2007 Pitt Preview - Offense

Posted Jun 12, 2007

Preview 2007 Pitt Panther Offense Preview


Pitt Panthers

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Pitt Preview | 2007 Pitt Defense Preview
2007 Pitt Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Pitt Preview 

What you 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 dangerous offense.       

Returning Leaders
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 offense: 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


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 quarterbacks.
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 Virginia.
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.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

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 this fall.        

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. 

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 yards rushing.    

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 the ground.
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.
Rating: 6.5


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 downfield. 

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 starting spot. 

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 fall. 

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 handle.
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.
Rating: 8

Offensive Line

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 special teams.                            

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 this role.
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.
Rating: 7


Related Stories
2007 Pitt Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 31, 2007
2007 Pitt Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 12, 2007
2007 Pitt Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 12, 2007

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