Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson, Ben Koyack

Irish A-to-Z: Torii Hunter Jr.

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After a long recovery following a gruesome non-contact injury at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Torii Hunter Jr. fought his way back to the field in 2014. Now comes the hard part—playing up to the potential that had many so excited before the broken femur.

We’ve heard plenty of promising reports on Hunter the past two seasons in South Bend. And while he flashed some of that ability in spurts last season, entering his third year in the program it’s time for Hunter to make his step forward.

While he spent some time this spring with the baseball team, his future is clearly on the gridiron. So amidst a packed depth chart, Hunter enters his junior as a contender to breakout.

Let’s take a closer look at Hunter.

 

TORII HUNTER JR.
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Junior, No. 16, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American. Hunter chose Notre Dame in late September, picking the Irish over Arizona, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Hunter was the MVP of The Opening, and would’ve likely been a candidate to contribute early if he didn’t suffer a major injury in All-Star practices in San Antonio.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action, recovering from injury suffered at U.S. Army All-American game.

Sophomore Season (2014): Named Notre Dame’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Played in 10 games, missing the opening three due to a groin injury. Had seven catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, scoring against Syracuse.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

It’s a shame that a groin injury slowed Hunter down to start the season. Pair that with a tough depth chart, and this prediction seems pretty spot on.

This is a wait and see season for Hunter. Could the prep injury hinder him for another season? Quite possibly, as broken femur’s are a tricky healing process that’s rarely associated with football. Then again, injuries are hardly the only thing in the way. So is a depth chart with DaVaris Daniels, Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise. Hunter likely starts fall camp behind all of them.

That said, only Daniels seems to have his role in the Irish offense cemented. So if Hunter walks into fall camp ready to roll, there’s not much of a line to work through on the depth chart. The young receiver caught the eye of Kelly during bowl prep, and certainly had the type of skills that lead to productivity when he was slicing and dicing his way through The Opening.

We might not ever know what a full speed Hunter looked like, or if the femur injury took something away from his top end speed. But all reports have him healthy and ready to compete. And with four years of eligibility remaining, the clock only now starts ticking.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

As a third-year sophomore, this is when you’d expect Hunter to turn it on. Of course, the same depth chart that made it so difficult to contribute last season greets him when training camp opens. And finding the footballs to more than double Hunter’s seven catches isn’t the easiest of scenarios.

That said, there’s a reason why Hunter is routinely mentioned as one of Notre Dame’s best athletes and a candidate to breakout. He showed a nice knack for making plays when he got the opportunity last season. Add another year removed from the broken femur and another season in the system, and there’s still a chance Hunter turns into a very productive college receiver.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m high on Hunter, though I still put his ceiling at 20 catches. In reality, unless the Irish are an insanely productive offense, I’m just struggling to find the footballs to make Hunter happy, especially when he’s probably the fifth-best option as a pass catcher.

(That’s no insult, Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and C.J. Prosise are all really good players.)

A redshirt season was a great thing for him. He’s basically a sophomore at this point, meaning there’s plenty of time for him to work his way up a depth chart that is pretty top-heavy right now.

We’ve heard about Hunter’s ability to make plays in space and be a versatile receiver. And he’s got the versatility to play inside and out, something that always helps when you’re looking for ways to get a player noticed.

New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will likely see some of the same things this August that had Kelly and Mike Denbrock excited. It’d be even better if we saw those things happen on Saturdays this fall, instead of making most of his noise on the practice field.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE

Irish A-to-Z: Chase Hounshell

Hounshell
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The fact that Chase Hounshell is still a part of Notre Dame’s football program is noteworthy. After shoulder surgeries essentially derailed the defensive lineman’s career, Hounshell was given the opportunity to reinvent himself this spring, serving as a tight end when many expected him to be done with the program.

That opportunity came after a one-on-one with head coach Brian Kelly, where Hounshell sold Kelly on giving him a chance to help the program in any way he could. It’s clear that won’t be along the defensive line any longer, though a blocking tight end looks like a nice fit.

