As is customary every spring, Pitt’s football coaching staff named its winners of the Ed Conway Award on Saturday. The award goes to the most improved offensive and defensive players of the spring drills, which sort of reach a high point today with the Blue-Gold game.
On offense, wide receiver Tre Tipton and offensive lineman Carter Warren received the honor. Defensively, it was linebacker Phil Campbell and defensive back Paris Ford.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi noted that he expects big things from Tipton this season. “We are looking for a big senior year from Tre,” Narduzzi said. “He is fully healthy and, with continued progress, can be a huge asset in our passing game this fall.
And on a virtually all new offensive line, the sophomore Warren is turning heads and could be one of the two starting tackles, per Narduzzi.
Campbell is moving from the secondary up to linebacker this year and Narduzzi hints that the move change doesn’t seem to have hurt him. “Phil really showed playmaking ability at linebacker this spring,” Narduzzi said. “His speed and athleticism will be great strengths at that position.
For those hoping for a big year from Ford in the secondary, join the club. The good news is that Narduzzi thinks he has greatly improved. “Paris made outstanding strides this entire offseason. He matured and developed into a real force for us defending the run and pass.”
Until I see it, I’m somewhat skeptical on Tipton’s ability to be a difference-maker. He will be a senior but has been a non-factor for Pitt, with only 17 career receptions for 184 yards. Admittedly, he’s had some injury issues, including missing all of 2017. I don’t question his talent but the real question is if his improvement is going to be enough to seriously challenge Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench, who look like the top two guys and have both proven to make big plays. That’s not even to mention others that will be in the mix like Aaron Mathews, Shocky Jacques-Louis, or, depending where he’s playing, V’Lique Carter.
And none of that even mentions the biggest factor of all — quarterback. Pitt still has big questions there in proving they can deliver the ball consistently. Tipton having a big year is far from a guarantee in my book, but him getting one of the awards is still nice to see.
Ford is the guy that fans will want to see break out this season to give Pitt the potential for a very good secondary with the likes of Damar Hamlin and Dane Jackson coupled with another corner. Truth be told, Ford will still have to contend with experienced guys like senior Jazzee Stocker.
This is sort of what Pitt fans have been waiting for with the secondary. You’ve got Hamlin, who’s a senior and returning starter. You’ve got Jackson with those same credentials and two years of starting. You’ve got an improved Ford as well as others back like Jason Pinnock, who started half the year. This is sort of the year when the secondary can put it all together.
Narduzzi’s forte is with defenses and part of the issue has been that he hasn’t had ‘his guys’ in the secondary mature yet. Well, these are his guys now and they’re mostly grown up. Time to see what they can really do.