Heading into 2018, the Pittsburgh offensive line is an unknown commodity after a rough 2017 season. Last year, the Panthers finished 101st (out of 129) in the nation in sacks allowed (31) and 99th in tackles for loss allowed (79).
Pitt lost four of their top six offensive lineman from this group, including starting left guard Alex Officer, right guard Jaryd Jones-Smith, and left tackle Brian O’Neil.
This leaves redshirt sophomore Jimmy Morrissey and redshirt senior Alex Bookser as the lone returners who got meaningful playing time in 2017. What remains is a host young players who have very little game experience and a few transfers.
In the sixth edition of the Pitt football positional previews, we examine the offensive line and the players vying for playing time. If you haven’t already done so, make sure to go back and read the first five editions.
THE TWO RETURNERS
There are more than two returning offensive lineman, but these are the two who got meaningful playing time last year.
|Hometown||Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania|
After walking on and redshirting in his initial season, Morrissey was awarded a scholarship before his redshirt freshman year in 2017. Last year he won a heavily contested battle for the center position over then-redshirt junior Connor Dintino.
He went from being unknown in 2016 to a consistent starter just one year later. Morrissey started all 12 games of the 2017 season at center. He possesses the requisite size and is an imposing figure on the line. Morrissey projects to start all games at center once again.
Pittsburgh native Alex Bookser has been a part of the Pitt football program since 2014 and has started every game since 2016, minus the first game of the 2017 season due to a one game suspension. Going into his fifth year, he has started in a combined 26 games and played in 37. 21 of these 26 starts have came at right guard and the other five at right tackle.
This upcoming year the question surrounding him isn’t whether he will start (which he is a lock to do), but rather at what position he will start. Coach Pat Narduzzi has told media that Bookser will more than likely start at a tackle position. More on this later in the article.
FIFTH YEAR SENIORS
There are three other fifth-year seniors at the offensive line position – Connor Dintino, Mike Herndon, and Stefano Millin. We’re going to take a look at each.
Dintino has been a part of the Pitt program since 2014. He joined the Panthers as a defensive player and in 2016 made the transition to the offensive line.
As a redshirt junior, it looked as if Dintino was going to win the center position, but he wound up losing the competition to Jimmy Morrissey. He went on to be the primary backup at the center position.
Dintino played in all 12 games on the field goal/PAT unit. This year, it is looking like he is going to do more than play on special teams. It is quite likely that Dintino could be the starting left guard.
Herndon is another fifth-year senior. He came into the program as an offensive lineman, but was moved to the defensive side of the ball during the 2016 season for depth reasons. He played in six games as a reserve nose tackle and tallied two tackles and one sack.
In 2017 as a redshirt junior, Herndon didn’t get much playing time, however he did get playing time on both sides of the ball. He played in all 12 games, making one start at right guard against Syracuse.
On the defensive side, he contributed as an interior defensive lineman and totaled seven tackles on the season, including a career-high three at Virginia Tech. In addition, he had a pass breakup in Pitt’s upset win over Miami. Herndon is the rumored candidate to win the left guard starting job.
A graduate transfer from Kent State, Millin is the odds-on favorite to be covering Kenny Pickett’s blind side at the left tackle position.
In three years at Kent State he played in 35 games and started in 30 – including a stretch of 27 straight starts from 2015-2017. Last year as a redshirt junior, Millin made all 12 starts at left tackle.
Despite coming from a Group of Five school, Millin has the size and intangibles to play well at the Power Five level. Charged with the aforementioned big task of covering Pickett’s blind side, his play will affect how good the Panthers can be this year.
THE YOUNG/NEW GUYS
The last group – Chase Brown, Jerry Drake Jr., Bryce Hargrove, Owen Drexel, Brandon Ford and Gabe Huoy – are the players competing for backup positions.
Brown originally started his college career at FCS powerhouse James Madison, where he was redshirted as a true freshman. After getting redshirted, he made the transfer to Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In his time at Lackawanna he started at offensive guard in 2017 and played tackle his initial season in 2016. In those two years, he helped Lackawanna to a record of 17-3 and a pair of top 20 finishes in the NJCAA.
This upcoming season, Brown is competing for the right guard position. It is more likely that he will be the primary backup to Connor Dintino, but there is a chance he is a backup at another position. More thoughts on that at the end of the article.
Jerry Drake, Jr.
|Hometown||Palm Beach Gardens, Florida|
A South Florida native, Jerry Drake, Jr. was a highly touted recruiting prospect in the class of 2016. ESPN rated Drake, Jr. a four-star offensive tackle and the 35th best tackle in the nation.
He also garnered numerous other individual honors – first team Associated Press Florida All-State Class 8A, Palm Beach Post “Super 11”, Palm Beach Post All-Area, and Florida Times-Union “Super 75” – during a standout senior year at Palm Beach Garden High School. As an early enrollee at Pitt, Drake, Jr. participated in spring drills in 2017, but would ultimately receive a redshirt.
In his first year of active play, expect Drake, Jr. to be a top backup at the right tackle position. He is a future starter and future star of this offensive line.
