Looking at Pitt’s initial depth chart for the opener.
Max Browne 6’5” 230 Senior
Ben DiNucci 6’2” 220 Sophomore
It was announced last week that Max Browne was officially named the starter for the season opener, but I think most of us knew that was the likely outcome the second he transferred from USC. Browne’s story is well known by now, he is a former five star quarterback that never really found his footing for the Trojans. He comes to Pitt with one year to leave his mark. The talent and pedigree are there, he just needs to prove it on the field. Browne started some games for the Trojans last year, including one against Alabama, so he is not totally inexperienced.
DiNucci contended Browne throughout the Spring and recently Fall camp, but will enter the season as the backup. His only game experience came in the bowl game last season. He looked OK in the Spring game, and should be a solid backup this season.
Qadree Ollison 6’2” 230 Junior
Darrin Hall 5’11” 220 Junior
Pitt only lists two backs on their initial depth chart, but that does not mean only two will play. We’ll start with the guys that are listed. Qadree Ollison is by far Pitt’s most experienced back, as he was the primary starter in 2015 and produced a 1,000 yard season. He also carried the ball 33 times last season for 127 yards and two scores. He obviously lost a lot of playing time with James Conner’s return. He will get the first crack as being the top back this year, but he will be pushed.
Also back for his junior season is Darrin Hall. Hall carried the ball 36 times last season, as opposed to 64 times as a freshman. He has 417 career rushing yards and two touchdowns. He too was affected by James Conner’s return and it limited his playing time. He has more speed than Ollison, and can add a different element.
Not listed is sophomore Chawtez Moss. He had more yards and carries than both Ollison and Hall last year, and flashed some skill as a freshman. He should push for playing time. Also looking for carries will be two highly touted freshmen, Todd Sibley and AJ Davis. It will be interesting to see if one or both guys can play this season.
Colton Lively 6’0” 235 Senior
Erik Sellers 6’1” 230 Sophomore
Truthfully, I was not sure Pitt would even list a Fullback without the services of George Aston. He is injured for an undisclosed amount of time, but is expected back at some point this season. Obviously Aston was a good and versatile player for Pitt last season. It’s hard to say if Colton Lively and Erik Sellers can play the way Aston does. I expect Pitt to use multiple tight ends and three wide receivers quite a bit, but if they list a fullback, my guess they play to use one. We’ll see how the replacements handle the added responsibility.
Pitt returns both starters at wide receiver. Jester Weah is back after a breakout campaign in 2016. Weah caught 36 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 24.2 yards per cage was the second best average natioanlly, and he should prove to be one of the best deep threats in college football once again. Pitt will also look to get more ways to get Quadree Henderson the ball. The reverses and sweeps maybe watched closer by opposing defenses, so the hope is that he developed more as a pass catcher for this season.
The depth took a blow when Pitt lost Tre Tipton for the year, but they have some guys with experience behind the starters. Maurice Ffrench appears like he could be the #3 option. He played some as a true freshman, but was used in the jet sweep role, but like Henderson, can be electric with the ball in his hands. Aaron Mathews and Rafael Araujo-Lopes played some throughout the season, Mathews broke through in the bowl game and made a few big plays. The wild card here could be redshirt freshman, Ruben Flowers III. He is a former four-star recruit, and could be a candidate to breakout this season.
Matt Flanagan 6’6” 260 Senior
Chris Clark 6’6” 260 Sophomore
Devon Edwards 6’4” 275 Senior
Matt Flanagan came to Pitt in the offseason as a graduate transfer from Rutgers. He had 17 career starts for the Scarlet Knights, and is the most experienced tight end on the roster. He was not much of a pass catching threat for Rutgers, but he played and was relied on as a blocker.
Chris Clark was the favorite to be Pitt’s starting tight end, and that may very well happen still. Clark was at one time the top ranked tight end recruit in the country and had an offer from just about every big time school. The talent is there, and he will play a considerable amount this season and could overtake the starting job at any point. Devon Edwards will provide depth as an extra blocker most likely. Not listed here are the three true freshmen tight ends on the roster, but one of them could push for playing time, most notably former four-star Charles Reeves.
