2004 Pitt Panther Position Analysis & Grading

Here is my position analysis of this year's Pittsburgh Panthers. The grading was performed by comparing Pitt's players to those of their opponents, with extra emphasis on conference foes. I omitted Ohio U. and Furman from the comparisons, since these appear to be certain wins. Unless there is a likelihood that a redshirt or true freshman will have a significant impact, they were omitted from the analysis.

OFFENSIVE LINE
The Panthers offensive line is a major question mark. Two starters return from last year, and both senior LT Rob Petitti and sophomore guard John Simonitis are assured of starting berths. At center, senior Justin Belarski has won the battle with redshirt freshman Chris Vangas. At RT, redshirt freshman Mike McGlynn and junior Dale Williams are still contesting the starting assignment. The other guard position is wide open. Converted DT Charles Spencer, a junior, is in a three-way battle with senior Rob Frederick and junior Matt Maiers. Frederick suffered a foot injury in camp and will miss some time at the start of the season. Others with a chance to crack the two-deep include junior Kevin Harris, sophomore Eric Fritz, and redshirt freshmen Mike DeLuca and Neal Tracey. Overall, this is a group with some potential, but lacking in experience and depth. Grade: C-

Big East's Best:

1. West Virginia – Returns all five starters including senior LG Jeff Berk and sophomore RG Dan Mozes.
In addition, senior OT Tim Brown, who missed last year with an injury, returns to add depth.

2. UConn – Four starters return from a group that allowed just ten sacks. Senior LT Ryan Krug stands out.

3. Boston College – Eagles always seem to put together a talented OL, though there will be no senior starters.

Out of Conference:

1. Nebraska – Huskers OL will need to make the adjustment to a West Coast offense, but return two seniors and two juniors. Four of the starters top 300 lbs., led by All-America candidate junior center Richie Incognito.


TIGHT END
Pitt lost the talented Chris Wilson to graduation. Wilson was a better receiver than blocker, but what made him so valuable was his ability to run deep patterns to stretch opposing defenses. Junior Eric Gill should get the starting nod. He's a solid blocker, but lacks Wilson's speed and receiving ability. Sophomore Steve Buches should win the back-up job. He's not as strong a blocker as Gill, but has more potential as a receiver. Sophomore Vernon Botts had to be moved from DE due to the lack of depth here. True freshman Darrell Strong, a former QB, has the physical tools to be standout TE but may need a redshirt year. Grade: C+

Big East's Best:

1. Boston College - Senior Dave Kashetta is the best of an average group in the conference. Junior Justin Hinds is a solid blocker.

2. West Virginia - Senior Ryan Thomas and junior Josh Bailey are a decent pair.

Out of Conference:

1. Nebraska – 6'5" junior Matt Herion is a legitimate All-America candidate.


WIDE RECEIVER
What appeared to be a solid group quickly has become a concern. Talented sophomore Terrell Allen is out for the year with a wrist injury. Senior Princell Brockenbrough, who started opposite All-American Larry Fitzgerald last year, may also be lost for the season after recently undergoing his 3rd knee operation. Sophomore Greg Lee didn't get on the field until the middle of last season. However, he quickly became the #3 WR and flashed a great deal of ability. The other starting job is wide open. The contenders appear to be junior Joe Stephens, JUCO transfer Derek Gaffney, and sophomore walk-on JoeDelSardo. With the injuries to Allen and Brockenbrough, look for one or two true freshmen to see playing time. The candidates are Andre Broussard, Kelvin Chandler, Derek Kinder, Marcel Pestano, and Alan Richardson who was just moved to WR from CB. Grade: C

The Big East's Best:

1. Boston College – Seniors Grant Adams and Joel Hazard are a talented duo. Junior Larry Lester, a 5'7" converted CB, showed flashes in the 2nd half of last season. Sophomore Jason Lilly is big and fast.

2. West Virginia – 6'5" junior Chris Henry is an All-America candidate. There is a substantial drop-off after Henry, though. Senior Miquelle Henderson has the inside track to start opposite Henry.

Out of Conference:

1. Nebraska – Sophomore Isaiah Fluellen and junior Ross Pilkington should love the new West Coast offense.


RUNNING BACK
An already thin position took a further hit when junior Jawan Walker was lost due to academic difficulties. The starting job is up for grabs between juniors Ray Kirkley and Tim Murphy. Kirkley missed last season with injuries and the Panthers are hoping he finally fulfills the promise he displayed as a true freshman in 2001. Murphy was the 2nd team fullback last season, though he has some experience at RB. If he can manage to stay healthy, junior Marcus Furman provides speed and pass catching ability. The other fullback candidates have little or no experience. They include senior Justin Acierno, senior Kellen Campbell, redshirt freshman Mark Yezovich, and true freshman Tyler Tipton. Grade: C-

The Big East's Best:

1. West Virginia – Senior Kay-Jay Harris is a big powerful back who finally gets his chance to start. Sophomore Jason Colson is a capable reserve. Senior Hikee Johnson is solid at FB.

