2007 Pitt Preview - Offense
Pitt Panther Offense Preview
Preview 2007 - Offense
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need to know:
The graduation of Tyler Palko leaves a gaping hole on the
Panther offense that’ll be filled by either junior Bill Stull or
hot-shot rookie Pat Bostick. Whoever gets the ball will enjoy
an outstanding supporting cast that includes junior running back
LaRod Stephens-Howling, one of the deepest receiving corps in
the nation and the program’s best front wall since Dave
Wannstedt arrived. Wannstedt and Matt Cavanaugh want to
establish a more physical ground game, but if the new hurler is
up to the challenge, the ensuing balance will make this a very
Passing: Bill Stull
6-8, 69 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: LaRod Stephens-Howling
178 carries, 893 yds, 9 TD
Receiving: Derek Kinder
37 catches, 374 yds, 3 TD
Star of the
Senior WR Derek Kinder
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB
Stull or Freshman QB Pat Bostick
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Marcel Pestano
Best pro prospect: Senior T Mike McGlynn
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kinder 2) McGlynn 3)
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
Strength of the offense: Depth at receiver, the tackles
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, center
At 5-11 and
220 pounds, sophomore Shane Brooks is the most powerful
of the backs and an interesting option in short yardage. He
started one game in 2006, finishing second on the team with 218
Projected Starter: Tyler Palko accounted for 77
touchdowns over the last three years and was the emotional soul
of the Panther program. Replacing him will not be easy. Or
quick. The battle for Palko’s successor will rage on until
shortly before Pitt hosts Eastern Michigan on Sept. 1. For now,
the favorite is junior Bill Stull, Palko’s understudy the
last two years and the only quarterback on the roster that’s
taken snaps. An accurate passer that understands the offense,
he’ll be asked to move the chains, manage the offense and keep
his mistakes to a minimum. If Stull is throwing more than 25
passes in a game, pencil the Panthers in for a loss.
Projected Top Reserves: One of the gems of the
2006 recruiting class, Kevan Smith actually has a
stronger arm and is more athletic than Stull. However, he’s
just a redshirt freshman and didn’t appear ready to win the job
in the spring. To Dave Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt
Cavanaugh, the competition to replace Palko really won’t begin
until freshman Pat Bostick arrives in August. A mega
recruit for the Panthers, he has the maturity, quick release and
field vision to win this job, however, he’ll have to catch up in
a hurry to leap frog two more experienced players.
Watch Out For… Pitt to be far less reliant on the
quarterback than in recent years. That’s partially due to the
development of the running game and offensive line and largely
due to the compete lack of experience among the team’s three
Strength: Young arms. Bostick and Smith are
strong-armed pocket passers with bright futures. Even if
they’re not ready to win today, both freshmen are the type of
quarterbacks that a program can build around.
Weakness: Experience. Three quarterbacks. Ten
career passes between them. It could be a rough September for
the Panther offense, especially with trips to Michigan State and
Outlook: Does the Bostick era begin in 2007?
Probably not, but he’s too good to wear a redshirt all year.
Pitt will play it safe with Stull, putting the fate of the
offense in the hands of a talented group of backs and receivers.
Projected Starters: The return of junior LaRod
Stephens-Howling, a nearly intact offensive line and the
highly anticipated debut of freshman LeSean McCoy has
Pitt expecting big things from a running game that’s produced
just one 1,000-yard rusher since 1995. Stephens-Howling led the
Panthers in 2006 with 893 yards and nine touchdowns, chipping in
19 receptions for 231 yards and another score. He can wiggle
out of tight spaces and break off long runs, but at 5-7 and 175
pounds, lacks ideal size for an every down back.
Stephens-Howlings’ backfield mate, junior Conredge Collins,
is not your typical one-dimensional fullback. He’s a versatile
player that can catch passes, be used in single-back formations
and has improved as a blocker. Because of that varied skill
set, Collins will be a prominent part of the offensive gameplan
Projected Top Reserves: McCoy is one of the
highest-rated backs to ever choose Pittsburgh, turning down
Miami, Alabama, Penn State and USC in the process. He has
game-breaking speed, good hands and outstanding cut back ability
in a 5-11, 205-pound package. McCoy is a special talent that
will play an integral role on this team right away.
Sophomore Kevin Collier was the McCoy of last year, a
touted recruit with the speed and change-of-direction to live in
opposing secondaries. He lettered as a true freshman, playing
in eight games and carrying 33 times.
Watch Out For… much more balance than a year ago.
Stephens-Howling was the only back to carry more than 50 times
in 2006, but that won’t be the case in 2007. He won’t have to
be a workhorse this fall, getting lots of help from a suddenly
deep supporting cast.
Strength: Pass-catching. All of the backs, right
down to the fullbacks, have soft hands out of the backfield
which will be a safe and reliable security blanket for the
first-time starting quarterback.
Weakness: Durability. Because of his size,
Stephens-Howling is prone to getting dinged up, something the
staff will work hard to avoid this season. If he’s a scratch,
it’ll be up to an untested underclassman to shoulder the load on
Outlook: Wannstedt, who desperately wants to
establish the running game, finally has a diverse mix of backs
that can soften defenses. For the sixth straight year, the
Panthers won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher, but they will improve
markedly on last year’s average of just 123 yards a game.
