Although Greg Lee was the Panthers leading receiver with 49 receptions for 962 yards last season, he often frustrated the coaching staff and fans with is inconsistency. The greatest example of Lee's maddening inconsistency occurred during the Panthers grudge match against Louisville. Greg dropped a number of key passes that would have kept the Panthers in the game and provided them a chance for an upset victory. Tyler Palko was criticized for his famous expletive after the Panthers victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the 2004 campaign. Few fans would have criticized him for an expletive filled tirade after the Louisville game.
The Panthers signed a ridiculous amount of talent at wide receiver and tight end in the highly touted recruiting class of 2006. Coach Wannstedt and staff will anxiously be awaiting the arrival of Dorin Dickerson (6-foot-2 inches, 205 pounds) from West Allegheny High School in Imperial, PA, Elijah Fields (6-foot-2 inches, 200 pounds) from Duquesne High School in Duquesne, PA, Aaron Smith (6-foot, 185 pounds) from Gateway High School in Monroeville, PA, Tamarcus Porter (6-foot-1 inches, 175 pounds) from Pahokee High School in Pahokee, FL and Nate Byham (6-foot-4 inches, 230 pounds) from Franklin Area High School in Franklin, PA. Scout.com ranked Dickerson, Byham and Fields amongst the top 100 players in the nation. Fields and Porter are capable of making an impact on defense. Their specific positions have yet to be determined.
Lee's departure opens the door for junior Derek Kinder (6-foot-1 inches, 200 pounds) to be become the Panthers definitive leader of the wide receiver corps. Kinder was the Panthers second leading receiver with 37 receptions for 374 yards. Coach Wannstedt decided to usurp senior Joe Del Sardo (5-foot-8 inches, 190 pounds) from the starting lineup after he struggled to separate from defenders during the Panthers horrific loss to Ohio University. Kinder was inserted into the lineup and never looked back.
Del Sardo caught 15 passes for 156 yards last season. His playing time was limited throughout the season. Joe has a stellar work ethic and he's highly competitive. Look for him to attempt to re-establish his reputation as a go-to receiver.
With the influx of talented freshmen, junior Kelvin Chandler (6-foot-2 inches, 185 pounds), sophomore Marcel Pestano (6-foot-1 inches, 190 pounds), redshirt freshman Cedric McGee (6-foot-1 inches, 190 pounds) and Oderick Turner (6-foot-2 inches, 200 pounds) will have work diligently to impress wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill. Chandler has been cursed with dropped balls and inconsistent route running. His playing time has been limited. Pestano caught 9 passes for 5 yards last season. Despite his meager production, the coaching staff is enamored with his blazing speed.
Turner, son of former New Yew Giant and San Fransisco 49ers receiver Odessa Turner, highly impressed the coaching staff last season on the scout team. He responded well to the conditioning program and packed his 6-foot-2 inch frame with quality muscle. Oderick enters the spring with high expectations. Cedric "C.T.O." McGee was slowed by injuries last season. Pitt tight end Darrell nicknamed McGee "C.T.O." in high school. C.T.O. stands for "Coolest Thing Out there". He was known as a big play specialist in high school. Cedric has fully recovered from injury and should be ready to impress. A humorous and outspoken young man, reporters will flock him for quotes early and often.
Tight end Erik Gill finished the 2005 season as the Panthers third leading receiver with 21 receptions for 224 yards. Senior Steve Buches (6-foot-4 inches, 250 pounds) wasn't far behind Gill with 10 receptions for 168 yards. Buches, a strong blocker and receiver, appears to be the player to fill Gill's starting position at tight end. Pushing him for the position will be ultra talented Darrell Strong (6-foot-5 inches, 260 pounds). Strong may be the greatest enigma on the football team. He already has an NFL caliber physique and athleticism. Strong could develop into the bane of every defensive coordinator's existence. He simply has not lived up to his ample potential. This spring could be a "make or break" scenario for him. Nate Byham, Scout.com's top ranked tight end in the nation, will join the team in the summer. If Strong continues to wallow in mediocrity, he could see his playing time diminish.
Sophomore tight end John Pelusi (6-foot-3 inches, 240 pounds) was simply too good to keep off the field last season. Recent reports stated that he torn his ACL and appears destined for a reshirt this season. The PantherDigest.com will look further into the injury and report any updates as they arrive.