While scholarship numbers and the Irish’s path to 85 scholarships make his inclusion on the roster one that’s far from straightforward, Hounshell has earned a degree and is still playing football—a victory even if he never sees the field again.

Let’s look closer at Chase Hounsell.

 

CHASE HOUNSHELL
6’4.5″, 255 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 18, TE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Committed to Urban Meyer until the coach’s “retirement,” opening the door for a pledge to Notre Dame. Hounshell was a three-star prospect, though had some intriguing offers as a 3-4 defensive end with a nice motor.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Played in seven games along the defensive line, making four tackles—all against Air Force.

Sophomore Season (2012): Played in the season opener before injuring his shoulder and missing the rest of the season.

Junior Season (2013): Another should injury cost Hounshell the season. Did not see action.

Senior Season (2014): Played in three games (Rice, Louisville and USC), moving into the rotation at defensive line after injuries to Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones. Made two tackles against the Trojans, his total for the season.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

The bonus Notre Dame got out of Hounshell came after the depth chart was basically nuked. So while he made it through an entire season healthy, he wasn’t a viable option on the field.

At this point, anything the Irish get out of Hounshell should be considered a bonus. Every live rep he takes will give Sheldon Day a much needed breather and help the Irish play with some mature bodies at the point of attack. Hounshell’s reputation as a workout warrior will be of great help — and if he’s able to find a spot in the Irish rotation, it’ll be music to the ears of Kelly, Brian VanGorder and line coach Mike Elston.

Still, it’s hard not to wonder how his shoulder will hold up in the trenches. His last surgery required more than just a simple labrum repair, and shoulder reconstruction had both Kelly and Hounshell wondering if it was time to retire from the game. He didn’t, and it’s allowed him to come into his senior season and be ready to contribute. But until he proves he can make it through a season, it’s hard not to see it as a ticking bomb.

Hounshell is the type of player you should root for. Even if he’s unable to produce at the highest of levels, getting him back on the field and healthy is only fair after spending the past two years watching.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

That Hounshell is trying to reboot his career as a tight end gives you an idea that the upside just wasn’t there as a 271-pound defensive tackle with a really bad shoulder. So while you’ve got to give him credit for trying to find a way to help the team, it’s hard to say there’s much of a shot for Hounshell to contribute as anything more than an extra blocking tight end, and if he does that, it’d be a surprise (to me).

But after seeming like a lost scholarship, something awoke it Hounshell’s head. So after it looked like shoulder injuries all but wrecked his career, that Hounshell was able to stay in this program is a plus. And if Hounshell is able to get anything out of this season—and he’ll be an ideal sixth-year candidate, too—then there might be a place for him somewhere else, even if it isn’t Notre Dame.

 

 

CRYSTAL BALL

If we’re looking at Notre Dame’s 85 scholarships, you’ve got to think that Hounshell is currently holding the final golden ticket. So if the Irish staff get good news on Ishaq Williams from the NCAA, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s still room for Hounshell as one of the 85 scholarship athletes playing for free.

Hounshell’s inclusion on the spring roster was telling. So was Kelly’s candor, talking about the leap of faith both took as Hounshell committed to learning a new position with no promise of a future there.

“Nothing has been decided. He’s willing to go through spring and give it a shot and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Kelly said. “He’s been a great teammate, great in the locker room. The guys really enjoy having him. We like his team-first mentality, so we’re going to give him a chance to earn a roster spot playing tight end.”

 

If you’d have told me last August that Hounshell was still on this team, I’d have told you that you were crazy. But after major shoulder surgeries and some difficult rehabilitations, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR

 

Irish A-to-Z: Corey Holmes

Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore
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Notre Dame finally got back into Florida high school powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas when they landed Corey Holmes. After establishing in roads with Sam Young and holding court with specialists Ben Turk and Jordan Cowart, landing an elite receiver out of one of the country’s best programs was the handy work of Tony Alford.