2. Syracuse – Senior Walter Reyes is an All-America candidate. His back-up, junior Damien Rhodes, is more than capable. Senior FB Greg Hanoian is a tough blocker.

3. Rutgers – Sophomore Justice Hairston scored 8 TDs and gained 550 yards last season before an injury suffered against Pitt ended his season. Fellow sophomore Brian Leonard impressed last season at FB and then replaced Hairston at RB. He gained 880 yards and also caught 53 passes. There are several experienced reserve RBs including Clarence Pittman and Marcus Facyson.

Out of Conference:

1. Notre Dame – Senior Ryan Grant takes over at RB, with promising sophomore Travis Thomas in reserve. Seniors Josh Schmidt and Rashon Powers-Neal will battle for the starting FB position.


QUARTERBACK
The Panthers enter the season with one of the most inexperienced QB groups in D1A. Head coach Walt Harris finally named redshirt sophomore Tyler Palko as the starter. Fellow redshirt sophomore Luke Getsy will be the top reserve, unless he decides to transfer after losing out to Palko. Neither Palko nor Getsy received much playing time behind the departed Rod Rutherford during their non-redshirt seasons. Redshirt freshman Joe Flacco is the only other scholarship QB on the team. Grade: Incomplete

Big East's Best:

1. UConn – Senior Dan Orlovsky threw for 3,485 yards and 33 TDs last year. He's a potential 1st round choice in the 2005 N.F.L. draft. Sophomore Matt Bonislawski is the back-up.

2. West Virginia – Senior Rasheed Marshall has made great strides during the past three years. Fellow senior Charles Hales is an experienced reserve.

3. Boston College – Senior Paul Peterson took over the starting job during last season from Quinton Porter. Porter, also a senior, returns. Head coach Tom O'Brien could decide to redshirt the loser of the battle for the starting job.

Out of Conference:

1. Notre Dame – Sophomore Brady Quinn took over the starting job several games into last season. Quinn struggled at first but displayed good potential. Senior Pat Dillingham is an experienced back-up.


DEFENSIVE LINE
Three starters return from a unit that struggled most of last season. Junior Thomas Smith is a returning starter at DE. Smith has shown flashes of ability during his career, but has been too inconsistent. He also must overcome minor knee surgery performed just before fall camp. The other starter at DE will be sophomore Azzie Beagnyam. Though undersized, he possesses excellent speed and has a high motor. There is not much depth behind Smith and Beagnyam. Senior Keith Hill is the top reserve. Sophomores Charles Sallett and Kyle Smith lack size and experience, though Sallett has great potential as a pass rusher. The picture at DT is somewhat brighter. Seniors Dan Stephens and Vince Crochunis have two seasons of starting experience. Depth is provided by senior Jake Holthaus, JUCO transfer Phil Tillman, sophomore Andy Alleman, and redshirt freshman Michael Hearn. Alleman or Hearn could be moved to DE to shore up that position. Grade: C+

Big East's Best:

1. Boston College – Junior DE Mathias Kiwanuka was an All-Big East pick last season. Phil Mettling, a senior, is solid at the other DE spot. The DT corps is not as strong. The starters should be senior Tim Bulman and sophomore Justin Bell. Depth is a concern.

2. West Virginia – All three starters return; senior NT Ben Lynch, and junior Ernest Hunter and senior Jason Hardee at DE. Depth is a concern for the Mountaineers as well.

Out of Conference:

1. Notre Dame – Senior Justin Tuck and sophomore Victor Abiamiri are a very talented pair of DEs. Senior DTs Kyle Budinscak and Greg Pauly are strong run defenders. There is plenty of experienced depth at all positions.


LINEBACKER
The Panthers were forced to play a number of youngsters at LB last season, and they're hoping that the experience pays off this season. Sophomore Clint Session takes over at MLB. He learned the ropes playing behind the departed Lewis Moore last year. Session is a big hitter who needs to improve his play recognition and pass coverage. His back-up will likely be redshirt freshman Chris McKillop. The starters at the other two spots are still in doubt. Sophomore Brian Bennett, last year's starter, is being challenged by fellow sophomore H.B. Blades. Senior Malcolm Postell and junior J.J. Horne are dueling for the other OLB job. Redshirt freshmen Derron Thomas and Joe Clermond will battle for playing time. Grade: B-

Big East's Best:

1. West Virginia – Two solid senior starters return - MLB Adam Lehnortt and OLB Scott Gyorko. The other starting OLB job should go to sophomore Kevin McLee. Depth is a concern.

