Young receivers among those looking to help fill production void left by Boyd

Pitt's most pressing need on offense is 2016 is at wide receiver and the Panthers will look for multiple players to step up in Tyler Boyd's absence.

When a star dies, a black hole forms in its place. The resulting formation possesses such powerful gravitational force that nothing can escape, while serving as a reminder of what once existed.

As Tyler Boyd leaves for the NFL, the Panthers must replace their most productive receiver in program history. Gone are Boyd's 254 receptions and 5,243 all-purpose yards. 

The vacuum in production created by the loss of a player who caught the football 91 times and ran it another 40 last season is the biggest concern for Pitt's offense in 2016. But the Panthers don't expect one player to fill that void single-handedly. 

They hope not to avoid consumption by the black hole at wide receiver left in Boyd's wake.

Tre Tipton, a sophomore out of Apollo-Ridge, says Pitt's receivers aim not to find one player to replace Boyd's production but for the group to become a formidable receiving corps.

"Everybody was looking at Tyler Boyd but our goal next year is you can’t guard any of us," Tipton said. "If you want to double team me, or Jester Weah or Quadree Henderson, it’s going to be tough for you because we have other people working inside the system.

"It’s not so much who’s the next Tyler Boyd or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s moreso who's going to be the best receiving corps and we feel like we are."

Tipton, Henderson and Weah are among others like Zach Challingsworth, Elijah Zeise and returning starter Dontez Ford vying to make more plays on the outside in 2016. 

Tipton calls himself one of the most "witty" players on the time and says he's improving his ability to read cornerbacks and safeties, which helps him as Tipton admits not one of the fastest guys in the group. He says he's more comfortable now in his second game and feels the game starting to slow down as his knowledge base expands.

"I like to call myself a chemist like I work in a lab or something like," Tipton said. "It feels like I sit there, I learn it, I learn it and then then make I try to make it my own."

Narduzzi already expects Tipton to impress those in attendance at next month's Blue-Gold Spring Game but first wants to see the redshirt freshman make it every single one of the 14 practices leading up to that day. If that happens it will mean that Tipton, who played in the first four games of 2015 but missed the rest because of a knee injury, will have become tougher mentally and physically. Narduzzi thinks that will set him up for a big season.

"He’s explosive," Narduzzi said, "he’s got great hands, he runs great routes, he can get off the press. He’s a great football player and he needs to show it on the field."

Henderson, who most remember from his 99-yard kick return for a touchdown in the Military Bowl, is Tipton's roommate and the two are pushing each other to be a part of Pitt's solution at wideout this fall. 

"We had a big receiver leave in Tyler Boyd," Henderson said. "I feel like all the receiver corps, we can all make plays and won't miss a step when somebody goes down."

The sophomore flashed his playmaking ability on special teams last season as he returned 18 kicks for 504 yards, good for an average of 28 yards per return. Otherwise, he received only three touches on offense.

Henderson says he's been working at the flanker spot on the outside. The sophomore, listed as at 5-foot-8, has a build that would seem well-suited to operate over the middle as a slot receiver but is confident he can play on the outside or over the middle. 

"I feel like it's kind of both," Henderson said of where he fits best. "It's all kind of conceptual, the way you work the [line]backer and work the corner."

His roommate is a little less modest, as Tipton thinks a lot more is in store for Henderson this season.

"Everybody knows what Quadree can do from last year," Tipton said. "I don't feel like they're ready for what he's about to do this year, along with other people. It's going to be interesting." 

Most interesting will be how the Panthers divvy up reps at receiver and, later, to who the ball is throw the most. There will be a lot of opportunity after Boyd was targeted on over 41 percent of Pitt's play last season.

"He worked for those because he knew that, once he got the ball in his hands, he’d do something with it or he’d catch it," Narduzzi said. "Guys have to prove that they want the ball and should get the ball."

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada echoed that sentiment. Just because there are more touches to go around doesn't mean they'll be distributed without careful consideration.

"It’s a bottom-line business," Canada said. "If you make plays, you make them. You don’t get second chances. There’s no calling a timeout and saying 'run that one again.'”

Narduzzi doesn't seem to consider the overall depth at receiver to be much of an issue but he still wants to see what happens once the Panthers strap the pads on, starting Saturday.

"In shorts, receivers catch the ball really well," Narduzzi said. "I think the big time is when they’re going to get hit, whether they’re going to get hit immediately or later. Once the pads go on, you can really tell who can play."

While Boyd is no longer on the roster, his presence still felt with the message he gave the receivers as Boyd heads to the professional ranks.

"Everybody knows Tyler is a hard worker but he’s also the best competitor I’ve ever met," Tipton said. "So he tells us to go out there and compete, and not only compete but win.

"That’s the game plan. We can’t let him down."

-- Tyler Boyd worked out for and met with the Carolina Panthers this morning, according to Narduzzi who thought Boyd had a great pro day. After pointing out he doesn't watch ESPN or the Combine, Narduzzi went out of his way to note Boyd put on eight pounds before the Combine at a time when most are dropping weight. The implication being that extra weight slowed him down and contributed to Boyd's 4.58-second 40-yard dash time at the Combine.

"I think he made some money yesterday by going out there and running the 40 which is all that he really had to do," Narduzzi said. "And then when you watch his ball skills and him work out, he’s special catching the ball. You hardly hear the ball hit his hands."

Narduzzi sad he thought everyone that participated Wednesday did a great job, from Nicholas Grigsby to long-snapper David Murphy.

"There's a lot of guys that will find their way into camp," Narduzzi said. "Now how long do they make it, do they get drafted? I don't know. ... It was a great day for our kids, I was proud of the way they worked out there." 

-- Defensive linemen Tyrique Jarrett and Allen Edwards have been held out of the first two practices but Narduzzi expects to have them both available during the spring. Narduzzi joked Jarrett hurt himself at a pool on spring break before saying the big tackle is dealing with a nagging toe injury.

"He made every fourth quarter [workout] and then during spring break he came in and sprained his toe somehow," Narduzzi said. "He's okay, he's fine. He probably could've gone today but that's a lot of weight on that toe." 

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