ACC: Jason Hendricks

Pittsburgh Panthers season preview

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Panthers:

Key returners: QB Chad Voytik, RB James Conner, RB Isaac Bennett, WR Tyler Boyd, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE David Durham, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Ray Vinopal

Key losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, LB Shane Gordon, CB K'Waun Williams, S Jason Hendricks

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd looks to build on a freshman All-America season.
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 20 versus Iowa, Oct. 16 versus Virginia Tech, Nov. 1 versus Duke, Nov. 15 at North Carolina, Nov. 29 at Miami

Projected win percentage (from Stats & Info): 63.5 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley are a pair of freshman cornerbacks who will likely be counted on heavily to provide some needed depth at the position, as Titus Howard's season-long suspension leaves Pitt with just two returners with any experience at the position (Pitts and Trenton Coles). Both Maddox (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and Motley (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) arrived this summer as ESPN three-star prospects, and the learning curve will likely be accelerated as the Panthers search for more bodies in coverage.

High point from 2013: A 28-21 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 9 buried the Fighting Irish's remaining BCS bowl hopes and, at least partially, erased some of the sting from Pitt's consecutive three-point losses to them in 2011 and 2012. It's more useful, however, to look back at the 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over MAC champion Bowling Green, as youngsters Voytik, Conner and Boyd all stepped up in a big way, something each hopes is a sign of things to come for 2014.

Low point from 2013: A 24-21 loss at Navy on Oct. 26 marked the first of a two-game slide (Pitt lost at Georgia Tech a week later), threatening to keep the Panthers out of postseason play before they pulled off the upset the following month over the Irish. Still, Pitt dropped three contests in a four-game stretch surrounding the loss to the Midshipmen, with its only win during that stretch coming against Old Dominion.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Voytik builds off his late-game experience from the Pizza Bowl and gives Pitt a dynamic threat under center, the experienced-but-shaky offensive line jells, Boyd continues his ascent and the defense makes big strides. Pitt takes advantage of a rather friendly schedule, makes a run at 10 wins and emerges as the champion of a Coastal division that is simply begging someone to step up.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offensive line continues to struggle, leaving Voytik vulnerable and the offense out of flux. The front seven fails to make up for the loss of Donald, allowing opponents time to test a green secondary. The Panthers win four games, taking a step back after consecutive bowl seasons in Paul Chryst's first two years. The youth on this team, however, is probably still enough to keep the future promising.

They said it: "I feel fortunate to be at Pittsburgh. You talk about a school with unbelievable football tradition and a city that absolutely -- it's a great sports town but a heck of a football city. High school football is big on Fridays. Obviously the Steelers are big on Sunday. We want to be a team that reflects the city and reflects the university and the tradition of a great university. I want the ex-players to be proud of Pitt and Pitt football, and I know they certainly are proud of it. But that's where we want to go, and that's what I mean, we're not where we want to be. But I sure appreciate and enjoy going through and facing that challenge with this group of guys, and for every challenge there's an opportunity." -- Chryst, on how he defines Pitt football

Pitt season preview

August, 12, 2013
Today we’re looking at Pitt as the Panthers enter their first season in the ACC:

Pittsburgh Panthers

Coach: Paul Chryst (6-7)

2012 record: 6-7 Big East

Key losses: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, RB Rushel Shell, C Ryan Turnley, S Jarred Holley

Key returnees: WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, S Jason Hendricks, CB Lafayette Pitts

Newcomer to watch: Freshman running back James Conner. The rookie is already getting significant reps at tailback through one week of camp, and Pitt’s running game is looking for answers (see below). Conner rushed for nearly 1,700 yards (averaging more than 10 yards per carry) as a high school senior. He is a big body, but has opened eyes with his athleticism and feet.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 2 vs. Florida State; Oct. 12 at Virginia Tech; Nov. 9 vs. Notre Dame; Nov. 29 vs. Miami.

[+] EnlargeIsaac Bennett
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt's experience at running back is uncertain, but for now, Isaac Bennett will lead the way for the Panthers.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: How effectively will Pitt be able to run the ball? Not only did the Panthers lose their leading rusher from a year ago in Ray Graham, but they also lost his top replacement in Rushel Shell, who has since left the program. Isaac Bennett heads into the fall as the starter with Malcolm Crockett on his heels, but the experience is limited, and the offensive line remains a work in progress. Three starters return up front, but none of them are back at their old positions. The Panthers are hoping redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty and former defensive end T.J. Clemmings will be able to help out.

