Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Second-year stars: Pitt
By Matt Fortuna
The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference -- the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.
Class recap: Paul Chryst's first full recruiting class at Pitt was solid, if not spectacular. The Panthers reeled in the nation's No. 41 class, seventh-best in the ACC, as they brought in a pair of four-star, ESPN 300 prospects and 28 commits overall. The highlight of that class was Boyd, the four-star athlete who starred in his first year at receiver, earning freshman All-America honors as he had 85 receptions for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns, in addition to 108 yards rushing and another TD. He also returned a punt for a touchdown in the Panthers' bowl win. Let's also not forget James Conner, the three-star defensive end recruit out of McDowell (Pa.) High, who ended up leading the Panthers with 799 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Pitt surrendered 3.31 sacks per game in 2013, a problem that must be addressed.
Recruiting stock: Jones-Smith was a three-star prospect out of West Philadelphia Catholic High, and ESPN's No. 91 offensive tackle prospect for the Class of 2013. He was Pitt's 13th-best recruit from the 2013 class. Jones-Smith was selected to both the Chesapeake Bowl and the Big 33 Football Classic, a pair of senior all-star games featuring the top prospects from Pennsylvania and other nearby states.
2013 in review: Jones-Smith redshirted during his first year with the Panthers.
2014 potential: Jones-Smith completed his first spring at Pitt, and he impressed many around the program as he continued his growth. With redshirt sophomore left tackle Adam Bisnowaty limited following his November back injury, Jones-Smith received the majority of the reps in his place and displayed a rare blend of size and athleticism that could give him a shot to earn some playing time when Bisnowaty returns. The question is, where? The Panthers struggled immensely up front last season, allowing 3.31 sacks per game, but they do return four of five starters, with left guard being the lone exception. Chryst said his job is to get the best players on the field, and that Jones-Smith is in the mix.
Also watch for: If Pitt's offensive line improves, the backfield will benefit. That could mean good things for Rachid Ibrahim, a three-star recruit from The Avalon School (Md.) who rushed for 136 yards last season, adding nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. The receiving corps is also looking for answers behind Boyd, so three-star South Fayette (Pa.) High receiver Zach Challingsworth or three-star Madison (Wis.) Memorial High receiver Jester Weah could benefit. Both players redshirted last season.