Brian O’Neill 6’6” 305 Junior
Tony Pilato 6’5” 320 Sophomore
Alex Officer 6’4” 340 Senior
Brandon Ford 6’5” 310 Freshman
Jimmy Morrissey 6’3” 300 Freshman
Connor Dintino 6’3” 315 Junior
Brandon Hodges 6’4” 315 Senior
Mike Herndon 6’4” 310 Junior
Jaryd Jones-Smith 6’7” 320 Senior
Jerry Drake 6’5” 315 Freshman
Despite losing two seniors that were NFL draft picks in the Spring, the offensive line could be a strength once again. Pitt will be without the services of Alex Bookser this week, who is serving a one game suspension. Still, they should be strong enough without him to face the Penguins.
The anchor of the line will be junior Brian O’Neill, who is shifting from right tackle to the left side. O’Neill is one of the better tackles in the country, and a strong junior season could thrust him into the NFL draft conversation. Also on the left side will be senior, Alex Officer, who has started the past 34 games on the line.
Some new faces will fill out the remainder of the line. Jaryd Jones-Smith was a key player for Pitt in 2014, but was lost to injury in 2015 and returned to play some last year. Obviously he is a massive player and many thought he had pro potential during the 2014 season, and he will look to regain that form. Joining Jones-Smith on the right side will be a graduate transfer from Texas, Brandon Hodges. He started 9 games for the Longhorns last season.
In a competitive battle for the starting center spot, former walk-on Jimmy Morrissey beat out junior Connor Dintino to be the starter. This spot will be interesting once Bookser returns, because Officer could assume the center duties.
Dewayne Hendrix 6’4” 260 Junior OR Rashad Weaver 6’5” 265 Freshman // Allen Edwards 6’5” 255 Senior
James Folston Jr. 6’4” 250 Junior
Patrick Jones II 6’5” 245 Freshman
Pitt will again turn to Dewayne Hendrix to be a starting defensive end, just like last season’s opener. Hendrix was not able to show much after getting injured and missing the whole season. He is a former four-star with loads of potential and many are hoping he can offset the loss of Ejuan Price. He is listed alongside Rashad Weaver as a co-starter. My guess is Hendrix is a bit banged up, and we’ll see quite a bit of Weaver on Saturday. Weaver is a redshirt freshman that looks like he can be something special if he can put it together. The other starter will be senior Allen Edwards. He started four games last season late in the year, and showed a lot of positive things. He will look to carry that over into his senior season.
James Folston Jr. has some experience and will be in the mix quite a bit. The final member listed is redshirt freshman, Patrick Jones II. Jones is physically impressive and has some potential, but still may be a year away from being a serious contributor.
Shane Roy 6’4” 280 Junior
Rashad Wheeler 6’3” 290 Freshman
Jaylen Twyman 6’2” 315 Freshman
Keyshon Camp 6’4” 290 Freshman
Amir Watts 6’3” 285 Sophomore
Kam Carter 6’4” 295 Sophomore
Since assuming the role as head coach, Pat Narduzzi has recruited a few areas better than others. Defensive Tackle is one of his stronger positions. Pitt list six players on the two-deep for the interior spots. While inexperienced, there is a lot of talent in this group, five of the six players are sophomores or younger. And four of the six were four star recruits. It may take time, but this could be a strong unit at some point this season.
Shane Roy provides experience and is a bit of a surprise as a starter. He has paid his dues and apparently impressed during camp to earn a starting job. Joining him as a starter is highly touted redshirt freshman, Keyson Camp. Two of the more intriguing backups are Amir Watts and Kam Carter. Watts played some as a true freshman, but an injury slowed him down some. Kam Carter started his collegiate career at Penn State, and after a stop in junior college is now with the Panthers. He is a talented player and has a chance to get some serious playing time this season.
