Preview 2009 - Offense
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2009 Pitt Offense
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What you need to know:
When new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti dubbed his move back to
Western Pennsylvania a “dream job”, he obviously skipped the 2008
Panther highlight reel. The coach is inheriting a dearth of proven
playmakers and a heap of problems that need to be solved. No one was
shocked that RB LeSean McCoy left for the NFL after just two years, but
it still cut deep into an offense that’s lacked pop for years. Actually,
replacing McCoy might be easier than lighting a spark under a feeble
passing attack that produced just 10 touchdown passes in 13 games. It’s
a good thing Cignetti has a track record of coaching up quarterbacks
because he’ll need to tap into his inner-Jeff Tedford in order to
elevate the play of Bill Stull. The senior must evolve into a more
consistent playmaker in order to maximize the potential of WR Jonathan
Baldwin, TE Nate Byham, and a deep receiving corps.
Passing: Bill Stull
188-330, 2,356 yds, 9 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Aundre Wright (WR)
5 carries, 34 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Cedric McGee
23 catches, 201 yds, 0 TD
Star of the
offense: Sophomore WR Jonathan Baldwin
has to step up and become a star: Junior
LT Jason Pinkston
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore RT Lucas Nix
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Senior TE Nate Byham 2)
Baldwin 3) Pinkston
Strength of the offense: The
pass-catchers, experience at quarterback
the offense: The passing game,
inexperience at running back, pass protection
Senior Bill Stull was not
effective in his first full season, a delicate way of saying he was
awful. Despite being surrounded by quality at the skill positions, he
only managed to go 188-of-330 for 2,356 yards, nine touchdowns and 10
interceptions. He was 72nd nationally in passing efficiency
and posed no threat as a runner, getting sacked more than any Big East
quarterback. Yet, he remains atop the depth chart, an indication of the
Panthers’ problems at the position. No one is asking the 6-3,
215-pounder to channel Dan Marino, or even Tyler Palko for that matter,
but he must do a better job of making decisions and making plays. Being
tough and gritty just isn’t enough for this offense, especially with the
departure of RB LeSean McCoy.
Projected Top Reserves:
While 6-3, 220-pound junior Pat
Bostick has been unable to unseat Stull, he has tightened his grip
on the backup job with a solid offseason. Named most improved in the
spring, he represents an efficient option, who has the experience of
nine starts over the last two years. However, when he’s had his chances,
he failed to impress, throwing just nine career touchdown passes and 17
interceptions. In danger of becoming a five-star bust, he has no
mobility and hasn’t anyone as a hurler.
Filling out the depth
chart is 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman
Tino Sunseri, a key recruit
from the 2008 class. Lacking the experience to seriously challenge
Stull, he’ll spend this fall trying to get an edge on Bostick for the
2010 job. A natural leader, he has good zip on his passes and can
distinguish himself with his agility, something both of his elders are
Out For… more groans from the fan base. Has it only been two
seasons since Palko graduated? Panther fans will swear it’s been much
longer. Watching Stull and Bostick in 2007 and 2008 will have that
effect. Unless new coordinator Frank Cignetti is a magician, there’s no
evidence that greatness awaits either of his two main pupils.
What’s better than having your starting quarterback returning? Two
quarterbacks with starting experience. Remember, when Stull missed
almost all of 2007, it was Bostick who filled in and played in 10 games.
Having multiple quarterbacks with game experience is a luxury few
talent. Neither Stull nor Bostick will frighten Big East opponents with
his ability as a passer or a scrambler. The Panthers finished 87th
nationally in passing efficiency, finished next to last in the league in
touchdown passes, and wasted a lot of talented pass-catchers.
Outlook: Forget the
loss of McCoy to the NFL. This is the biggest area of concern for the
offense. Sunseri isn’t ready. Bostick doesn’t appear to be the answer.
It’s up to Stull to cobble together a decent enough season to keep the
other team from loading up to stop the run.
