Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Pitt Preview
2008 Pitt Offense
2008 Pitt Defense
2008 Pitt Depth
2007 CFN Pitt Preview
2006 CFN Pitt Preview
need to know:
In LeSean McCoy, Dave Wannstedt has a back capable of carrying
the ball 25-30 times a game, while wearing out defenses in the
second half. He’s a budding superstar who’ll get even better
with experience and more support from the passing attack. The
Panthers like to grind it out, but that doesn’t mean they’ll
ignore the passing game. In fact, they need more balance to
improve on last year’s paltry offensive numbers. Before getting
injured in the opener, QB Bill Stull was staring at a
breakthrough junior season as the starter. Now he’s trying to
hold off the competition for a second straight year, while
playing catch with one of the Big East’s deepest receiving
Passing: Pat Bostick
155-252, 1,500 yds, 9 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: LeSean McCoy
276 carries, 1,328 yds, 14 TD
Receiving: T.J. Porter
37 catches, 329 yds, 0 TD
of the offense:
Sophomore RB LeSean McCoy
Players who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
LT Jason Pinkston
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Nate Byham
Best pro prospect: McCoy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McCoy 2) Senior WR
Derek Kinder 3) Byham
Strength of the offense: McCoy, receiver depth
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, uncertainty
Projected Starter: Junior Bill Stull was
all set to replace Tyler Palko a year ago when he injured his
thumb in the opener and never returned. In the spring, he
displayed an improved grip on the ball and on the starting job,
holding off a stiff trio of competition. At 6-3 and 200 pounds,
he’s an accurate passer who won’t blow anyone away with his arm
strength, but also won’t make many mental mistakes. He has a
complete grasp of the offense and is a tough, gritty leader,
characteristics that resonate to the rest of his teammates.
Because he was injured so early in the season, Stull still has
to overcome a dearth of game experience, having attempted just
30 passes over the past three seasons.
Projected Top Reserves: When Stull went down last
September, it forced the program to remove the redshirt of
Pat Bostick, one of the most heralded recruits to ever sign
with the Panthers. He was predictably erratic in eight starts,
finishing 155-of-252 for 1,500 yards, eight touchdowns, and 13
interceptions. However, that experience plus a dedication to
trimming some fat in the off-season has the 6-3, 220-pound
Bostick back on track to be Pitt’s franchise quarterback. If
he’s not the No. 2 guy, don’t rule out a redshirt season in
The longshot in the race at quarterback is sophomore Kevan
Smith, a top recruit in 2006, but a disappointment a year
ago. The first option off the bench when Stull was shelved, he
failed to hold off Bostick, and threw just a single touchdown
pass and four picks in five games. Smith will spend the summer
trying to avoid slipping to No. 4 on the depth chart.
Watch Out For… junior college transfer Greg
Cross. The 6-2, 215-pound Cross offers something the other
Panther quarterbacks can’t, the ability to beat a defense with
his arm and his legs. He’s got a strong arm and is nifty
outside the pocket, making him a natural fit, at a minimum, for
Pitt’s wildcat package.
Strength: Depth. This time last year, Pitt had
three players who’d attempted 10 career passes between them.
Because of Stull’s injury and the signing of Cross, the Panthers
now have four quarterbacks that took snaps and threw passes in
Weakness: Stull’s lack of snaps. Although he’s the
veteran and the likely starter, Stull has actually thrown fewer
career passes than Bostick or Smith. There’s no replacement for
game experience, something the junior will have to accumulate in
Outlook: If you could somehow take Stull’s
intangibles, Bostick’s arm, and Cross’ legs, the Panthers would
have their best quarterback in years. Instead, Pitt will hand
the offense over to the reliable Stull, occasionally tap into
Cross’ unique talents, and hope that Bostick can be kept on ice
for a year.
Projected Starters: Pittsburgh gave birth to a new
star last fall when it took the wraps off prized recruit
LeSean McCoy, a Freshman All-American who rushed for 1,328
yards and 14 touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 244 yards and a
score. Already a complete back at 5-11 and 210 pounds, he can
pick up the tough yards between the tackles, or bounce outside
and make people miss in the open field. He set the Big East
freshman rushing record with no help from the passing game and a
less than thorough knowledge of the playbook. With a season of
experience under his belt, he’ll be even more dangerous as a
In senior Conredge Collins, Pitt boasts one of the
nation’s top fullbacks, an improving blocker who can also
impersonate a tailback, if necessary. At 6-0 and 230 pounds,
he’s started 16 games over the last two seasons, earning 62
carries, catching 27 passes, and scoring five times. Not your
typical one-dimensional fullback, Collins will be used as an
occasional change-of-pace to McCoy.