Forecast: At the very least, Pitt is better off than it was a year ago simply because the Panthers are in their second season under Chryst and have finally started to get some stability. The players and coaches are much more familiar with each other, and they learned a hard lesson about consistency last fall.

With seven starters returning, the defense will be the strength, and it will likely have to carry the load early, as the Panthers will be breaking in a new quarterback. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the best player on the roster, and he led the Big East with 18.5 tackles for loss last year. He’s one of three starters who return up front, and three of four starters return in the secondary.

Six starters return on offense, but losing the top two running backs from a year ago could create some problems. The staff has been pleased with what quarterback Tom Savage has done this offseason, but the two-time transfer hasn’t played in two seasons. The headliner on offense is receiver Devin Street, who could be one of the best in the country this year after making 73 catches last season. Pitt’s offense won’t have any opportunity to work the kinks out because it opens the season on Labor Day in a nationally televised home game against Florida State, which should again be one of the ACC’s best teams.

It’s not going to be an easy debut for Pitt in its new conference, and the Coastal Division schedule doesn’t get much easier with trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Pitt has a chance to be a contender in what should be another wide-open divisional race, but a dependable running game must emerge and Pitt must win the turnover battle in order to have a more consistent season.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 26, 2013
Players report next week!
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, the reigning ACC Player of the Year and preseason Player of the Year, leads the 2013 Preseason All-ACC Football Team announced on Wednesday.

Boyd, who enters his senior season with 8,053 career passing yards and 73 career touchdown passes, was the overwhelming choice at quarterback in voting by media at the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff, held this week at Greensboro’s Grandover Resort.

Boyd is one of three Clemson players on the 25-member team. Florida State led all schools with six players, and North Carolina had four. Duke, Miami and Wake Forest followed with two selections each, while Boston College, Georgia Tech Maryland, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Virginia Tech each placed one player on the team.

Here is the full team:


WR Sammy Watkins, CL (57) 6-1 205 Jr. Fort Myers, Fla.

WR Michael Campanaro, WF (20) 5-11 190 Sr. Clarksville, Md.

TE Eric Ebron, UNC (35) 6-4 245 Jr. Greensboro, N.C.

T James Hurst, UNC (37) 6-7 305 Sr. Plainfield, Ind.

T Morgan Moses, UVa (35) 6-6 325 Sr. Richmond, Va.

G Tre' Jackson, FSU (46) 6-4 330 Jr. Jesuup, Ga.

G Brandon Linder, UM (28) 6-6 317 Sr. Southwest Ranches, Fla.

C Bryan Stork, FSU (29) 6-4 298 Sr. Vero Beach, Fla.

QB Tajh Boyd, CL (59) 6-1 225 Sr. Hampton, Va.

RB Duke Johnson, UM (58) 5-9 194 So. Miami, Fla.

RB James Wilder Jr., FSU (23) 6-2 229 Jr. Tampa, Fla.


DE Jeremiah Attaochu, GT (39) 6-3 242 Sr. Washington, D.C.

DE Kareem Martin, UNC (37) 6-6 265 Sr. Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

DT Nikita Whitlock, WF (35) 5-11 250 Sr. Wylie, Texas

DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU (34) 6-2 294 Jr. Lake City, Fla.

LB Jack Tyler, VT (42) 6-1 236 Sr. Oakton, Va.

LB Christian Jones, FSU (38) 6-4 232 Sr. Winter Park, Fla.

LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, BC (21) 6-1 215 Sr. Norwalk, Conn.

CB Ross Cockrell, DU (48) 6-0 180 Sr. Waxhaw, N.C.

CB Lamarcus Joyner, FSU (32) * 5-8 190 Sr. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

S Tre Boston, UNC (30) 6-1 205 Sr. Ft. Myers, Fla.

S Jason Hendricks, PITT (18) 6-0 180 Sr. Brooklyn, N.Y.


PK Chandler Catanzaro, CL (41) 6-2 195 Gr. Greenville, S.C.

P Will Monday, DU (41) 6-4 210 So. Flowery Branch, Ga.

SP Stefon Diggs, MD (34) 6-1 185 So. Gaithersburg, Md.

* FSU's Joyner also received 11 votes at the safety position

Weak and strong: Pitt

June, 21, 2013
We move on to Pitt today in our series looking at the strongest and weakest positions on each team in the league.