While there’s uncertainty over who’ll get most of the touches in a
post-LeSean McCoy world, one thing is certain—true freshman
Dion Lewis has already earned
his place in the rotation. Heck, he has a shot to be the starter when
Youngstown State visits for the opener. In a short period of time, the
5-8, 190-pounder has already gotten a grasp of the offense, and showed a
knack for making plays every day in spring practice. While undersized,
he actually uses his stature as an advantage, finding holes quickly and
darting through before linemen can get their mitts on him.
graduation of Conredge Collins has created an opportunity for sophomore
Henry Hynoski, a powerful
6-2, 250-pounder, who is not your typical fullback. Yeah, he’ll mostly
earn his scholarship by creating space for the tailbacks, but he’s also
a capable and a reliable receiver out of the backfield. In high school,
he rushed for 7,165 yards and 113 scores, so he’s anything but
Projected Top Reserves:
The job of keeping Lewis humble belongs to sophomore
Shariff Harris and redshirt freshman
Chris Burns, who have just as good a chance of winning the job in
the summer. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, Harris is the biggest, strongest, and
most experienced of the trio. A no-nonsense, north-south runner, he’s
tough enough to bounce off arm-tackles and exploit the middle of the
field. If not a 20-carry guy, he’ll certainly have a role in short
Burns is a shifty, elusive runner, who gets to top gear
in a hurry. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he has good size and balance, rarely
going down on first contact. After a celebrated prep career in
Pennsylvania and a redshirt year to get stronger, he’s ready to start
making good on his lofty expectations.
Watch Out For…
a shared responsibility. Sure, Lewis turned heads and built a little
daylight, but does that mean a 190-pound rookie is ready for 25 carries
a game? Unlikely. Oh, he’s going to play, but so will Harris and Burns,
who bring something a little different to the running game. Heck, don’t
be shocked if Hynoski does an Owen Schmitt impression as an occasional
Strength: Versatility. None of the parts is the same in the
Pittsburgh backfield, which is a good thing. While Lewis and Burns have
big-play potential, Harris and Hynoski have the size and strength to
move piles. Together, they form a complimentary unit, with an answer for
No proven runners. Not only is McCoy gone, but so are LaRod
Stephens-Howling and Conredge Collins, the next busiest Panthers in
2008. By virtue of his 12 career carries, Harris is suddenly the veteran
of a very young and inexperienced backfield.
Outlook: Obviously, you
don’t get better after losing a player of McCoy’s caliber. Having said
that, Pittsburgh isn’t in such bad shape at running back, thanks to some
quality recruiting in the Northeast. Although Lewis is all the rage
these days, neither Harris nor Burns should be forgotten. It was just
last year that both players were being hailed as the future at the
Projected Starters: The
Panthers expect to bring back six of last year’s seven best receivers,
but that doesn’t mean they’ll be fully utilized. Pitt quarterbacks were
simply pitiful at getting the ball in the hands of the wideouts in 2008.
One player that simply can’t be overlooked is sophomore split end
Jonathan Baldwin, an imposing 6-5, 220-pounder, who’s just
waiting to blossom into a star. Literally the next big thing in
a Panther receiver, he showed flashes as a rookie, making 18
grabs for 404 yards and three touchdowns. Still a little
unpolished, when he puts it all together, he’ll be a load to
handle and one of the game’s premier deep threats. However, he's
in trouble after being charged with harassment and disorderly
conduct in an alleged incident with a woman on a bus. His status
is up in the air.
flanker is 6-1, 205-pound senior Cedric McGee, a tough, steady veteran of three letters and seven
career starts. Mostly a special teams performer in his first two
seasons, he caught a personal-best 23 balls for 201 yards in 2008.
Although he won’t scare anyone on a fly pattern, he does a lot of little
things to help the offense, like sacrificing his body to make a catch or
laying out a safety on a downfield block.
Nate Byham is the reigning All-Big East first team tight end
and a third-year starter at the position. An outstanding pass-catcher
and dangerous weapon down the seam, he’s better than the 20 receptions
for 260 yards and a score he delivered in 2008. Especially on a team
that doesn’t air it out that often, he’s capable of doubling that
production in his final year of eligibility.
Projected Top Reserves:
As Baldwin continues learning the ropes, senior
Oderick Turner is an ideal veteran backup at split end. At 6-3 and
205 pounds, he brings a physical presence and 30 career starts to the
corps. While his numbers have steadily declined since a breakout
freshman campaign, catching just 21 passes last fall, a player of his
experience and leadership is a luxury on the second team.
can return from an alcohol-induced suspension, 6-1, 195-pound senior
T.J. Porter will be firmly in
the rotation at flanker, if not pushing for McGee’s job. He has 65
career grabs for 704 yards, but is still waiting for his first
touchdown. If he remains on the shelf, it’ll mean more playing time for
a pair of sophomores, 5-11, 180-pound
Aundre Wright and 6-0,
180-pound Aaron Smith.
