2013 Preview: Receivers/Tight Ends

Pitt may have to replace players like Mike Shanahan, Cameron Saddler and Hubie Graham, but there are a lot of players waiting in the wings.

At receiver, Pitt has its most sure thing in receiver Devin Street.

Street finished with a career year in 2012; 73 receptions for 975 yards and five touchdowns. Street will face two challenges this year. One, if opponents feel he truly is the one threat on offense, he will see double-teams. Two, adjusting to a new quarterback, whoever it may be.

Outside of that, there's no reason Street can't replicate his 2012 numbers.

The biggest question is who else will start at receiver, and what kind of receiver sets we will see.

Three upperclassmen will be given the first crack at starting opposite of Street--junior Ronald Jones, senior Ed Tinker and junior Kevin Weatherspoon.

Jones was kind of a forgotten man in 2012. After playing in 12 games as a true freshman, Jones went from 17 catches for 143 yards in 2011 to seven catches for 66 yards in 2012. He did a little of everything as a freshman--quarterback, running back, receiver and was active in the return game. He did take over return duties late in the season, and even had a 39-yard return in the regular season finale at South Florida.

Jones was also one of six players suspended for the opener against Youngstown State. Whether he would have made a difference, or not, in that game isn't the factor. It set the tone for a disappointing sophomore season. However, based on how he rebounded at the end of the season--getting back on the field--and based on how he got bumped up to take reps alongside Street in the spring, he is in good contention to be in the rotation. How much or how little, is dependent on how Jones performs in training camp.

Tinker has waited his turn, and even waited all the way to the next to last game of the season against Rutgers. After catching his first pass of the season earlier on a drive, Tinker caught the first touchdown of his career, in a dominant 24-6 win over Rutgers.

Tinker has worked hard to earn a spot in the rotation, but even he knows despite being a senior, a starting job won't just be handed to him.

Weatherspoon, out of the three, gained the most from the spring. He showed that, catching 11 passes for 151 yards in the spring game. Of the three, Weatherspoon has the least amount of experience. He has played primarily on special teams, not seeing any time at receiver. However, of the three, he saw the most action in the spring game, making it count.

One other player to keep an eye on, from the returning players is redshirt freshman Chris Wuestner. Wuestner opened some eyes from observers last year when he stepped in for injured players during training cam last year. When camp wrapped up, he earned a scholarship. The coaching staff seems to like him a lot, but what will it take to surpass some of the other upperclassmen. Brett Zuck, a junior redshirt, saw significant time in the spring. Junior Brandon Ifill, who battled injuries last year, will also battle for a spot on the depth chart.

Then, there is heralded freshman Tyler Boyd. Expectations are high on Boyd, high enough that he is expected to see the field this year. While there are a lot of bodies in contention to start opposite of Street, this is a year where there is a need for some type of playmaker on offense. In other words, if Boyd can come in, learn the offense and make plays, the coaches will have a tough decision to make in whether Boyd sees the field or not.

Maybe a bigger question is how Boyd will get his reps, surrounded by a few players that are among the hardest workers on the team, regardless of position. And if he does get that opportunity--how much will he shine?

The position also adds freshmen Zach Challingsworth, Reggie Green and Jester Weah.

A starting receiver opposite of Street might not be that much of a concern, strictly based on the number of tight ends this team will use. They suffered the loss of Hubie Graham to graduation--a player who battled injuries all year last year, but still a loss. Drew Carswell, even though he was inconsistent last year, still was a regular part of the rotation. He was dismissed from the team after being detained in an off-campus drug bust. Charges were later dropped.

J.P. Holtz was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2012. One of three true freshmen to see the field, Holtz caught 13 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns.

Manasseh Garner will play in the mix, heavily. He transferred in from Wisconsin a year ago, and should be ready to make an impact. Expect to see a lot of him and Holtz early on. Both players can do a lot of different things. Holtz blocker be even more comfortable as a blocker in his second year, one of the things more challenging to him as a freshman. Garner is a very athletic player, playing in 20 career games at Wisconsin. He's athletic enough to play receiver, big enough to be a tight end.

True freshman Scott Orndoff should be in the mix, as well. This offense can see as many as four tight ends. Orndoff enrolled early to be able to play in the spring. Of the four early enrollees, Orndoff is in the best situation to see the field this year.

A fourth tight end--as crazy as that may sound--would be an added luxury. Tony Harper would be next in line. Being that the staff would like to see Harper get to a comfortable 235, we might be awhile from seeing him on the field this year. Instead, look for fullback Mark Giubilato to play more of a hybrid role this year.

The Panthers also add freshman Devon Edwards to the tight end position.

With Street back, and an influx of some younger players, the receivers should be in a good position, literally. There will be some good competition between Jones, Tinker and Weatherspoon. It's also an ideal spot to be in for three players who have waited their turn. From there, it's on them to earn the playing time. Having a heralded freshman such as Boyd looking over their shoulder should only motivate them more.

As for tight end, if those first three tight ends can develop, we could be getting a look at what the future of this program looks like--and how Pitt may develop its reputation for developing tight ends.

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