Projected Top Reserves: A deep Panther backfield
is led by senior LaRod Stephens-Howling, who’s been
trumped by McCoy, but brings a spark and a veteran presence to
the second team. While not an every-down runner at 5-7 and 180
pounds, he’s an ideal third down back, who can take a swing pass
and jet toward the sticks. He had a career-low 78 carries for
320 yards and a touchdown, adding 13 receptions for 73 yards.
A breakthrough spring has redshirt freshman Shariff Harris
closing in on Stephens-Howling and the backup job. He almost
certainly earned reps in the fall with his performance in March
and April, consistently bouncing off tacklers and gaining yards
after contact. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, Harris is a powerful
north-south runner who wastes no time getting to the hole.
Once considered the franchise at running back, sophomore
Kevin Collier is in danger of slipping down the depth chart
and out of relevance. After contributing as a true freshman and
flashing the speed to be a playmaker, the 5-11, 195-pounder sat
out last season with a dislocated wrist, allowing McCoy to own
Once Collins graduates, the future at fullback belongs to
redshirt freshman Henry Hynoski, a bruising 6-2,
245-pounder with soft hands and a wicked stiff-arm. While he can
carry the ball if asked, his quickest path to more playing time
will come from improving as a run blocker and pass protector.
Watch Out For…McCoy to be vastly improved as a
sophomore. As long as the line does its job, he’s going to
benefit tremendously from the season of experience, year in a
college weight room, and greater stability behind center.
Strength: McCoy. The Big East’s premier running
back now that Ray Rice and Steve Slaton are in the NFL, McCoy
will be forced to weigh his future options at the end of the
season. While he’s only a sophomore, he’ll also be three years
removed from high school graduation, making him a candidate to
follow Rice and Slaton into the pros.
Weakness: A definitive No. 2 back. If, as
expected, McCoy logs 300 carries, it won’t matter who’s behind
him. However, if he’s ever a scratch, Pitt doesn’t have a true
backup, other than the diminutive Stephens-Howling, who’s proven
he can handle 20-25 touches a game.
Outlook: It took a few years, but in McCoy, Dave
Wannstedt finally has a workhorse back that can bludgeon
opposing defenses and help set up the pass. Just in case his
star bolts at the end of the year, the coach would be wise to
make Harris and Collier get some developmental carries this
Projected Starters: The Panthers’ top two
pass-catchers from last year are back, but the big news is the
return of senior Derek Kinder from an ACL injury that
forced him to miss all of 2007. Before getting hurt, he was
considered one of the Big East’s best receivers, catching 57
balls for 847 yards and six touchdowns, en route to a spot the
All-Big East First Team. A physical 6-1, 210-pounder at flanker,
Kinder is an outstanding downfield blocker and a receiver who
can box out his man to make the catch. He ran in the spring,
expecting to be at full strength by opening day.
The starter at split end will be junior Oderick Turner,
last year’s big-play receiver after Kinder went down. Like his
partner, he’s a handful at 6-3 and 200 pounds, who caught 36
passes for 496 yards and five touchdowns. With Kinder back to
attract some attention and the quarterback situation expected to
be less erratic, Turner could have the best season of his
Now that Darrell Strong is an Oakland Raider, junior tight end
Nate Byham has one less obstacle to becoming a bona fide
threat at the position. An outstanding downfield threat as a
pass-catcher, he had 15 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown,
numbers he’s capable of obliterating this fall. At 6-3 and 245
pounds, Byham won’t open many holes for the running game, but
that’s not why he was recruited to Pitt.
Projected Top Reserves: Although he’s sliding back
to the second team, junior T.J. Porter proved to be a
capable target when his opportunity arose last year. With a
chance to start five games, the elusive 6-1, 195-pounder had a
team-high 37 catches for 329 yards. However, Porter is too good
of a playmaker to average under nine yards a catch for a second
Behind Turner, junior Cedric McGee is a tough, 6-1,
200-pounder who’ll sacrifice his body to make the catch or
spring one of his teammates with a downfield block. Primarily a
special teams performer the last two seasons, he’s caught 14
career passes, including a career-best eight a year ago, and is
coming off a solid spring.
Battling to back up Byham are juniors Dorin Dickerson and
John Pelusi, two completely different tight ends. The
6-2, 220-pounder is basically a wide receiver lining up near the
tackle. He’s an explosive athlete with great speed and an
ability to pick up big chunks of yards after the catch.
Pelusi, on the other hand, is a blue-collar worker, a 6-3,
255-pounder, who’ll mostly be used as a short yardage blocker.