Holmes’ freshman season was what was expected—a redshirt and a year working with strength coach Paul Longo. And while the depth chart in front of him hasn’t changed, Holmes’ brief taste of the field early last season likely fueled his work this spring and summer, knowing his road to playing time means passing others on the depth chart.

With his eligibility clock starting this fall, let’s see what’s in store for the promising young receiver from Florida.

 

COREY HOLMES
6’0.5″, 184 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 15, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

While his on-field stats were limited due to injuries, the four-star receiver certainly had the look of a blue-chipper when you consider the programs chasing him.

Holmes committed to Notre Dame after a summer visit, turning down offers from Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Oklahoma and a few dozen others. Also an Under Armour All-American.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Saw action against Rice and Michigan before sitting out the remainder of the season, saving a year of eligibility.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

In the longest way possible, this is pretty much accurate—though it was tough to see DaVaris Daniels and the Frozen Five coming.

I think the comparison to TJ Jones is a great one, with one very important caveat: If Jones were a freshman coming into Notre Dame in 2014, he probably wouldn’t play much either.

If possible, a redshirt could be a great thing for Holmes. It’d allow him to put on an additional coat of armor in a college strength and conditioning program. It would also let him follow a mold similar to DaVaris Daniels, potentially even replacing him (as Daniels did Michael Floyd) after he heads to the NFL, leaving a year of eligibility on the table.

At this point, it’s hard to know what the Irish have in Holmes. A big time player at a big time Florida program? One with length, great speed and good route-running ability? It sure sounds like Holmes has star potential.

But then again, it wasn’t too long ago that Notre Dame signed Justin Ferguson out of Florida. Armed with an NFL body and an Alabama offer, Ferguson is now learning how to play safety at Western Michigan, trying to find his way onto the field.

My gut says that Holmes will be a very productive football player for the Irish, but it won’t necessarily happen in 2014. With a depth chart already loaded, sitting out might be the best thing for him.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I still like the TJ Jones comp for Holmes, who looks like the same type of smooth operator that Jones was for the Irish. But finding a way into the two-deep isn’t any easier than it was last year, without a receiver departing and with Holmes battling personnel far more accomplished than what Jones faced.

The fact Holmes saw action during the first two games of 2014 is telling. The staff had to have reason to believe he was good enough to compete at a very strong position early in the season. But the real barometer for success will likely come after 2015, when Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle’s departure opens up some breathing room at the position.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Too many receivers, not enough footballs. I’m putting Holmes into the group that might be able to serve as the “designated deep threat,” and pretty much think 10 catches on the season would make a productive year.

That number could go up if he’s capable of serving as a Z receiver. The slot seems to be the only place—unless injuries strike—where Holmes could carve out a niche, but that would mean that CJ Prosise made a full transition to running back and Carlisle lets injuries get in the way of his final season in South Bend.

While no player wants to hear it, last season’s redshirt was the best thing to happen to Holmes, especially considering the logjam. Because if both Will Fuller and Corey Robinson stick around, it might be 2016 until Holmes has a chance to step forward.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C

 

Irish A-to-Z: Tristen Hoge

247 Sports
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Harry Hiestand finally recruited a true center in early-enrollee freshman Tristen Hoge. Now it’s up to the two-time Idaho state player of the year to earn the opportunity to replace Nick Martin at the heart of the Irish offensive line.

On paper, Hoge looks like an ideal fit. But after the Irish all but manufactured their last two centers, moving guards and tackles to the center spot, he’ll face challengers like Sam Mustipher—and maybe others like Mark Harrell, Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin—when a vacancy opens in 2016.

Let’s take a closer look at one of Harry Hiestand’s newest linemen.

 

TRISTEN HOGE
6’4.5″, 281 lbs.
Freshman, No. 66, Center

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

First-team Parade All-American. U.S. Army All-American. State Player of the Year for Idaho. 247Sports’ No. 1 center in the country.

Hoge turned down offers from Boise State, Cal, Florida, LSU, Stanford, UCLA and many others to commit to the Irish more than a full calendar year before Signing Day.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

It’s tough to find a recruit that has a more straight-forward profile than Hoge. A four-year starter as a center with a 47-game playing streak and the only two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho football history, Hoge should be considering the front-runner to take over the center position after Nick Martin heads to the NFL.

