It requires a small village to fill the footsteps of a giant. To replace star receiver, and newly minted Cincinnati Bengal Tyler Boyd, strength in numbers will be the Pitt Panthers primary concern. No one player on the current roster can be expected to take his place, but if a hoard of young Panthers step up, the offense as a whole should be able to shoulder the arduous burden.
Boyd’s absence leaves a gaping 91-catch void in the receiving game, and an even larger vacancy as Pitt’s most explosive offensive player. In addition to his pass-catching duties, while at Pitt, Boyd was dynamic in the return game and out of the backfield. He racked up 40 carries for 349 yards last season, and even took some situational snaps as a wildcat quarterback, completing 2 of his 3 passes.
The position group most immediately impacted by Boyd’s departure is obviously the receivers. Last year’s number two receiver Dontez Ford will have the first crack at becoming Pitt’s top option. He needs to refine his underneath game, and route running to become more than just a deep threat. He’s off to a good start, snaring four passes for 55 yards in Pitt’s spring game.
Qadree Henderson hardly contributed on offense last season, but made a splash in the return game. He returned the Military Bowl’s opening kickoff for a touchdown. Henderson’s speed and electricity in the open field stood out during Pitt’s spring game. He notched more than 100 yards on just four carries, including a 64-yard touchdown on an end around. A dynamic burner, Henderson figures to see plenty of action in the screen game, as well as on reverses and other gadget plays.
“Once I get the ball, I’m a playmaker,” Henderson quipped. “It doesn’t matter how I get the ball. It took me back to my high school days when I used to get jet sweeps and end-arounds. I’m comfortable getting the ball however I can get it.”
Jester Weah (pronounced Wee-Uh) was another young receiver who clearly made a strong impression on the coaching staff. Weah earned the Ed Conway award, an honor bestowed on the most improved offensive and defensive players during spring practice. It seems the fruits of his labor may finally be paying off this spring.
“After every workout and during every winter workout, I would be on the jugs, catching at least 100 balls a day,” said Weah.
Weah stands taller than most of his contemporaries at receiver, at 6 foot 3 inches. If he proves capable of utilizing that size in the red zone, Weah could quickly become acquainted with Heinz Field end zones. He had a solid showing during Pitt’s spring game, hauling in three passes for 102 yards, including a 47-yard bomb from Nate Peterman.
Lacking dominant options on the outside should mean more targets for tight end Scott Orndoff. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, Orndoff possess prototypical size for the position. He displayed steady hands and some surprising athleticism as the number two tight end last year behind J.P. Holtz. Keep an eye out for him to get his paws on the football off of play action and down the middle of the field.
Just as Wheaties are an important part of a balanced breakfast, so too is a reliable running game an essential part of a balanced offense. The Panthers offensive line lost only one starter from last year’s group, center Artie Rowell. They return the other four starters, tackles Adam Bisnowaty and Brian O’Neill, guard Dorian Johnson, and combo guard/center Alex Officer, as well as highly touted sophomore Alex Bookser. An experienced group of road graters should mean plenty of day light for Pitt’s talented group of running backs.
The Panthers wait with baited breathe on the inspirational, and hopefully imminent return of star back James Conner. Conner has yet to be a full participant in practice, fighting through a battle with Hodkin’s Lymphoma. Though, he recently finished up chemotherapy treatments and is aiming for an early season return. Prior to losing last year to a knee injury and cancer diagnosis, Conner rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore, en route to 2014 ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Sophomore runner Qadree Ollison was the 2015 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, piling up 1,121 yards last season. He runs in a rugged north south style, nothing fancy about it. Rachid Ibrahim is looking to bounce back from an injury of his own. He missed the 2015 season with an Achilles issue, but previously served as a receiving threat and third down back.
Rounding out Pitt’s backfield are Darrin Hall and Chawntez Moss. Moss, an incoming freshman, might be looking at a redshirt season doing to the crowded position group. All of the men toting the rock for Pitt are talented runners, making up potentially the most loaded position on Pitt’s roster.
An offense that last year seemed like a two trick pony (those ponies being Boyd and Qadree Ollison) has a chance to diversify its attack. With a plethora of intriguing options and second-year starter at quarterback in Nate Peterman, this offense will undoubtedly be different. Though different doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse. This iterations of the Panthers may prove far more dangerous on offense if the whole can indeed add up as greater than the sum its parts.