Elijah Zeise 6’2” 230 Junior
Jalen Williams 6’2” 215 Junior
Saleem Brightwell 6’0” 220 Sophomore
Chase Pine 6’2” 240 Freshman
Seun Idowu 6’0” 225 Junior
Anthony McKee Jr. 6’2” 215 Sophomore
Rimoni Dorsey 6’0” 195 Sophomore
Seun Idowu started 12 games last season and had his ups and downs, but finished third on the team in tackles. He is a former walk-on, but should be expected to take a step forward this season. He is better than many expected him to be last season.
Saleem Brightwell assumes the middle linebacker role after spending most of the year as a backup. Brightwell however, is not inexperienced. He played in a lot of big games last season and had one of the plays of the year for a Pitt player by picking off a pass to keep Pitt alive in the Clemson game. He has very high expectations heading into his sophomore season.
The third starter will be junior Elijah Zeise. He actually beat out Idowu for a starting role last season, but was injured and missed the remainder of the season in the opener. He was initially a wide receiver, but transitioned to defense before last season.
The depth takes a hit while senior Quintin Wirginis serves his three game suspension, but sophomore Anthony McKee Jr. and freshman Chase Pine were at one time important recruits for Pitt, and could push for playing time on talent alone.
Avonte Maddox 5’9” 180 Senior // Dane Jackson 6’0” 180 Sophomore OR Damarri Mathis 5’11” 185 Freshman
Jason Pinnock 6’0” 190 Freshman
Malik Henderson 6’0” 190 Sophomore
Avonte Maddox will be Pitt’s top corner once again this season. The senior from Detroit has 28 career starts under his belt, along with 6 career interceptions. Overall, Pitt cornerbacks had a rough 2016, but Maddox showed some bright spots during the season and is a tested veteran.
Starting opposite of Maddox is still up in the air as it could be sophomore Dane Jackson or true freshman Damarri Mathis. Jackson started three games last season, and made some big plays, but like Pitt’s other corners had his struggles. Damarri Mathis was a nice recruiting win for Pitt as they flipped him away from South Carolina before signing day. Mathis has been getting rave reviews since he walked on campus, and perhaps he can live up to the hype.
The reserve corners beyond the top three are inexperienced as well. Jason Pinnock is another true freshman and is know to play a physical style, and has the body type to match it. He will likely play quite a bit this season. Malik Henderson played sparingly last season.
One notable name missing here is Therran Coleman. Many expected him to compete for a starting job this year, and maybe that can still happen, but it sounds like he may be a bit banged up and is slowly coming along.
I mentioned how defensive tackle has been recruited well by Narduzzi in his tenure, and I think Safety is another position where you could say this is true. I think there is a lot of talent here, and some of it is not listed. Jordan Whitehead will be back in a few weeks, and he is an elite level player. Sophomore Damar Hamlin is still dealing with an injury, but he could push for playing time, and of course Pitt’s top recruit from last year, Paris Ford, enrolled late but may be as talented as a player they have. OK now for the guys that are actually listed...
Dennis Briggs was named as a captain last week, as a junior, which speaks to how the team views him. He played mostly as a nickel last year, but looks like he will start, at least for the first three games. He had to fend off two talented redshirt freshmen, Phil Campbell and Henry Miller. Both of those players have a lot of promise for the future, and should see time Saturday.
The other spot seems to be an ongoing battle. Many thought Jazzee Stocker (He went by Jay last year) would be the presumptive starter, but redshirt freshman Bricen Garner has pushed him to a tie thus far, we’ll see both guys on Saturday.
Kicker - Alex Kessman 6’3” 190 Freshman
Punter - Ryan Winslow 6’6” 225 Senior
Long Snapper - Cal Adomitis 6’1” 210 Freshman
Alex Kessman assumes the kicking duties replacing four year starter Chris Blewitt. Ryan Winslow is back as the starter for the third straight season, while Cal Adomitis is a brand new starter at Long Snapper.
Kick Returner - Quadree Henderson // Maurice Ffrench
Punt Returner - Quadree Henderson // Avonte Maddox
Quadree Henderson is arguably the best return man in America, Pitt is in good hands here. Avonte Maddox has a few special teams touchdowns in his career as well.