But for as obvious as that natural progression looks on paper, there’s a certain caveat that should come with making that automatic assumption. Rarely does a high school team keep their best offensive lineman at center. And the fact that Hoge managed to be the state’s most decorated player, all while playing a position that’s usually where high school teams hide their undersized or less-skilled linemen, well—it leaves some doubt in the equation until we actually see Hoge work at the college level.

A viewing of high school tape goes a long way towards eliminating those limitation worries. But Hoge had some struggles at the Army game in San Antonio, again understandable after making the jump from the Idaho prep scene to dealing with some of the nation’s toughest interior linemen. So before we annoint Hoge as the next center, let’s see how he progresses under Hiestand and strength coach Paul Longo.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Hoge isn’t playing in 2015. Not unless something goes terribly wrong. So anything written or assumed about Hoge’s future at Notre Dame won’t need to be decided until after he’s established himself in the system, giving the coaches a very good look at his capabilities to take over the center job as a first-year contributor.

Right now, that seems like the most likely scenario, especially after seeing Sam Mustipher struggle with the consistency of his snaps. But in a depth chart that’s as competitive as the one that currently exists in South Bend, nobody is handed a job. And next spring is critical for Hoge, a 15-practice try-out for a starting job that many assume is his if he’s capable of taking it.

Hoge is in perfect position to take over come 2016, but he’ll have to earn it.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE

Offseason Q&A: Pitt

Pat Narduzzi
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Another season, another head coach for the Pitt Panthers. In what seems like a revolving door atop the Panthers program since Dave Wannstedt was shown the door from his alma mater, Pitt has tapped former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to run the show, one of the best hires of the offseason.

For Pitt fans, the fit is a perfect one, with Narduzzi’s aggressive, in-your-face defense and refreshing energy a perfect counterpoint for Chryst. And Narduzzi also inherits a team that’s among the most talented on Notre Dame’s schedule, adding another intriguing element to a game that very quietly is one of the most difficult on Notre Dame’s schedule.

Getting us up to speed on the Panthers is our friend Anson Whaley of Cardiac Hill. He was kind enough to answer some questions as we look at November’s first Saturday, when the Irish travel to the Steel City.

Hope you enjoy.

 

Another year, another move at head coach. But in Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, it looks like Pitt hired the best candidate on the market, and someone who feels pitch perfect for the program.

Are we still in the honeymoon period? What’s been your early reaction to Narduzzi, the staff he’s built and his first spring?

Definitely still in the honeymoon period and that will probably last for at least the entire first year, to be honest. Pitt fans have been starved for a guy like Narduzzi to come along for quite some time and I expect that even if the team stumbles this season, that he will still have a lot of fans behind him. The early reaction to him has been overwhelmingly positive. A few people will tell you that it’s even been too positive since it seems like he’s being anointed as the team’s savior without having coached a single game. Overall, though, he’s done a lot of things right.

His first big test came with the hiring of assistants and nearly all had not only prior experience in the same position in which they were hired, but many were viewed as good recruiters and had been in big programs in some capacity. It’s also early in the recruiting season, but Narduzzi has won fans over with his aggressive style. He and his staff are all over Twitter and really seem to ‘get’ the whole recruiting thing. That’s a far cry from the last head coach, Paul Chryst, who not only seemed to want to distance himself from the recruiting game, but also lacked a staff of dynamic assistants.

Pitt’s class has started off pretty slowly thus far, but Narduzzi and his staff are displaying a go-getter mentality that’s been refreshing. One thing I keep coming back to is that Narduzzi has openly admitted to enjoying the recruiting process – I’m not sure Chryst ever felt that way and while he certainly did some good things (such as building up a very weak offensive line), you just don’t get the sense that recruiting is his thing.

