What's the post-spring two-deep on offense?
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Spring camp is in the books, and today we’re taking a look at the offensive two-deep after more than a month of practice.
Kenny Pickett is clearly the man at the top. He was a 14-game starter last season, and while Pat Narduzzi seemed to imply the separation wasn’t all that great between No. 1 and No. 2 this spring, he looked like the best quarterback on the roster in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.
The backup spot is a little less clear, but not much. Jeff George Jr. finished 2018 as the No. 2 quarterback, but it seems that redshirt freshman Nick Patti moved into that spot this spring and will probably be the listed backup on the official two-deep that gets released in August. And then there’s Davis Beville, the true freshman who will most likely redshirt but showed some flashes of intriguing potential this spring.
The best-case scenario is that Pickett stays healthy and takes a big step forward as a junior. But if Beville continues to progress, he could make things very interesting in the depth.
Todd Sibley OR
It’s anyone’s guess what the depth chart at running back looks like right now, but it’s also not too significant. Just like Pitt rotated Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall extensively in 2018, this year will likely see the carries split up in similar fashion. It could even go further, moving from a two-man split to three with sophomore V’Lique Carter bringing an element of explosiveness to the group.
Junior AJ Davis is probably the top back, with redshirt sophomore Todd Sibley as the other veteran back on the roster. It would seem that those two would be the top two options, but Carter is a different back from Davis and Sibley, and if he can show he can handle every-down duties, he might have a chance of pushing for even more playing time.
The most likely option is probably that Davis will be the starter with Sibley spelling him and Carter working in a variety of roles: backfield, split wide, slot, etc.
X - Taysir Mack, Aaron Mathews
Y - Tre Tipton, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins
Zebra - Maurice Ffrench, Shocky Jacques-Louis
This is our guess at how the receivers will get listed. When the teams were drafted for the Blue-Gold Game, Aaron Mathews, Taysir Mack, Michael Smith and Shocky Jacques-Louis went as “X receivers,” Tre Tipton, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, Cameron O’Neil and Garrett Bickhart were “Z receivers,” and Maurice Ffrench, John Vardzel and Michael Vardzel were “Zebra receivers.”
The Zebras are, more or less, the slot receivers, so Jacques-Louis, who will be on the field a good amount this season, could get listed there on the official depth chart.
Ultimately, Mack and Ffrench will probably log the most snaps of the receivers this season, with Mathews and Tipton right behind them. The coaches will rotate at those spots to keep fresh legs and unique skill-sets on the field, so all four of those players - plus Butler-Jenkins, Jacques-Louis and possibly Smith - will see plenty of snaps.
The tight ends, as in the past, will likely see rotation and situational duties. Will Gragg is more of a receiver and Grant Carrigan is more of a blocker, but the coaches have stressed both players improving on the other parts of their game - i.e., Gragg, in particular, needs to become a better, more committed blocker.
The wild card at tight end is Nakia Griffin-Stewart, the Rutgers grad transfer who will arrive this summer. He’ll be in the mix for playing time and will likely find himself on the two-deep.
Assuming the coaches list fullbacks on the depth chart, this is what it could possibly look like. Medure has been listed as a fullback on the roster this spring but he seemed to get as much practice time at tight end as he did at fullback (from what the media was able to see). And given the overlap between the two positions, the distinction probably isn’t that great.
Still, Medure seems to have the skill-set to play either spot, so it’s possible the coaches will list him at fullback and move him around. We’re including Brancifort, a redshirt freshman fullback/long-snapper, because of what happened in last week’s spring game draft: the fullbacks and tight ends were drafted together, and the Gold Team opted to open the FB/TE round by taking Brancifort - ahead of Gragg, Carrigan and Medure, among others.
LT - Carter Warren, Carson Van Lynn
LG - Bryce Hargrove, Brandon Ford
C - Jimmy Morrissey, Owen Drexel
RG - Chase Brown, Rashad Wheeler
RT - Gabe Houy, Jerry Drake Jr.
This is roughly how the offensive line looked at the end of spring camp, taking into account Jimmy Morrissey’s limited status this spring as he recovers from the injury that cut short his 2018 season.
Carter Warren was one of the big stories in spring camp, as the redshirt sophomore emerged midway through camp at first-team left tackle and seemed to hold that spot through the conclusion of camp, performing well enough to earn an Ed Conway Award as one of the most improved players of spring camp.
Bryce Hargrove is, along with Morrissey, one of the two linemen who seem to have a position pretty well locked up. Hargrove could play either guard spot, so he may move from left to right, but either way, he’s pretty likely to be one of the starting five this season.
At right guard, Chase Brown was another emerging player this spring. After seeing virtually no playing time last season, the redshirt senior former JUCO seemed to find his groove in spring camp and finished the spring as the No. 1 right guard, ahead of Rashad Wheeler, who moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard prior to camp. That competition will continue into the summer, but Brown should at least arrive in August as the top player there.
Finally, right tackle has the caveat of Michigan grad transfer Nolan Ulizio arriving this summer. He’s expected to compete at right tackle, but redshirt sophomore Gabe Houy has impressed the coaches for two years now and seemed to be pretty steady working on the first team ahead of fellow redshirt sophomore Jerry Drake Jr., who will push Houy and Ulizio in what should be one of the more competitive position battles in training camp.