One major decision for every college football coach is about the redshirting of players. As we saw a few years back, it’s not always about true freshmen, too. After all, Pitt previously redshirted Trey Anderson as a junior after he played during his first two years. But more often than not, this is about true freshmen.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi was asked about redshirts recently and while he didn’t say exactly who would be redshirting, he did give some indication of what he planned to do. For now, Narduzzi estimated about 4-6 true freshmen would probably not be redshirting, although that number could change slightly.
“We would anticipate playing four to six,” said Narduzzi. “There could be four to six, or there could be three. Right now it’s hard to know.”
Now, if it were entirely up to him, in an ideal world, everyone would be redshirted. But he acknowledges that just isn’t possible since there will be players who can help the team right away.
“Every freshman wants to play,” he said. “I do think it’s important to redshirt the freshmen. If we could redshirt every guy, I would love to do it. But if they are ready to play, we’re going to play them. We are not going to save them for that fifth year, because they may be gone by that time. In an ideal world, if you could redshirt every one of them you would. They are 18 years old, they will be better at 20 [years old].”
So how does that stack up with last year if Narduzzi sticks to that 4-6 range? It’s pretty much in line. In 2015, true freshmen that played included Darrin Hall, Quadree Henderson, Tre Tipton, and of course, Jordan Whitehead. It should also be noted that Tipton received a medical redshirt after playing early and that he still has four years of eligibility left.
With that in mind, the question now becomes who will get to play this year. As the team’s top recruit, cornerback Damar Hamlin figures to get time, of course. Running back Chawntez Moss previously said the coaches told him he would not redshirt. Pitt is deep at the position and could probably benefit from redshirting Moss if the others stay healthy, but let’s assume that’s two.
After that it gets a little murkier. Pitt has plenty of experience at defensive tackle with seniors Shakir Soto and Tyrique Jarrett - each of whom have a year of starting experience on the defensive line (though Soto’s came at defensive end in 2014). Beyond them, however, there are depth issues, so Amir Watts and/or Keyshon Camp should have a chance as well.
It really tightens up after that. Wide receiver is another area where someone could break through. But if you remember, offensive coordinator Matt Canada provided his top five receivers last week and no freshmen were listed. Aaron Mathews is one guy who received some early praise so it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to get onto the field. But at this point, it’s certainly not a given. Keep in mind that Zach Challingsworth, the team’s second-leading receiver of all returnees behind only starter Dontez Ford, was surprisingly not in that top five and it would be shocking to not see him play. That would be six so, again, no guarantees for Mathews or the other freshmen.
Others could be in the mix as well. Panther Lair noted guys like Rashad Weaver and Bricen Garner getting a look. Pittsburgh Sports Now lists seven that will play and gives three others on the fence.
As with any year, this just is something that’s impossible to project because outside of playing ability, the biggest factor is always injuries. Back in 2007, Pitt was forced to play true freshman Pat Bostick after Bill Stull went down with an injury. Bostick was set to redshirt that season so you just never know how these things will work out.