Panther head coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh bring a different offensive philosophy to the program, smash mouth football. "To win, we must be able to run the football," Wannstedt explained to the media upon taking the position. "We're going to run first, setting up the pass."
Questions abound. Do the Panthers have a "feature back" on the roster? What if the talent level and depth on the offensive line are again exposed? To the contrary of Wannstedt's wants and wishes, as most observers know, the strength of the Panthers offense is the passing game. Enter Tyler Palko and a trio of battle-tested, veteran pass catchers.
Greg Lee (Jr.): Lee, who will be a junior in 2005, burst onto the scene last season. A dangerous deep threat and physically imposing (standing 6-2 and weighing 200 pounds), he has the ability to power through jams at the line or blow past defenders with his 4.4 (forty-yard dash) speed.
Lee is receiving the type of attention that's only given to the nations elite prospects. He's listed on nearly every 2005 preseason All American list in the country, and is even being touted by one service as the best receiver in college football.
Although Greg Lee has tremendous ability, he had moments during the 2004 season where he'd seem to disappear. He'll need to stay focused throughout the entire game, improve on his route running and display better concentration in order to become the third Pitt receiver in six years to capture the prestigious Biletnikoff award, not to mention lofty first round NFL draft status.
Joe DelSardo (*Jr.): If size and speed were the only factors taken into account when choosing the starter opposite Lee, former walk-on Joe DelSardo might not even appear on the depth chart. Sure the Panthers have better athletes than DelSardo, who worked his way up the depth charts with heady and consistent play in 2004, but finding a guy with the intangibles of DelSardo is not an easy task. Cerebral players that run crisp routes and catch almost everything thrown their way are in high demand. During the Fiesta bowl against Utah, DelSardo was at his finest, catching a career high nine passes for 109 yards. On the season DelSardo caught 49 passes for 573 yards and four touchdowns.
Erik Gill (Sr.): A major surprise in 2004 was junior Erik Gill. The Pitt tight end had a break out season, of sorts, in 2004. Primarily known for his excellent blocking skills, Gill emerged as a top receiving threat in the Pitt passing game. He finished his pleasantly surprising season with 25 receptions for 433 yards (including an 80-yard score at South Florida), four touchdowns and a quite impressive 17.3 average per catch. Gill, a senior and huge target in the red zone, will look to take the pressure off Greg Lee by getting behind the linebackers and opening up the middle of the field for the passing game.
Derek Kinder (So.): Kinder was said to be making good progress in spring camp. The primary backup to sensation Greg Lee, Pitt will need Kinder to step up his play and seize every opportunity for playing time.
Kinder caught only one pass in 2004, his first college touchdown.
Marcel Pestano (*Fr.): During his redshirt of 2004 Marcel Pestano made a vow to be ready when the 2005 season opened. He added twenty pounds of muscle during the off season, studied the playbook religiously. He's the frontrunner to take over for the slow-footed Joe DelSardo at flanker.
Terrell Allen (*So.): The redshirt sophomore was initially brought to Pitt with the idea of adding speed to the receiving corps. In 2003, Terrell Allen evolved into a promising return man, gaining 591 yards on 25 returns. He also rushed four times for 36 yards. During spring drills in 2004 he suffered a season ending wrist injury which required surgery to repair a torn ligament and received a medical redshirt.
Allen Richardson (So.): Richardson is listed as a wide receiver who excels as a return man. As a true freshman in 2004, Richardson didn't have any receptions but did return 30 punts, with a not-so-impressive 3.6 average. Look for Richardson to maintain his role on special teams.
Kelvin Chandler (So.): Chandler has the build of a young Greg Lee. He combines speed, hands and athleticism of a top receiver. At 6-2/180 and 4.45 he will battle for the right to back up incumbent Greg Lee at split-end in 2005. Chandler caught four passes for 47 yards (11.8 avg.) in 2004, his true freshman season.
Larry Moore (*Jr.): The converted corner back will provide depth at the flanker position.
Darrell Strong (So.): Is Strong a natural for the TE position? He was recruited to Pitt by former coach Walt Harris under the pretense he'd be given every opportunity to play quarterback but quickly found out the fastest way to playing time was not under center. Strong played in all eleven games for the Panthers in 2004, catching four passes for 58 yards.
Strong, who is 6-5/245 possesses 4.55 speed, has excellent leaping ability, and is very athletic for his size. Once the coaching staff realizes how to best use his talents these attributes will create nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. This converted tight end could become a future star.
Oderick Turner: Turner, a former high jump champion in high school, is the son of former NFL standout receiver Odessa Turner. He will have a very good chance at early playing time. A three-year starter on both sides of the ball for Teaneck High School, Turner helped lead his team to three consecutive state playoff berths. During his senior season had 37 receptions for 785 yards (21.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Turner compiled over 1,600 yards receiving during his senior and junior seasons to twice earn unanimous first team All-North New Jersey Interscholastic League.
John Pelusi: A legacy recruit for the Panthers. Pelusi is the son of former Pitt center John Pelusi. He exhibits good size, speed, and strength. A tight-end prospect who excelled at blocking and pass catching at nearby Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Pelusi was a three-year starter at tight end and defensive end for the Vikings. Pelusi had 15 receptions for 254 yards (16.9 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Defensively had 72 tackles and three quarterback sacks in helping lead Central Catholic to a 16-0 mark and the WPIAL and PIAA Class AAAA championships as a senior. Named to The Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AAAA All-State Team (first team).
Rob Agnone: A converted highschool quarterback, Agnone adds nice size and athletic ability to the Panthers depth at tight-end.
With a new run oriented offense, the Panther passing game will be hard pressed to duplicate it's success of 2004. Though Pitt is capable of producing big numbers through the air, coach Wannstedt will pull the reins of the former pass happy offense in order to establish the run. Why harness a thoroughbred? To establish a new identity.
An injury to Lee or DelSardo would be set this team back tremendously. Unfortunately for the coaching staff, there's no viable option at backup receiver. Wannstedt has made several positions available but the rotation behind the three starters has yet to play out. "We need the young guys to step up." None of which, to the dismay of coach Wannstedt, seems ready to do just that.
What Pitt lacks in experience at wide-out, they make up for with good depth at the tight end position. To best take advantage of this depth, look for offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh to run a variety of two tight end sets.
Wide Receiver-U? The debate rolls on.