Hargrove didn’t play high school football until his junior year, but still managed to make himself known as one of the top lineman in Ohio. He was rated one of the top 50 overall prospects in Ohio by Rivals.
Since then, he hasn’t done much. As a true freshman in 2016 he was redshirted and as a redshirt freshman in 2017, he played in one game against Rice.
This upcoming year, Hargrove could potentially be the primary backup at the right tackle position. Barring injuries to other players, he still will not see very much of the field this upcoming season.
|Hometown||Montclair, New Jersey|
Coming out of high school, Drexel was rated a three-star prospect and the 13th best center in the nation by ESPN. Additionally he was named one of the top three centers in the East region by Scout.
Drexel was a four-year varsity starter – one year at Glen Ridge and three years at Montclair. In his senior year at Montclair he was named to the All-New Jersey Group 5 team, the All-North Jersey Super Football Conference (NJSFC) Liberty Blue Division team, and to the NJ.com “Top 50”.
In his true freshman year at Pitt he received a redshirt. Going into his redshirt freshman year, he is looking to be the primary backup at the center position.
Ford is a local product out of Upper St. Clair High School. Out of high school he was ranked a three-star prospect by ESPN and the 20th best player in the state of Pennsylvania.
In his senior year, Ford led an offensive line that averaged 224 yards rushing per game. This play got him named to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette South “Fabulous 22”, The Almanac Football All-Star team, and the All-Southeastern Conference team.
As a true freshman in 2016 he was redshirted. Then in his redshirt freshman year he would only see one game on the field against Penn State. This year, Ford has the opportunity to be the primary backup at the left guard position.
After redshirting as a true freshman and coming out of high school as a highly regarded lineman, Gabe Huoy will get his first season as an active player in college under his belt. In his senior year, Huoy was rated one of the top two lineman in the state of Pennsylvania by Scout.
He received many other individual honors, including being named to the Pennsylvania Football News 2016 #TeamPA (recognized the best players in the state regardless of school classification), first team Pennsylvania Football News All-Class 5A, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “Fabulous 22”, All-Allegheny Nine and The Almanac All-Star Team.
Huoy is competing for the primary backup spot at the left tackle position, but he could fall behind.
The list below are those not in the running to be a primary backup. Even if injuries were to occur, this list probably still wouldn’t play.
|Devon Davis||6’4||325 lbs.||Redshirt Junior||Cincinnati, Ohio|
|Jake Kradel*||6’3||290 lbs.||Freshman||Butler, Pennsylvania|
|Carson Van Lynn||6’5||290 lbs.||Redshirt Freshman||Worthington, Ohio|
|Nick Stazer*||6’3||295 lbs.||Freshman||Butler, Pennsylvania|
|Blake Zubovic*||6’4||300 lbs.||Freshman||Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania|
|Kenny Rainey III||6’3||320 lbs.||Redshirt Freshman||Alquippa, Pennsylvania|
|Carter Warren||6’5||320 lbs.||Redshirt Freshman||Paterson, New Jersey|
*WILL GET REDSHIRTED
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
Below is how the depth chart will most likely play out for week one against Albany.
|Position||No. 1||No. 2||No. 3|
|LT||Stefano Millin||Bryce Hargrove||Gabe Huoy|
|LG||Mike Herndon||Brandon Ford||N/A|
|C||Jimmy Morrissey||Owen Drexel||N/A|
|RG||Connor Dintino||Chase Brown||N/A|
|RT||Alex Bookser||Jerry Drake Jr.||N/A|
Expect the starting offensive line to showcase four fifth-year seniors week one against Albany. Narduzzi has shown in the past that he values experience and each of these – left tackle Stefano Millin, left guard Mike Herndon, right guard Connor Dintino, and right tackle Alex Bookser – have experience.
Millin, in particular, is going to play a CRUCIAL role on this offensive line. How well he plays will not only affect how well Pickett and the rest of the Panthers offensive attack performs, but will also affect how the rest of the offensive line performs. Expect him to have a great year and start all 12 games.
The only starter that won’t be a fifth-year senior will be redshirt sophomore Jimmy Morrissey. Morrissey is one of the two known commodities coming into this season, alongside Bookser. Expect each of them to start all 12 games.
The only two lineman that may not start all 12 games are Herndon or Dintino. The majority of their experience comes on the practice field and this could affect how well they play in a game. If they struggle don’t be surprised to see Chase Brown or Brandon Ford emerge as a starter.
The other backups – left tackle Bryce Hargrove, center Owen Drexel, and right tackle Jerry Drake Jr. – will be the primary backups to their position. Barring injuries, they will only see the field in a blowout.
That leaves left tackle Gabe Huoy and he will see even more limited playing time than the primary backups.
The offensive line is unknown and largely untested. Despite how many fifth-year seniors are projected to be in the starting lineup, only two of them are known commodities. For Pitt to be successful this year, they will have to put up MUCH better numbers on the line than they did just a year ago. This will be something to closely monitor as the season progresses.
With only two more previews remaining, look out for our defensive lineman preview, coming next Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Below is a schedule of the rest of the positional previews:
|8/25||Tight Ends/Special Teams|