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August 24, 2017

Receiving/Defending Depth Chart Bits

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 7:08 am

Two sides of the ball. The receiving corps and secondary. Both are anchored by a senior. Both are going to be heavily reliant on youth. Lots of questions.

First, a little on Pitt’s latest verbal since he happens to be a cornerback.

The Cardinal Gibbons three-star cornerback committed to Pittsburgh on Monday night after stating earlier in August he was favoring Wisconsin. Before the Badgers, Penn State appeared to be his favorite, and UCF was a trending pick leading up to Monday.

“[Pittsburgh] will be very happy,” [Marquis] Williams said. “I’m going to change college football.”

The 5-foot-8 speedster, who is ranked the 76th-best corner in the nation, according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings.

“They’re getting a really fast guy with a lot of speed,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Matt DuBuc said. “And a guy with ball skills because he can play receiver too, special teams guy. A guy that can do a multitude of things.”

Former FAU coach Charlie Partridge, now the defensive line coach with Pitt, played a major role in Williams’ recruitment late.

“Charlie Partridge did a great job recruiting him. We’re close with Charlie, and it ended up working out,” DuBuc said. “I think the ACC was better for him than the Big Ten.”

Williams clearly doesn’t lack for confidence.

Technically a 3-star recruit, he had an impressive offer sheet in addition to the schools listed above. Clemson, Louisville and Michigan State were other offerees.

Obviously at 5-8 (or at best 5-9) he is in the mold of Avonte Maddox as a corner. Talented, but size will be a concern. Especially in Pitt’s defensive scheme.

That’s part of why it will be something to watch the secondary this year with a lot more talent, but still very young. Maddox is one of the team leaders and happy to get on his teammates.

Pitt senior cornerback Avonte Maddox worked hard to reach this point in his career, so it’s only natural he has license to clean up or correct others’ mistakes.

Big ones and little ones.

It could be a young cornerback trying to learn nuances of the position without the quarterback chucking a touchdown pass over his head.

Pitt has reached the final third segment of spring practice, and Maddox has emerged as not just the best cornerback on the team, but someone for young players to follow.

Maddox has a chance to reach 50 career games this season. Pitt would need to win the ACC Coastal Division for that to happen, but the number of games is less important than what happens in the five months before the next one.

If Pitt’s secondary improves upon its shaky 2016 performance, Maddox’s leadership this spring, over the summer and during camp in August could be as critical as his athleticism.

“Sometimes, I get in their ears,” he said.

As it stands, the battle to be the #2 cornerback is with sophomore Dane Jackson — who was pressed into service last year as the injuries in the secondary mounted — and two freshmen: Damari Mathis and Jason Pinnock.

It’s been brutal for the WPIAL kids to stay in the secondary. Whitehead is suspended. Paris Ford (for now) is way behind the rest as he just got cleared academically a few days before camp has ended. Damar Hamlin’s name hasn’t been heard in the mix as his injuries from last season and then the spring seem to have lingered in somewhat worrisome way.

“I’ve seen a big smile on his face, so we’re just taking it easy, taking it slow, and don’t want to mess anything up,” Narduzzi said. “It was a very — I don’t want to say “serious” — deal that he had. We just don’t want to go backwards. We’re going forward right now, and that’s how we’ll progress.”

As to whether there’s any chance Hamlin might redshirt this year as a sophomore, if he isn’t healthy enough, Narduzzi paused for a beat and said, “I hope not; that’s not the plan.”

Any reluctance from Narduzzi might be noteworthy, given that he has been quick to rule out injury concerns earlier this month. Asked if any of his team’s current injuries are season-ending, he replied, “Heck no.” Asked if left tackle Brian O’Neill might be held out of the season opener, he replied, “No chance.”

Hamlin is now working and learning more at the safety position than cornerback, but either way, Pitt fans might have to keep waiting to see him on the field again.

Always fun to try and interpret what a coach actually means when he remains traditionally closed-mouthed about injuries, generally.

Over on the receiver side, Aaron Mathews had personal issues to resolve that kept him out of a bunch of early practices, but he still seems likely to be the #2 receiver with Jester Weah. Since returning, he was getting most of the reps with the first team, even if Coach Narduzzi downplays where he is at.

“He’s doing OK. Nothing special right now,” Narduzzi said. “I’d like to see more.”

Jester Weah, remains a great story about a kid with nothing really but great speed and athleticism, working hard to learn and get better. If he had transferred after his redshirt sophomore season, it would have been a blip at best. Most fans would have been relieved to see a scholarship freed up more then anything else. Now, he’s Pitt’s #1 receiver and one of the most dangerous downfield threats in the ACC. And, while not the loudest player in Pitt’s locker room, one of the team leaders.

“He’s maybe progressed more off the field than he has on the field,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We’ve been going through some leadership stuff at night in some of our team meetings, and he has done an unbelievable job.

“The other night, he mentioned to the team that, ‘I’ve come a long way off the field.’ When we first got here, he was probably one of the grumpiest, moodiest guys to coach. It’s like, ‘What happened to this guy?’ But now, he’s totally, totally different as far as his attitude off the field.”

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Ruben Flowers III doesn’t need his coach to tell him how valuable Weah is in the locker room.

“In the summer, I was always in Jester’s back pocket. Everywhere he goes, I was always asking him questions,” Flowers said. “Sometimes, I don’t go to coach (Kevin) Sherman first. I go to Jester because he has so much knowledge and so much to give.”

Ruben Flowers, after a redshirt season is in line to earn more playing time.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said he has been “blown away” by how much better Flowers has gotten since spring practices. Receivers coach Kevin Sherman went on at length when asked if he can envision Flowers contributing to the offense this season.