Projected Starters: Wide Receiver U. will be true
to its moniker this fall with a very deep and very dangerous
group of pass-catchers. Senior Derek Kinder and
sophomore Oderick Turner are the returning starters,
however, the second unit has been so good in the off-season, no
spot is completely safe. Kinder blossomed in his second season
as a starter, catching 57 passes for 847 yards and six
touchdowns while earning a spot on the all-Big East first team.
Although not a burner, he’s a physical receiver that gets good
position and will annihilate defensive backs blocking
Turner enjoyed a Freshman All-America season last year, pulling
down 44 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. A big,
physical target like Kinder at 6-3 and 200 pounds, he needs to
stay focused and keep improving in order to hold on to that
Sophomore tight end Nate Byham lettered as a true
freshman and is a terrific downfield weapon as a pass-catcher.
While not much of a run blocker, he’ll torch defenses that give
too much attention to the outside receivers.
Projected Top Reserves: Led by sophomore T.J.
Porter, the backup receivers have really raised the level of
their games since the end of last season. Porter was one of the
stars of spring, getting plenty of reps with the first unit
while flashing a knack for getting separation and making
defenders miss in the open field. Ditto Marcel Pestano
who also had a great spring and gives the offense that burst and
deep threat that the starters don’t always provide. The junior
is expected to at least duplicate last year’s 28 catches for 424
yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomore Cedric McGee played in 11 games last year,
mostly on special teams, and is ready to assume the role of
Pitt’s fifth receiver. Regardless of who gets the official
start, all three Florida natives will play extensively this
If he can stay motivated, senior Darrell Strong has the
next level skills to be an outstanding tight end at this level.
At 6-5 and 260 pounds with good wheels, he has a chance to make
a salary run after being a spot starter and catching 35 passes
over the last three years.
Watch Out For… the backups. Porter and Pestano,
in particular, have closed the gap on Turner and Kinder. They
offer something the starters can’t provide, the speed to stretch
a defense and turn a short hitch into six points.
Strength: Depth. The Panthers have a sweet mix of
size, speed and experience, returning the top three receivers
from last year. If Byham and Strong fulfill their potential at
tight end, this group will be a beast for any secondary to
Weakness: The quarterback. The wideouts could be
the deepest unit on the 2007 Panthers, however, will they reach
their full potential if the new quarterback has trouble getting
them the ball? The trio looking to replace Tyler Palko has
never started a college game.
Outlook: Turner caught 44 balls as a freshman, yet
is clinging to his job, testimony to the depth Pitt has at
receiver. Just how good this group becomes hinges on the
development of the young quarterbacks more than anything else.
Projected Starters: Whoever is taking snaps this
year can take comfort in a front wall that returns four starters
and has a pair of all-Big East candidates at tackle. Massive
Mike McGlynn is back for his fourth season as the starter at
right tackle. A versatile lineman who plays with an attitude,
he has started 31 consecutive games for the Panthers.
On the left side will be Jeff Otah, a hulking 6-6 and
340-pound senior who’s poised for a huge final year at Pitt.
One of the stars of the spring, he’s a dominating run blocker
and on the brink of becoming an all-star tackle.
Last year’s first-string guards, junior C.J. Davis and
sophomore Joe Thomas, are back for another atop the depth
chart. Davis moved into the lineup as a true freshman and has
started 18 straight games since then. He’s a physical run
blocker and one of the leaders of the offensive line. Thomas
enjoyed a Freshman All-America season in 2006, starting seven
games as a true freshman after starter John Simonitis was lost
with an injury. A nasty, physical interior blocker, he’s the
star of this unit once McGlynn and Otah graduate.
The massive question mark in 2007 surrounds the identity of the
Panthers’ starting center. Chris Vangas is a smart and
dependable senior, however, he failed to lock up the position in
the spring or play up to the staff’s expectations. If it’s true
that a line is only as good as its weakest link, Pitt could be
vulnerable at the pivot.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore tackle Jason
Pinkston capitalized on an injury to McGlynn in the spring
and performed like a first-teamer. His play was not lost on a
coaching that raved about him throughout March and April. A
converted defensive tackle, he has the feet at 6-4 and 280
pounds to seal off edge rushers and command much more playing
time in 2007.
Dominic Williams will earn his third letter this year as
the Panthers’ primary backup at guard. When he’s healthy, the
6-4, 300-pound junior is a capable run blocker and a quality
lineman to have on the second team.
Sophomore John Bachman was moved from tackle to center in
order to bolster the position and provide competition to
Vangas. While he’s very quick and athletic, injuries over the
past 12 months have prevented him from reaching his sizable
potential with the Panthers.
Junior Chase Clowser is a 6-7 and 330-pound giant and
currently Pitt’s best option at tackle off the bench. He backed
up McGlynn in 2006, earning his letter and most of his reps on
Watch Out For… McGlynn moving to center,
solidifying the position while getting Pinkston into the
lineup. Wannstedt desperately wants to get his five best
linemen on the field at the same time, and this is a move that
would certainly address that desire. McGlynn has played center
before and is the team’s long snapper so he’s no stranger to
Strength: The tackles. Provided he stays there,
McGlynn is a brick wall on the right side and Otah is rapidly
developing into the type of blocker that’s going to bring a lot
of scouts to Heinz Field this fall.
Weakness: Consistency. No doubt there’s talent in
this group, but that hasn’t always equaled shining results. The
Panthers still need to pass protect all year like they did last
November and regularly create more running lanes for the backs.
Outlook: Is this group finally ready to dominate
like an old school Pitt line? The pieces are in place for the
Panthers to control the line of scrimmage and open things up for
the playmakers to make plays.