2011 Preview: The Receivers

The Panthers may have lost a first-round pick, but there's hardly reason to panic about the position being bare

From a national perspective, Pitt's receiver position will be under the gun because the Panthers have to replace first-round pick Jon Baldwin.

For Pitt fans that know and follow the program, that won't be too much of a problem because of the receivers coming back and the new offense coming in. Receivers coach Mike Norvell will have a lot to work with, but also has a more receiver-friendly system that should help this group produce.

To refresh the memory, there are four receiver positions on the field; the two-back, the three-back, the five-back and the nine-back. The three-back sometimes lines up in the backfield, but since most of the players in this grouping for 2011 are similar to tight ends, they will be grouped in as receivers. To start off 2011, here is how each group is going to look.

Cameron Saddler (7 rec., 33 yds, 1 TD in 2010)
Kevin Weatherspoon (redshirted as a freshman in 2010)
Ronald Jones (Florida speedster)
Darius Patton (another speedster with the ideal build for the position)
Jake Delmonico (walk-on who surpassed Weatherspoon on the depth chart in the spring)

The two-back position is a hybrid running back/receiver position. Some of the short screen passes are often dubbed as running plays, because the short pass is viewed as a long pitch to the tailback (or in this case, the receiver). This was the position Demaris Johnson played last year. Johnson caught 57 passes for 872 yards and 4 touchdowns last year. Prior to that, as a sophomore, he finished with 78 catches for 1,131 and 3 touchdowns. This position is going to give someone the opportunity to be productive.

Saddler has the potential to do that when staying healthy. In fact, of anyone on the team who will benefit the most from the coaching change, Saddler is at or near the top of that list.

Hubie Graham (20 career games at Illinois before transferring to Pitt)
Brock DeCicco (made three starts as a redshirt freshman; scored touchdowns on both of his receptions)
Brendan Carozzoni (redshirted as a freshman in 2010; got significant experience in spring ball with Graham and DeCicco sitting out time with injuries)
Drew Carswell (arguably the best athlete of the group; comes over from receiver after redshirting as a freshman)
Isaac Bennett (the future of the position; built more like a running back, and more suited to be equally dangerous running and catching the ball as this position calls for)

Graham and DeCicco will split time here, with Graham getting the starting nod. Graham is a unique player for this offense because out of all the receivers on this team, he has the most potential to make the big plays. Even though DeCicco initially signed with Pitt because of its pro-style offense, this new role opens him up as well.

Expect to see both players lined up in the backfield, and also lined up in the slot like a five-back. Both players do fit the mold of the traditional tight end, but were initially brought to Pitt because of athleticism. Expect to see both lined up in that slot at some point, to challenge the safeties.

Now that Carswell is healthy for training camp, it will be a battle between him and Carozzoni for that spot behind DeCicco. Once he gets his feet wet at this position, he has some promise.

Mike Shanahan (43 rec., 589 yards, 1 TD)
Salath Williams (has the ideal height for the position with speed, but could also be a tweener at the nine before settling on one of these positions)
Justin Jackson (signing day addition who has the protypical size and speed required for this position)
Brett Zuck (walk-on who made his way to the two-deep in spring after injuries)

Mike Shanahan quietly finished second on the team in receptions a year ago. Though he was the player starting opposite of first-round pick Jon Baldwin, Shanahan didn't always get the praise with a player like Baldwin out there. He did make a nice progression in year two. In his redshirt freshman season, Shanahan caught 15 passes for 211 yards, getting a start in the final game of the year against North Carolina in the bowl game.

Shanahan gave a glimpse of what the five-back is capable of in the offense catching seven passes for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. Is that what we should expect every week? Probably not, but no one could have predicted those type of numbers for a player who came in the same recruited class as Baldwin, a little less heralded. Shanahan too could see his numbers blossom, and may have the chance to show that he can be more than a possession-type receiver.

Salath Williams will get a look at the five-back and the nine-back spots, until he settles in on one spot. He was active in those respective spots behind Shanahan and Devin Street in the spring. It wouldn't be out of the norm to see him finish with 15 to 20 catches this year.

Devin Street (Pitt's third-leading receiver from a year ago as a redshirt freshman)
Ed Tinker (also saw the field in a limited role as a redshirt freshman)

The nine-back is simply described as the big play threat in this offense. While the others have more of a defined role, this position must simply go out and make plays. Devin Street showed flashes of that kind of potential in his first full year of seeing the field. Take the first offensive play at Syracuse, where he turned a short screen pass into a 79-yard touchdown pass. That's the kind of play-making ability that is required of this position, and the potential that Street could have here.

Ed Tinker also worked in at this position in the spring, and was Pitt's sixth receiver a year ago. Depending on whether or not he can stay healthy at this position, he should be able to come in and fill in for Street at certain points of the game. Tinker was a pleasant surprise last year, as he held off an impressive group of true freshman receivers including Todd Thomas and Williams.

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