[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]With Blue overtaking Gold 14-7, Pitt’s spring game had a lot going on. To learn more, we reached out to Alan Saunders, Pitt expert and beat writer for Pittsburgh Sports Now. He told us how different the offense will be with Mark Whipple as the new offensive coordinator, all the options for WR, and the big thing that will separate a good season from a great one. With everything Saunders told us, check out our rankings page to see how Pitt players stack up, and check out more from Alan Saunders on Twitter @ASaunders_PGH.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][bsf-info-box icon=”Defaults-question” icon_size=”32″ icon_color=”#c2933a” title=”Overall, how do you believe the offense will compare to the 2018 version?”]

[wp-svg-icons icon=”volume-medium” wrap=”i” size=”20px”] The offensive will be totally different with a new offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple, a former NFL assistant that likes to throw the ball deep. Pitt’s downfield passing game was basically non-existent last season. Quarterback Kenny Pickett has a strong arm, but Pitt had trouble keeping him protected in 2018.

The running game will probably take a small step back with twin 1,000-yard rushers Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall moving on to the NFL, but Pitt has four four-star running backs behind them that should be able to get the job done.

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[wp-svg-icons icon=”volume-medium” wrap=”i” size=”20px”] Pickett has shown a lot of promise in his first season-plus as the starter, but has yet to have a consistent campaign. He’s capable of being one of the top passers in the ACC, but did not show that regularly enough in 2018. That will be big thing that separates a good season from a great season for Pitt — the play of the quarterback.

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[wp-svg-icons icon=”volume-medium” wrap=”i” size=”20px”] I expect AJ Davis to be the first option and to get the bulk of the workload with Todd Sibley working as a third-down back because of his superior pass-catching and pass-blocking skills. Mychale Salahuddin and V’Lique Carter are speedster wild cards. They won’t get a ton of carries, but have the ability to have a big impact with limited touches.

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[wp-svg-icons icon=”volume-medium” wrap=”i” size=”20px”] The 2018 offensive line was a veteran group, with four seniors, that excelled in run blocking, but was a bit limited athletically when it came to getting outside against speed rushers. The unit coming has some experience — Bryce Hargrove started a few games at guard and Michigan transfer Nolan Ulizio played a bit — but is mostly younger and more athletic. The other thing that they’ll be missing is big-time fullback George Aston, who was a huge difference-maker in Pitt’s run game.

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[wp-svg-icons icon=”volume-medium” wrap=”i” size=”20px”] They have a ton of options at wide receiver. Taysir Mack has the best hands, Maurice Ffrench is the most explosive athlete, Aaron Mathews has size, Tre Tipton is a quality route-runner, and Dontavius Butler-Jenkins and Shocky Jacques-Louis can burn. It’s too soon to tell which of those options is going to stand out this fall. At tight end, expect Will Gragg to be the top target, with Grant Carrigan playing a good bit, but in more of a blocking role.

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[wp-svg-icons icon=”volume-medium” wrap=”i” size=”20px”] Rs-Fr QB Nick Patti really took a step forward this spring, and is probably currently ahead of senior Jeff George, Jr. for the backup job and appears to be the heir to Pickett for the 2021 season. He’s always had the size, but his footwork has improved, as has his decision-making.

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