2023 Pitt football preview: Breaking down the roster position-by-position

Pat Narduzzi still boasts a Pitt roster with plenty of depth and experience at key positions, along with a promising freshman class and new talent from the transfer portal.
Expect the Panthers to retain their traditional strengths of a tough defensive front with a playmaking secondary on defense, and a powerful offensive line with athletic running backs on offense. The biggest question will be whether new quarterback Phil Jurkovec can reignite Pitt’s deep passing game to bring more explosive plays. Along with some old and new receivers, that potential emergence looked possible during training camp.
Returners: Nate Yarnell, Jake Frantl
New: Ty Dieffenbach, Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), David Lynch, Christian Veilleux (Penn State)
The skinny: Jurkovec is the clear starter who looks to return Pitt’s passing game to a more reliable asset than it was in 2022. He’s quickly established himself as a leader for the Panthers who brings the charisma of a tough gunslinger who gives his receivers chances to make big plays downfield.
Running back
Returners: Daniel Carter, Rodney Hammond Jr., C’Bo Flemister
New: Derrick Davis Jr. (LSU), TJ Harvison, Montravius Lloyd, Caleb Williams
The skinny: Hammond looks to go from being the Panthers’ top backup behind Israel Abanikanda to their primary rushing threat this season. His power running style will create a different tone for Pitt, as will the players who come off the bench this season. Flemister is a seasoned veteran who knows his role, while Carter is another power runner. Davis could be the wild card of the group, as he’s shown impressive athleticism in camp.
Wide receiver
Returners: Addison Copeland III, Josh Junko, Jake McConnachie, Bub Means, Konata Mumpfield, Che Nwabuko, Lorenzo Jenkins, Caden Smith, Peter Vardzel
New: Zion Fowler-El, Benny Haselrig, Kenny Johnson, Israel Polk, Daejon Reynolds (Florida), Lamar Seymore, Thaddeus Shaw, Devin Whitlock
The skinny: Means was arguably the MVP of Pitt’s training camp and showed that Pitt’s deep passing game could return to form after being close to non-existent last season. But don’t overlook true freshmen Johnson and Fowler-El; both lit up practices this summer with stellar play and could be very much involved with the Panthers’ rotation at receiver during the regular season.
Tight end
Returners: Josh Altsman, Gavin Bartholomew, Karter Johnson, Cole Mitchell, Jake Renda.
New: Malcolm Epps (USC), Adam Howanitz
The skinny: We’ve heard a lot about how Jurkovec is going to target his tight ends more than Pitt did last season. Bartholomew looked like a sports car that went mostly unused in 2022 with only 21 receptions and two touchdowns. Look for him to be a bigger scoring threat for the Panthers, as well as Johnson’s power to be a factor. And an impressive catch radius from Epps makes him a red zone threat.
Offensive line
Returners: Matt Altsman, Trey Anderson, Ryan Baer, Jackson Brown, Jason Collier Jr., Terrence Enos Jr., George French II, Dorien Ford, Matt Goncalves, Ryan Jacoby, Jake Kradel, Matt Metrosky, Isaiah Montgomery, Terrence Moore, Dakota Peters, Branson Taylor, Blake Zubovic
New: Ryan Carretta, Graysen Riffe, Tai Ray, BJ Williams
The skinny: One of the more stacked groups with experience and young talent looking to emerge. Goncalves, Jacoby, Kradel and Zubovic should prove to be the senior leadership of the group and set a strong tone to control the line of scrimmage. But look out for Baer to emerge, as he’s taken a step up as a player and a leader during training camp who can play every position but center on the line.
Defensive line
Returners: Thomas Aden, Tyler Bentley, Bam Brima, Devin Danielson, Elliot Donald, Sean FitzSimmons, David Green, Dayon Hayes, Todd Hill, Nahki Johnson, Deandre Jules, Will King IV, Samuel Okunlola, Jimmy Scott, Nate Temple
New: Antonio Camon, Maverick Gracio, Isaiah Neal, Zach Zollers
The skinny: Pitt’s most dominant unit over the past four seasons looks to still be its best asset. Danielson and Green will be Pitt’s primary defensive tackles with FitzSimmons and Jules being rising upstarts in camp. But the defensive end rotation could spread snaps out to a group that’s diverse in their skillsets. Hayes still looks like the top option, but there will be a close pecking order in the depth chart between Brima, Johnson, Okunlola and Temple for who gets the biggest chances to be the Panthers’ top edge rushers.
Returners: Dylan Bennett, Luke DelGaudio, Solomon DeShields, Drew Foster, Brandon George, Aydin Henningham, Abe Ibrahim, Bangally Kamara, Nick Lapi, Shayne Simon
New: Jordan Bass, Rasheem Biles, Braylan Lovelace
The skinny: Simon will take over as the group’s leader after backing up SirVocea Dennis last year, while Kamara and DeShields are the athletic freaks at the position who will start at outside linebacker. But watch out for George to get a large role in Pitt’s rotation at linebacker, and see if Bass, Biles and Lovelace get rewarded with more playing time for their strong performances at camp as freshmen.
Defensive back
Returners: Rashad Battle, Noah Biglow, Dante Caputo, Tamarion Crumpley, M.J. Devonshire, Ryland Gandy, Stephon Hall, Buddy Mack III, Javon McIntyre, Phillip O’Brien, Jahvante Royal, Marquise Williams, A.J. Woods
New: Jesse Anderson, Matthew Amofa, Cruce Brookins, John Glenn, Shadarian Harrison, Donovan McMillan
The skinny: The cornerbacks return at full strength after Devonshire, Williams and Woods proved as reliable playmakers in the secondary the past two seasons. While Gandy looks to be the fourth option at cornerback, the safety position will be the biggest question mark. Both O’Brien and McIntyre have waited two years for their chance to shine. Look for McIntyre to be a major playmaker for Pitt and for the Panthers to make a run at having the most interceptions in the ACC after their 14 interceptions ranked second in the conference last season.
Returners: James Fineran, Byron Floyd, Caleb Junko, Cam Guess, Ben Sauls
New: Samuel Carpenter, Jeff Yurk (Elon)
The skinny: Sauls solidified his position as Pitt’s kicker after stepping up as the hero who won the Sun Bowl in December. But one thing that will change is Pitt will look to start the season with one consistent punter, instead of the rotation of three punters it used all last season. Junko was awarded a scholarship by the team in the final week of training camp, signaling he had won the punter job with his consistency.

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