Narduzzi also brought back the spring game, which Chryst didn’t even bother with last year. Chryst’s mentality was essentially that it’s more important to get an extra practice in, but so much of spring games is simply the opportunity to market your program. Some schools might not particularly need that, but Pitt is starved for any publicity it can get in an area dominated by the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. To not hold the game and give your program a chance to sell tickets, push the football program, etc., was a mistake. Pitt held the event in a small venue this year and while the attendance wasn’t huge, there was a noticeable buzz from the fans afterward.

Narduzzi’s personality has also won him some praise. He is making the rounds at Pitt alumni events throughout the state and reports at every stop have been overwhelmingly positive. Fans have been quick to point out that he comes off as sincere and enthusiastic. Former head coach Todd Graham came off as having a dynamic personality, but there wasn’t the talk of him coming off as a sincere guy. Chryst came off as having the sincerity and down-to-earth personality, but lacking Graham’s attitude. Narduzzi seems to be the perfect mix of both and is winning a lot of people over with that style.

The true test won’t come until later but so far, Narduzzi has made quite the impression.

 

There’s some star power taking the field in the dynamic duo of James Connor and Tyler Boyd. The juniors are All-American caliber players and will certainly be a handful for any opponent.

How good are these two? (Leaving the recent news about Boyd’s legal troubles out of it for now…)

Point blank, both are among the best at their positions. Conner received a lot of Heisman discussion early last year and Boyd still managed to have a big season after a slow first half. Conner, of course, took the world by storm on his way to a monster season, but Boyd’s year shouldn’t be downplayed considering how small of a role he had in the offense early on. He was held to only one 100-yard game in his first seven contests before averaging 127 yards per game over his last five. If Pitt had any semblance of a passing game the first half of the season, Boyd would have had an even bigger season.

Both are All-American candidates for 2015 and it would be a surprise if either came back after this season. Boyd is routinely mentioned as a first-round draft pick and while running backs are devalued in this day and age, Conner should still be picked near the top of his position. Conner, in particular, is really going to benefit by leaving early since his bruising style of running limits his shelf life even more than the typical back.

 

One of the bigger off-field stories in the last few weeks was Tyler Boyd’s arrest for DUI. How big of a deal is this? And what’s it say when one of the program’s most high profile players gets arrested for making a really boneheaded decision?

The stance from several readers on our website was that it wasn’t a big deal. The problem for me was, as you said, he is one of the team’s leaders. While it could have been worse, several bad decisions were made by Tyler. Underage drinking happens on every campus, so the idea that this is some unforgivable crime would be foolish. But to get behind a wheel after you’ve had even a few drinks at approximately 2:30 in the morning, as the reports suggest, just isn’t a great idea. To do it when you’re seen as a team leader is, frankly, even worse.

It’s not the biggest deal in the world but certainly a noteworthy incident that warrants some sort of suspension. And when you consider that under Dave Wannstedt and Paul Chryst, Pitt had a string of embarrassing off-field events, it’s not the kind of publicity the program wants. It took some steam out of a lot of momentum that had been building since Narduzzi’s hire.

 

Notre Dame fans have seen these mistakes punished in different ways. Draconian season-long suspensions. And seemingly progressive changes, like we saw when Michael Floyd returned after being suspended all spring to play his senior season.

What do you expect Boyd’s punishment to be, especially with Narduzzi’s first accountability test as the team’s head coach? And how important do you think the head coach’s handling of this situation will be to his tenure at Pitt?

The general consensus seems to be that it’s a one-game suspension sort of deal, and I’d be fine with that. But with a new head coach, we don’t really have any idea how Narduzzi will handle this. Does he make it a longer suspension to set an example? Does he not suspend him at all and simply make him work harder in practice since Boyd is so valuable? Since Narduzzi is a new coach, we’re kind of in uncharted territory here.

I would be very surprised if it were a long suspension. What he did wasn’t smart, but most reports seem to indicate that he was pretty aware at the time of being pulled over. Also, by giving Boyd a harsh penalty, you leave less wiggle room for bigger penalties for bigger crimes. Drinking and driving is not a minor issue by any stretch of the imagination, but assuming Boyd had little to drink that night, players have done far worse and received lesser suspensions. All of that said, it’s difficult to speculate too much since we’re still waiting on more details.

