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Pitt involving new receivers in passing game

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Pitt spread the ball around a little, but really utilized only three main wide receivers - Jester Weah, Quadree Henderson, and Dontez Ford. And even Ford could have an asterisk near his name as he caught only 17 balls after missing a good chunk of the year due to injury. Pitt was mostly content to throw the ball to receivers and tight ends instead of developing more wide receivers.

It was expected that this year would kind of be the same - particularly with some quality tight ends. Weah and Henderson were both back and expected to eat up the bulk of the receptions. But that hasn’t been the case. Instead of focusing on those two guys, Pitt has thrown the ball to many different receivers.

For starters, neither Weah nor Henderson even leads the team in receptions. That would be Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who has 19 grabs for 235 yards (both lead the team). Weah is second with 13 catches and 221 yards but, before the Rice game, he was largely missing in action.

Aaron Mathews is third with 12 grabs for 150 yards. His 12 catches are already double what he had all last season and he’s caught at least one pass in every game.

Yet another guy being used is Maurice Ffrench. Ffrench already has 13 catches this year (91 yards). That’s way up from last year when he was used primarily on the sweeps and had zero catches.

Notably, Quadree Henderson is fourth with eight catches and 121 yards. That’s important because there was a lot of offseason talk about getting him more involved as a receiver after he had only 26 catches all last year. He’s actually on pace to do even less there as Pitt has turned to other guys.

Add it all up and you’ve got five wide receivers all in the mix.

Pitt also has several tight ends and running backs registering catches but the wide receiver thing was interesting to me given that they’re allowing so many guys to be a part of the offense. They have five wideouts on pace for at least 20 catches as opposed to only two (Weah and Henderson) last season.

Overall, I suppose that’s a good approach. But the biggest factor is probably that Pitt hasn’t taken a ton of shots downfield and that’s really where Weah is most effective. They have been utilizing a lot more shorter passing routes and finding different targets. The bad news is that that has obviously meant less big plays in the passing game for Pitt. The good thing, though, is that with Weah gone after this season, Pitt needs to develop new receivers and they’re doing just that.

It’ll be interesting to watch who makes plays the rest of the way. Pitt loses Weah but should not only return all of those other guys but also get back Tre Tipton, who is out this year with an injury. It also doesn’t factor in redshirt freshman, Ruben Flowers, once a big recruit, or any of the three true freshman Michael Smith (another big time recruit), Darian Street, or Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, who was earlier lauded by head coach Pat Narduzzi as someone that would help the team this year.

Safe to say, Pitt is plenty deep at receiver, which we’ve known for a while. The thing to watch is who is able to separate themselves from the pack.

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