The tight end position has become a quagmire for Pitt over the past year or so, as the program has been hemorrhaging talent for months and struggling to come up with adequate replacements to fill that role. In 2018 alone, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff have lost former five-star recruit Chris Clark and starter Tyler Sear, dismissed former four-star recruit Charles Reeves Jr., and seen junior college recruit Travis Koontz decommit.
These developments begged questions about the coaching staff’s handling of players at the position who have had to deal with a lack of opportunity amid subpar quarterback play from Max Browne, Ben DiNucci and Kenny Pickett. Now, there appear to be some answers about Pitt’s approach to both game-planning and recruiting with regard to tight ends, as Koontz recently shared details about his talks with Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem, who traveled to Ventura, California, on Sunday hoping to bring the junior college talent back into the fold.
LAX.....! Work to do on the west coast...! #H2P pic.twitter.com/eiOBLXIntV— Tim Salem (@CoachTimSalem) December 3, 2018
"I’m not sure Coach Salem realized it, but all he kept talking about was how effective I’d be in the run game," Koontz told Mike Vukovcan of Pittsburgh Sports Now. "They’ve only talked about the tight end in the passing game when I ask about it. When they’re just talking, it’s just about the tight end in the run scheme. I’m just like, I don’t know, I don’t know. I just have to shake my head a bit."
"I like that Coach Salem was here, but I didn’t like all the talk about the run scheme," Koontz continued. "That talk affects my thoughts a bit, and then Georgia called me back and are pretty sure their tight end is going to leave [for the 2019 NFL draft], so we set up an official visit for [Dec. 14]."
As Koontz alluded to, Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta may have played his last game at the college level, which would open up a spot for him to potentially fill. Nauta had 427 yards and three touchdowns on 29 receptions in 2018, ranking third on the team in both receiving yards and receptions. That speaks to Georgia’s ability to pass the ball and its commitment to its tight ends. Conversely, Pitt’s passing attack has stalled since Nathan Peterman moved on to the NFL, and as a result, the school has not been a great landing spot for pass-catchers.
This season, for example, Pitt has three tight ends who have recorded receptions, and Will Gragg has fared better than anyone else at the position. Gragg has five receptions for 31 yards and zero touchdowns. No Pitt tight end has found the end zone this year, and as a position group, tight ends have just 10 catches.
In addition to Georgia, Koontz noted that he was impressed with UConn, a school he visited over the weekend, because "they throw to the tight end a ton." Once again, Koontz raised a valid point. In Storrs, Huskies tight ends Aaron McLean and Tyler Davis accounted for 622 yards and eight touchdowns on 54 receptions during the 2018 season.
Koontz remains uncommitted at this point, and Pitt has not given up on convincing him to finish his collegiate career in the Steel City, as Coach Narduzzi is set to head to California next for a followup visit. However, it seems safe to say Salem took the wrong tack with the tight end during his recent visit, likely wasting about 10 hours of travel time in the process.