Unlike Game of Thrones, you don't need a cheat sheet to figure things out with Pitt football from last season. Pitt had their share of weaknesses and they had very few answers coming into the spring. Two of the weaknesses that were glaring before last season showed up last fall and stayed there until the spring game. Finally, we may be seeing the Panthers with some possible solutions to these problems. We are talking about the interior defensive line and the second wide receiver that can take the pressure off of Tyler Boyd.
Many Panther fans thought that senior Manasseh Garner would be a match up nightmare for opposing defenses and a good second receiver. Unfortunately, he was underwhelming last season (and that's being kind) and fought through some injuries as well. When you are opposite someone as brilliant as Boyd and taking the place of someone as reliable as Devin Street, you must do better than the 17 catches Garner had last year. You throw in the talent Pitt has at tight end and it looks even worse.
This season started off with a lot of question marks, but with younger receivers including Elijah Zeise and Zach Challingsworth, many feel there is a solution somewhere. Junior-to-be, Dontez Ford, could be that fix, as he came away from the spring with a firm grasp on the second receiver position. Ford is a transfer from Syracuse and a former Sto-Rox player, who had three catches late in the year and a touchdown. All three catches came in November and after playing well this spring, he won the offensive Ed Conway Award on the team, which goes to the most improved player. If you would have liked to see a certain position on offense win the award, the second receiver would have been it.
Onto the defense. To say the defensive line last season was an area where Pitt would like to see improvement is kind of like saying, we wish Jamie Dixon would stop losing early commits. Pitt finished 101st last season in sacks with 19 and the team leader was true freshman Rori Blair. While Blair and some younger players give hope to the end position, the interior defensive line is in desperate need of better play. Tyrique Jarrett may just have the team covered in that respect.
Jarrett will be a junior next season and is a product of Taylor Allerdice right in the city. Everyone knew that his body type would make him tough in the trenches, but with a ton of hard work, he took home the defensive Conway Award. With a 6'3" and 335-pound frame, Jarrett certainly takes up a lot of room and if you add quickness and an explosive first step, all of a sudden you have a player ready to take a big step forward. Narduzzi couldn't say enough good things about Jarrett's off-season citing improvements in his conditioning and overall athleticism.
Boyd needs a partner in crime on the other side and Narduzzi's defense starts up front. The Conway Award winners indicate that the Panthers will not be as weak in those areas as they were up last season. There's a long way to go, but both Ford and Jarrett had some success in the spring that gives a reason for a little optimism before into next fall.
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