“I’ll tell you, I am really, really excited about what he’s capable of doing,” Sherman said Wednesday. “I think he’s shown that in the last couple scrimmages and practices. Once again, it’s just consistency. It’s making that play when we need to make a play, and we gotta have chunk yards. We gotta have big plays, we gotta have explosive plays; he’s very capable of doing those things.”

I know, Quadree Henderson might be considered a receiver, or a running back or… something. He is completely blurring the line for and official position other then, “playmaker.” In that vein, this NFL-based article on players that fit that mold becoming more of a factor in the NFL. They start, though, in college.

Hamlin looked really AVERAGE in his debut last year. Let’s hope the hype surrounding Ford is more deserved.

Comment by PittofDreams 08.24.17 @ 7:27 am

Speaking of Wisconsin… Paul Chryst… remember the Guy who couldn’t recruit… is set to debut the Second Coming of Earl Campbell.

Freshman RB Jonathan Taylor is about to become a household name.

Comment by PittofDreams 08.24.17 @ 7:37 am

PoD – Chryst supposedly couldn’t recruit but his recruits remain strongly represented on Pitt’s starting lineup nearly 3 years after he left. I believe his recruits account for 6 starting spots on offense and now at least 3 on defense. Conner left early on offense as an NFL draft pick. Had Taleni and Blair not been dismissed and Wirginis not been suspended this year it very well may have been 6 Chryst recruits starting on defense.

Comment by Barvo 08.24.17 @ 8:30 am

I don’t think Marquis Williams plays CB. Narduzzi likes bigger CB and the new recruits are doing well. Probably S or Henderson role.

Comment by JJR 08.24.17 @ 8:57 am

last year’s Pitt team was an accurate representation of how Chryst recruited as Panther coach. Great offense, terrible defense.

Last year’s secondary was pretty much comprised of 2 stars who were otherwise offered by MAC-like schools having to defend against at least 6 QBs and at least 10 WRs who will be or already are in the NFL

Comment by wbb 08.24.17 @ 9:51 am

… especially since the only 2 DBs with speed (Maddox and Whitehead) missed 3 or 4 games each due to injury

Comment by wbb 08.24.17 @ 9:53 am

Last year’s PUTRID Pass Defense had more to do with Narduzzi’s scheme than anything else.

I’ve watched the Clemson Game at least a few times recently and the Analyst for the Game could not stop criticizing Narduzzi for leaving his Corners exposed and playing them so far off the line.

Alas the reason for so many HUGE performances by Opposing Quarterbacks from Watson on down.

Hopefully Narduzzi won’t be so hard headed this year to make changes when it’s apparent what he’s doing isn’t working.

Comment by PittofDreams 08.24.17 @ 10:06 am

I don’t think Hamlin has ever been healthy since coming to Pitt so unfair to say he looked AVERAGE.
We don’t really know what he looks like, but the fact that he isn’t showing up on the two deep is troubling.

Comment by gc 08.24.17 @ 10:08 am

By the way, don’t know that everyone realizes what a GREAT Game Galambos had against Clemson.

As much the Star of the Game as anyone.

Comment by PittofDreams 08.24.17 @ 10:11 am

Webb – 2-star whose only P5 offer was Pitt
Briggs – 2-star whose only P5 offer was Pitt
Mitchell – 2-star whose only P5 offer was Wisconsin (his other 2 offers came from Duquesne and Vilanova, according to Rivals)
Caprara – 2-star OLB whose only offer was from Pitt

Comment by wbb 08.24.17 @ 10:11 am

Galambos, who was a 3-star, did well despite his lack of foot speed. My understanding is that he was very good at calling the right defense at the line.

Comment by wbb 08.24.17 @ 10:14 am

BTW, I hate calling these players out because if they are giving it their all, that’s all we can expect. But it is what it is

Comment by wbb 08.24.17 @ 10:17 am

Galambos had a couple of good plays with the Stillers last week as did Webb. Of course every one saw Conner get his 98 yds. in spite of two dropped passes. I think our questions re success this season at Pitt will again rest with the D. Whither it goes so goes the season.I love Partridge back on staff.Great defensive mind,great recruiter and great coach. Only wish I could support the team by being at every game but alas those days are gone.H2P

Comment by Pitt60 08.24.17 @ 1:01 pm

Oh man, I’ve been busy too and missed “The Return”. Welcome back, Chas. The voice of reason of all things Pitt.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 08.24.17 @ 1:05 pm

David Green commits to Pitt and credited Partridge.

Comment by Lastrowofsection4 08.24.17 @ 1:06 pm

Just landed DT David Greene from Central Catholic. If they can get Kwantel Raines from Aliquippa it will be a nice recruiting year in WPIAL. Much more so than last year.

As far as Damar Hamlin, if he’s not cracking the 2 deep they need to redshirt him this year. The kid needs to get healthy and a redshirt may be the way.

Comment by Pap76 08.24.17 @ 1:11 pm

It seems there is a new vibe with this year’s team. Some of them have seen the light in respect to understanding their reads and the philosophy of the defense and offense. To what degree remains to be seen but it is a good sign for me.

I have watched Green play and he is good. He will be in good hands with Charlie Partridge and so are the other D linemen. Personally want to see how this revised version of Shane Roy pans out.

Comment by kiskiminetas 08.24.17 @ 2:52 pm

Narduzzi not landing the elite players but landing plenty of solid 3 star guys that have decent offer sheets. Good to be beating VA Tech for a player (Green) and Williams had really good teams after him.

Comment by gc 08.25.17 @ 7:05 am

I wonder if the new positive recruiting results have anything to do with having a new recruiting coordinator?H2P

Comment by Pitt60 08.28.17 @ 1:12 pm

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