He started three games a year ago, catching a pedestrian five
passes for 46 yards.
Watch Out For… true freshman Jonathan Baldwin.
As deep as Pitt is at wide receiver, Baldwin might be too
talented to keep out of the rotation. He’s a 6-6, 225-pound
rookie who could split out wide or grow into a tight end. More
than just an exceptionally big target, he’s a polished
pass-catcher with the potential to dominate before long in the
Strength: Depth. With the return of Kinder and
the signing of Baldwin, it’s all there for Pitt to house as much
receiving depth as any team in the league. Byham and Dickerson
have high ceilings at tight end, and the reserves, including
sophomore Maurice Williams are not that big of a drop-off
from the starters.
Weakness: Consistency. On paper, the Panther
receivers are big, fast, and imposing but the group is still
prone to too many mental and physical mistakes. Dropped passes,
in particular, are something the unit is determined to reduce in
the upcoming season.
Outlook: If the passing game doesn’t improve on last
year’s 104th-place finish, it won’t be because of the
receivers and tight ends. They’re big, athletic, and
experienced, a balanced combination that’ll produce four
receivers that haul in at least 30 receptions.
Projected Starters: If Pittsburgh fails to reach
its goals in 2008, there’s a great chance it’ll be traced to an
offensive line that lost three starters, two who were selected
in April’s NFL Draft. The veteran of the rebuilt line will be
senior C.J. Davis, a seasoned veteran who’s started 30
games in-a-row at left guard. At his best on running downs, the
6-3, 315-pounder is coming off surgery and an average junior
season, so he’ll be dedicated to finishing his Panther career on
a high note.
On the opposite side, the right guard will be junior John
Malecki, a former defensive tackle still getting comfortable
in his new surroundings. While he’s tough and very physical at
6-3 and 275 pounds, there’s no telling at his size how he’ll
handle being the starter on a new side of the ball. On defense,
Malecki was pretty effective, finishing second on the team with
The biggest question mark is at center, where junior college
transfer Robb Houser is hoping to make a smooth
transition from Butte College to the Big East. At 6-2 and 285
pounds, he was coveted for his power and quickness getting to
the second level, filling a large need for the Panthers.
Slated to play tackle will be junior Joe Thomas and
sophomore Jason Pinkston, both of whom have something to
prove. For the 6-5, 300-pound Thomas, he needs to show he can
make a seamless move from right guard to right tackle. He can be
nasty at the point of contact and has started seven games in
each of the last two seasons, but hasn’t quite lived up to
expectations since being a hot-shot recruit. Now would be a
terrific time for Thomas to blossom.
Pinkston was on his way to becoming something special before a
shoulder injury sidelined him for the final nine games. At 6-4
and 300 pounds, he has the footwork and quickness to eventually
emerge into one of the league’s premier pass blockers. Pinkston
did not participate in spring drills, but is expected back in
time to protect the quarterback’s backside.
Projected Top Reserves: At tackle, Chase
Clowser is a 6-7, 330-pound senior who has lettered in each
of the last three seasons. Mostly used on special teams and
late in blowouts, he’ll have to be ready for an expanded role if
Thomas or Pinkston are unable to go.
The reserve guards are going to be 6-4, 305-pound senior
Dominic Williams and 6-4, 280-pound junior John Bachman,
a pair of returning lettermen. While Williams has had trouble
cracking the lineup throughout his career, his experience and
know-how offer value to the second team and younger Panthers.
Bachman is one of the program’s most versatile linemen, capable
of playing center and tackle, as well as guard. Very agile and
quick off the snap, injuries have been a factor that has kept
him from reaching his full potential at Pitt.
Watch Out For…Houser’s development at center. The
Panthers need him to be competent right from the opener,
especially with so much uncertainty flanking the pivot. Behind
Houser is sophomore walk-on Alex Karabin, so forget about
a safety net.
Strength: The left side. Assuming Pinkston’s
injury doesn’t linger, the Panthers will be in solid shape left
of center. While Davis is the steady vet at guard, Pinkston has
the raw assets to develop into one of the Big East’s better left
Weakness: Overall talent level. At this moment,
the first two units have far more question marks than blockers
who can absolutely, positively be counted on to deliver.
Pinkston and Davis are returning from injuries, and Thomas is
changing positions, adding to an already tenuous situation.
Outlook: The Pittsburgh line was inconsistent last
year, when future pros Jeff Otah and Mike McGlynn were around.
Once the Panthers conclude the MAC portion of their schedule,
this unit is going to struggle badly to move opposing defensive
lines off the ball.