2. Syracuse – Both starting OLBs, sophomore Kelvin Smith and junior Kellen Pruitt, are on the pre-season Butkus Award list. Sophomore Jerry Mackey takes over at MLB. Depth is a concern here also.

3. UConn – All three starters return – senior MLB Alfred Fincher, senior OLB Maurice Lloyd, and junior OLB James Hargrave. Huskies have some quality depth with senior Kinnan Herriott and junior Taurien Sowell.

Out of Conference:

1. Notre Dame – Senior MLB Mike Goolsby returns after missing last season with an injury. He'll be joined in the starting lineup by fellow seniors Derek Curry and Brandon Hoyte. The Irish have good depth.

2. Nebraska – Senior MLB Barrett Ruud is an All-America candidate. The starting OLBs should be senior Chad Sievers and sophomore Stewart Bradley. Depth is a major concern.


SECONDARY
The Panthers must replace last year's starting CBs, Shawnte Spencer and TuTu Ferguson. Junior Josh Lay, who opened last year as a starter before being replaced by Ferguson, is being seriously challenged by a number of talented freshmen including Mike Phillips, Darrelle Revis, and Kennard Cox. Lay also must recover from a hamstring injury suffered in camp. Competition for the other starting job is also wide open. Sophomore Reggie Carter was a back-up last year, but he'll be pushed by the aforementioned redshirt and true freshmen. Both starters return at safety, senior SS Ty Gilliard and junior FS Tez Morris. Neither was especially effective last season and they will be pushed by some talented underclassmen. Sophomore Sam Bryant backed up Gilliard last year, while several redshirt and true freshmen will compete for playing time at free safety. The top candidates look to be redshirt freshmen Eric Thatcher and Jameel Brady. Grade: C

Big East's Best:

1. West Virginia – The Mountaineers' five man secondary is led by junior CB Adam "PacMan" Jones and fellow junior SS Mike Lorello. Junior FS Jahmile Addae is back from an injury that cost him all of last season. Junior Anthony Mims should win the other CB spot, while senior Lawrence Audena will man the Rover position. WVU has good depth in the secondary, with redshirt FS Vince Beamer a star in the making.

2. Boston College – Junior CB Will Blackmon and senior FS T.J. Stancil are both top performers. Senior Peter Shean will likely win the other CB spot while junior Jazzmen Williams and sophomore Ryan Glasper will battle for the SS job. Depth at the other positions is a significant concern.

Out of Conference:

1. Nebraska – Junior FS Josh Bullocks was 2nd in D1 in interceptions last season. His twin brother Daniel lines up next to him at SS. Junior CB Fabien Washington is the top CB. The other starting CB looks to be senior Lornell McPherson. There is a major lack of depth and experience behind the starters.


SPECIAL TEAMS
Pitt's Special Teams will undergo a near complete turnover. Last season's All Big East punter, Andy Lee, is now kicking for the 49ers. Junior placekicker David Abdul will miss the season with leg injuries suffered in an off-season car accident. Lee's replacement will be sophomore Adam Graessle, who handled the kickoffs last year. The new kicker will either be senior J.B. Gibboney or JUCO transfer Conor Lee. There will be new faces on the kickoff and punt return teams as well. Terrell Allen, who showed great promise returning kickoffs last season as a true freshman, is out for the season with a wrist injury. TuTu Ferguson graduated. If healthy, junior Marcus Furman should man one of the kickoff return spots and also handle punt returns. The other kickoff return spot will likely go to one of the Panthers' redshirt or true freshman DBs. A new long snapper must be found. Grade: Incomplete

Big East's Best:

1. Syracuse – Senior PK Colin Barber and sophomore punter Brendan Carney both earned 2nd Team All-league honors last season. The Orangemen's Special Teams also accounted for four TDs and blocked five kicks last season.

2. West Virginia – Senior Brad Cooper returns as the Mountaineers' kicker. He lacks great range, but is very accurate. Sophomore Eric Daugherty and junior Phil Brady will battle for the punting job. Junior CB Adam "PacMan" Jones does an excellent job returning both punts and kickoffs.

Out of Conference:

1. Nebraska – The best of a rather ordinary group.


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