on has turned into a decent starter. He cut his teeth on special teams and now is expected to a consistent performer in the middle. He has seen time as a backup tackle with the athleticism to be a decent pass blocker.
- OG John Simonitis, Sr.
One of the biggest and most experienced Pitt linemen, the 6-4, 325-pound senior has 30 starts. He has to use all his experience to be a more consistent all-around blocker at right guard.
- OT Mike McGlynn, Jr.
McGlynn is a great-sized 6-7 and 325 pounds with 19 games of starting experience. Also able to serve as a center if needed while also serving as the long snapper, the versatile McGlynn will be counted on to be a top producing veteran.

Top Backups
- OT Dave Weber, Soph.
Weber will be a key reserve when he returns from a knee injury. He's more of a guard than a tackle and could end up moving inside if needed. 
- OT Chase Clowser, Soph.
the main backup at left tackle, Clowser is a gigantic 6-7, 340-pound blocker who has seen most of his time on special teams. He has the potential to go along with the side, and now he has to put it all together playing behind John Bachman.
- OG Dominic Williams, Soph.
A big reserve, the 6-4, 300-pound Williams will once again see time behind John Simonitis at right guard. He had a few problems with an ankle injury, but he was a reliable backup over the second half of the season.

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