March 24, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola
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Pitt’s wide receiver depth chart is so devoid of experienced pass catchers that the best news is this: It’s only March.
With Elijah Zeise now practicing at outside linebacker, the remaining wide receivers on the Pitt roster who caught passes last season total three.
Remaining wide receivers on the Pitt roster who caught passes last season and are currently going through a full practice: 1.
Projected starters Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth are slowed by injuries.
That left Quadree Henderson (two catches, 1 yard) as the most accomplished wide receiver to line up Thursday for scrimmage plays in practice.
At the bottom of the depth chart, Gentry Ivery, a lightly regarded 2015 prospect from Texas, left the program this week.
Losing Zeise and Ivery thins the crowd in wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman’s room, but is it necessarily a good thing for that side of the ball?
Zeise has the right mix of athleticism and a work ethic, and he was working his way up the depth chart. I think Zeise would have contributed on offense this season.
If he emerges on defense — and he made a few tackles in practice Thursday, including a TFL — that helps on one side of the ball.
The hard truth: Zeise is needed at linebacker, at least until Anthony McKee and Bam Bradley get healthy. If he remains there through the end of the spring, it wouldn’t make much sense to return him to wide receiver this summer.
Meanwhile, quarterback Nate Peterman is running out of reliable targets. The injuries to Ford and Challingsworth aren’t helping because they are losing valuable practice time with their quarterback. There’s a reason schools conduct spring drills. It helps build on-field relationships, especially in the passing game.
The good news is Ford and Challingsworth are expected back before summer camp. They work out on a limited basis now and Challingsworth (shoulder surgery) went through calisthenics with his teammates Thursday morning.
The wide receiver to watch, in my opinion, is Tre Tipton. One of the more confident athletes to come through the Pitt program in recent years, he already runs sharp routes and impressed last season as a freshman to the point that he appeared in four games before hurting his knee. Coaches felt comfortable moving Zeise to linebacker because they have high hopes for Tipton.
UCLA assistants Tom Bradley (there’s a name from the past) and Rip Scherer, a Pittsburgh native and former graduate assistant at Penn State, visited practice Thursday.
Bradley is entering his second season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator and Scherer is the tight ends coach.
Several people asked me why coaches from another Power 5 school would be welcome at practice. Actually, it happens all the time among teams that don’t play each other.
Speaking of UCLA, former Bruins tight end Chris Clark has made a good impression since transferring to Pitt. It looks like he will help, but probably not until 2017.
He experienced a bout of mononucleosis last year at UCLA, slowing his development even though he played in the opener. He is petitioning the NCAA to be eligible this season, but all the paperwork hasn’t been submitted. Sadly for Clark, his petition is expected to fail because he did take 11 snaps last season.
But there will be a holes at tight end next season when seniors Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish are gone. Clark would be in line to start.
Parrish, by the way, suffered an injury recently and will miss the rest of spring, coach Pat Narduzzi said. Narduzzi refused to reveal the nature or extent of Parrish’s injury.
“That’s a personal thing, I think,” Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi is not unlike most coaches (probably closer to all coaches) when it comes to releasing injury information. They hate doing it.
One thing I learned from the NFL — and Todd Graham backed this up to me one day five years ago — is that opposing teams will target a player’s body part if they think it’s weak or injured.
If player X has a shoulder injury, for example, and he plays, anyway, and is involved in blitz protection, do you think the defense might try to test that shoulder with repeated blitzes? Of course, it will. Then, all of a sudden, you might have another injured player — your quarterback.
But there are flaws in that theory:
— Keeping information secret these days, even from the other team, is difficult. Players talk amongst themselves, their friends and family members, and are constantly on social media. So, in many cases, it gets out, anyway, even without telling reporters. (So, Pat, you might as well tell us and eliminate the middle man.)
— Also, Pitt doesn’t play a game until September, so maybe spring injuries should fit in a different category.
Coaches don’t like to dish out too much information about anything. The bar is usually low in that regard, especially when it involves body parts, so Narduzzi going light with the details is no surprise.