Last season, Quadree Henderson was a consensus All-American, shattering any reasonable expectations anyone had for him. But it wasn't as a receiver where Henderson made his mark. Instead, he became the top return man in all of college football. He not only led the nation in return yardage with 1,166 yards but his four scores for returns also led the country as well. His three kickoff returns (the fourth was on a punt) were a school record.
Henderson also made his mark in the ground game, despite being a wideout. He was utilized heavily as a runner in Pitt's jet sweeps under coordinator Matt Canada, tallying 631 yards on the ground to go along with five touchdowns and a gaudy 10.5-yard-per-carry average.
Where most people wanted to see a greater impact was in the receiving game. There, Henderson had a modest 26 catches for 286 yards and only one touchdown. That's subpar for a receiver but considering how involved he was in the ground game, it's safe to say he more than did his fair share when Pitt had the ball on offense. Even leaving his special teams work out of it, he had more than 900 yards as a runner/receiver to go along with six touchdowns. Not bad for a first-year starter that was a pretty big question mark coming into the season.
Purely as a receiver, though, he can get better. And head coach Pat Narduzzi says it's not about his hands.
"He has great hands, so it's not a matter of hands," said Narduzzi. "It's a matter of his route running and not thinking so much as he is running down, thinking about the progression of the different coverages and route combinations that you run.
"It's a work in progress with him in the pass game, but he will be fine."
That's good to hear in part because it's something that can be corrected. And, despite Jester Weah's success in going from a guy known to drop passes to a pretty sure-handed receiver, the hands part of it seems like the tougher thing to correct.
I tend to believe this, too. And I also think it's fair to point out that his relatively low production receiving numbers are more of a product of being used so much in the running game. He's not going to out there and carry the ball 60 times and catch 75 passes, too. Pitt has to utilize other guys as well and, even beyond Weah turning into a legitimate deep threat and needing opportunities, there are a gaggle of other receivers to work into the mix as well. There's a quality tight end. There's two-way player Maurice Ffrench. There is a deep running back corps. Heck, there's Jordan Whitehead, who will see some opportunities. There are so many guys in the mix for touches that it's sort of ridiculous.
A couple of other things worth noting, as well. First, it doesn't sound like the jet sweeps are going away anytime soon. Narduzzi mentioned after practice on Thursday that Henderson loves them and he ripped off one today in practice for a big gain. Canada is gone but they still sound very much like a big part of Pitt's offense.
Another thing to watch? Short passes to Henderson.
"You get him on the short stuff and he can take it to the house at any time," Narduzzi pointed out.
I'm not a huge bubble screen guy because, in general, defenses can react to the play quickly and, as a horizontal pass, receivers often see a defender in front of them without having gained any yardage yet. But Henderson is a guy that can probably make plays like that work because of his elusiveness and speed. I'm not sure that his return skills quite translate over to that because that's a different situation. You can sort of sit back and have some time to take the most favorable route. Still, Henderson has the capability to make guys miss so some screens or quick slants and such could be great ways to keep defenses on their toes.
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