Whatever the punishment, Narduzzi’s handling of it is extremely important on a couple of fronts. It not only sets the tone in what we can expect from him in terms of being a disciplinarian, but establishes some sort of benchmark for the future for similar incidents.

(Editor’s note: In the time between this Q&A and it’s publication, Narduzzi addressed Boyd’s punishment, though didn’t declare whether Boyd would sit out any games.)

 

Offensively, Paul Chryst seems to have left the cupboard full for new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who just came from coaching with Bret Bielema — about as good as you can do from continuity purposes.

Chad Voytik returns after a good season. There’s a star at WR and RB, and J.P. Holtz feels like he’s been playing at Pitt since Dave Wannstedt was coaching. Throw in a really experienced offensive line and it sure feels like this could be a terrifying offense to face. Am I crazy?

Not at all. In fact, I think many Pitt fans would be disappointed if the offense wasn’t terrifying. There’s really no reason for that group to not put up a lot of points.

There are some questions to be sure. The offensive line lost their best player in tackle T.J. Clemmings (widely projected as a first-round draft pick until an injury issue popped up) and another starter in Matt Rotheram. The team is also trying to determine who will start opposite Boyd at wide receiver – after Boyd, the leading returning wide receiver is Dontez Ford, who had only three catches last year. If you take the unit as a whole, however, there’s good reason for optimism. Voytik has a year under his belt after being a first-time starter, the offensive line has some quality depth, and there’s real talent at the skill positions. Barring injuries, the offense has a chance to be special.

 

The defense has had to retool, but it brings in the country’s finest defensive mind as a head coach and a Broyles Award finalist as defensive coordinator in Josh Conklin.

What type of style change will Narduzzi and Conklin bring to the Pitt defense? And how did the transition go this spring?

Mostly, I would look for the unit to be more aggressive. One example of that is that Pitt often had its secondary play more off of receivers and I think we’ll see the corners get to be a little more physical at the line. But the bottom line is that Narduzzi and company know that unit has a long way to go.

This is really one of those situations where the players will need to be coached up as there’s not a lot of clear, identifiable talent on defense. The unit had next to no pressure last year from the defensive line after the departure of Aaron Donald. The top two linebackers and 2/3 of the starting linebacking corps, Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez, have both graduated. The secondary was questionable for much of the season and while they get a boost with top recruit Jordan Whitehead at cornerback, there are still many questions surrounding that group that was torched repeatedly on long pass plays.

Reports out of the spring were reasonably favorable but it’s also worth pointing out that the defense will look considerably different in the fall. Pitt adds Whitehead, the true freshman, who wasn’t yet with the team in the spring but could potentially start at corner. The Panthers will add Mark Scarpinato, a defensive lineman transfer from Michigan State. There are also several position battles that will take place and things are far from firm. The transition got underway in the spring but is going to continue right up until the start of the regular season. I’d even expect changes once the games begin since that will be the first time the coaches get to evaluate those guys in actual games from the sidelines.

 

Favorable schedule, 15 returning starters, and the energy that comes with a first-year coaching staff. On paper, you could argue this is the most exciting time in Pitt football since… when, exactly? 2008-2009?

That 2009 team approached the top ten and was having a tremendous season that was eventually derailed by the disappointing 45-44 loss to Cincinnati in the unofficial Big East title game. That was the last time a Pitt team had this kind of optimism that I can remember.

In terms of actual buzz, there’s a lot of excitement around this team. There was certainly some enthusiasm after the hirings of Todd Graham and Paul Chryst, but even that was tempered because of the drastic changes in style on offense each time. Narduzzi not only has some talent to work with, but is also keeping the offensive system pretty similar to what was already in place.

Fans would probably feel a little better if Narduzzi had a year of experience heading into this one but things line up pretty well for the Panthers in 2015 to, if nothing else, break their string of four consecutive 6-6 regular seasons.