Veteran depth is not relegated to just the wide receivers. The tight
ends have it as well. Behind Byham is 6-2, 230-pound senior
Dorin Dickerson, a versatile Panther and one of the best all-around
athletes on the roster. A former linebacker, he’s made a smooth
transition to offense, pulling down 13 passes for 174 yards and two
Watch Out For… the
emergence of Baldwin. Now that McCoy is gone, the sophomore is the best
offensive weapon in Pittsburgh. Built like a condor, he has the long
arms, big hands, and enormous stride to make even marginal quarterbacks
look good. He’s the best thing to hit this position since Larry
and depth. Although the Panthers’ best receiver is only a second-year
player, he’s surrounded by seniors, who have played a ton of football in
Pittsburgh. In fact, if Porter returns, Baldwin will be the only
non-senior on the two-deep at wide receiver or tight end.
Killer speed. A very big, physical group, the Panthers will not frighten
you with their straight-line speed. It’s the one trade-off for having an
ensemble that averages about 6-2 and 200 pounds. Pitt also hopes to
become more consistent at the position, limiting some of the drops that
plagued them a year ago.
Outlook: Over the
last two seasons, Pittsburgh has been home to one of the nation’s least
efficient passing teams. Don’t blame the receivers, a talented group
that would be so much more productive if teamed with a better battery
mate. It’s hard to argue with a unit that has star potential at wide
receiver and tight end, and as much depth as anyone in the Big East.
Developing depth on the interior has been a priority ever since Dave
Wannstedt arrived. It’s beginning to pay dividends. The Panthers bring
back four starters from 2008, needing only to replace All-Big East
performer C.J. Davis. That void at left guard is likely to be filled by
6-3, 290-pound sophomore Chris
Jacobson, a highly-regarded member of the 2007 class, who appears
ready to fulfill expectations. A tenacious run blocker with a nasty
streak, he’ll fit in very nicely at this program.
right guard is 6-3, 280-pound senior
John Malecki, a 13-game starter and last season’s most improved
player. A converted defensive tackle, he made a smooth transition to
offense, using his quickness, work ethic, and guile to survive. Now that
he has that first season out of the way, he figures to be even more
effective this fall.
Before fracturing his ankle at the end of
October, 6-2, 285-pound senior
Robb Houser was doing a nice job of plugging the team’s hole at
center. A transfer from Butte (Calif.) College, he’s quick off the snap
and plays with more power than his size might indicate. He’s been a
little slow coming back from the injury, which bears watching since Pitt
doesn’t have a proven backup.
The responsibility of protecting
Bill Stull’s backside will once again belong to 6-4, 300-pound junior
Jason Pinkston. While he has
the footwork and athletic ability to be a really good left tackle, he
still lacks consistency and allows too many sacks. Plus, he’s had
shoulder problems in each of the last two seasons that have required
The program hopes a future star is developing in 6-6,
300-pound sophomore Lucas Nix.
After getting a few cameos in six games as a true freshman, he returned
with an eye on winning the job at right tackle. So far, he looks as if
he’s going to get it. One of the highest-rated linemen to ever sign with
the Panthers, he plays with a blue-collar mentality, yet has the burst
and quick feet needed to make it at tackle. For now, he’s on the right
side, but he’s clearly being groomed to eventually take over at left
Reserves: No, 6-5, 300-pound senior
Joe Thomas hasn’t flourished
as expected when he signed, but there’s something to be said for having
a versatile veteran as a backup. Thomas has proven throughout his career
that he’ll line up wherever is needed and give maximum. Despite starting
every game at right tackle a year ago, he might be asked to bolster the
depth at guard this year.
Behind Nix, 6-4, 295-pound sophomore
Greg Gaskins is one of many
underclassmen needing to grow up in a hurry and provide reliable depth.
While still somewhat raw with his technique, he has a good frame and the
athleticism to eventually grow into a starter. He also has the benefit
of versatility, and could fill in at center in a pinch.
Watch Out For… the
kids. Wannstedt recruited well in 2007 and 2008, which should start
paying dividends to the offensive line this fall. Jacobson and Nix have
the look of future all-stars, making this first season in the saddle an
interesting event for both kids.
Strength: Run blocking. LeSean McCoy was plenty good a year
ago, but he did get some help. The Panthers’ strength up front is
old-school, no-nonsense blocking that takes the fight out of the other
team. They’re just physical and nasty enough to control the line of
scrimmage this season.
Weakness: Pass protection. The Panthers’ were awful in pass
blocking last year, allowing more sacks than any other Big East team.
Pinkston has to remain healthy and Nix has to play like he’s been here
before, or else Stull will be on his back often once again this season.
especially in pass protection, will continue to escape a Pittsburgh line
that’s still young and doesn’t have that one pillar to prop everyone up.
Nix and Jacobson are going to be terrific down the road, but neither has
any relevant experience, which will show at times this year. This is a
marginal unit that won’t dominate many opponents.