Strongest position: Defensive back

Tough call to make here between defensive line and defensive back. Three starters return to both positions -- the line features the best overall player on the defense in Aaron Donald, but the secondary features three players who could end up being All-ACC selections. K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts form one of the better starting cornerback duos in the ACC. Fans who are unfamiliar with them now will soon know who they are when the season begins. At safety, All-Big East first-team selection Jason Hendricks returns after a solid 2012 in which he lead the team with 90 tackles and six interceptions. He and Williams combined for 10 of the teams' 15 picks last season. The big hole is at strong safety, where both starter Jarred Holley and backup Andrew Taglianetti are gone. Holley has been the most consistent player in the Panthers' defense over the last three years, while Taglianetti could always be counted on to deliver the monster hit. Ray Vinopal, a top reserve last season, is the favorite to take over for Holley.

Weakest position: Offensive line

I gave the line the nod over running back and receiver because there remains way too much uncertainty about this group after spring practice. Running back has a depth problem, there is no question, but I think Isaac Bennett is capable of shouldering the load. Receiver also has some depth and inexperience issues, but Devin Street should be one of the best in the league. That leaves offensive line, which has to replace its two best players from a year ago. Two redshirt freshmen could be starting the season opener against Florida State and face what should be another talented defensive front -- Adam Bisnowaty at one tackle and Gabe Roberts at center. Incoming freshman Dorian Johnson -- one of the top offensive line recruits in the nation -- could see time as well depending on how he does during fall camp. There were more position moves this spring to try and find the right combination, but there remains much unsettled about this group headed into the season.

More in this series here.

Pitt Panthers spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
Pittsburgh Panthers

2012 record: 6-7

2012 conference record: 3-4, Big East

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, S Jason Hendricks, CB Lafayette Pitts

Key losses

QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, C Ryan Turnley, S Jarred Holley

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Graham (1,042 yards, 11 TDs)
Passing: Sunseri (256-of-393 for 3,288 yards, 21 TDs, 3 INTs)
Receiving: Street* (975 yards, 5 TDs)
Tackles: Hendricks* (90)
Sacks: Donald* (5.5)
Interceptions: Hendricks* (six)

Spring answers

1. Bennett is the man. Following the surprising news that projected starting running back Rushel Shell would transfer, all eyes turned to Isaac Bennett, who now gets his chance to start. Bennett had 114 yards rushing and a touchdown in the spring game, and will now have to transfer that type of production into a game. Malcolm Crockett figures into the mix as well.

2. Starting D solid. The Panthers are adjusting to yet another defensive coordinator, but the good news here is Matt House was promoted from within the staff. So there was not a huge change in scheme or philosophy. With nine starters returning -- including big man up front Aaron Donald -- this group has the potential to shut some teams down.

3. T.J. Clemmings switch. Clemmings made the switch from the defensive to the offensive line to help bolster a group that has struggled the past several seasons. That move looks as if it has paid off, as Clemmings left spring with the starting right tackle job. Clemmings also was selected the team’s most improved offensive player this spring.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback. No word yet on a starting quarterback, so the competition between Chad Voytik and Tom Savage will keep going into fall camp begins. Savage is the senior with game experience (albeit several years ago at Rutgers), while Voytik is the up-and-comer. Savage did take more reps with the first team during the spring, if that gives you any hints.

2. Offensive line. Though Clemmings is at least one answer, the group as a whole still has major question marks after the spring. New center Gabe Roberts had his struggles with the shotgun snap during the spring, and the Panthers are going to have to rely on some inexperienced players to start. Depth also is an issue again.

3. Team depth. The offensive line is not the only position on the team where there is a lack of depth. Just about every position is thin, from running back to receiver, to defensive line and linebacker. Work still must be done to develop the second unit before the season begins.

Contender or pretender: Pitt

March, 26, 2013
We have come to the end in our series categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders. The incoming Pitt Panthers wrap things up.


What do you expect out of Pitt in 2013?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,406)

Why they're contenders: Start with the defense, which returns nine starters from a group that ranked No. 17 in the nation in total defense. Included in that group is defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who should be one of the best interior linemen in the ACC in 2013. Linebacker Todd Thomas is finally near 100 percent, and is poised for a breakout season. Safety Jason Hendricks, who led the team in tackles a season ago, should also make his name known in a hurry in this new league. Though the Panthers do have a new defensive coordinator in Matt House, he served as an assistant on this team a year ago, so there at least will be familiarity with him in charge and no scheme change. There is plenty of talent on offense as well, with Devin Street returning at receiver -- eyeing a 1,000-yard season -- and Rushel Shell hoping to build upon a steady freshman campaign. And while the starting quarterback is unknown right now, many expect either Tom Savage or Chad Voytik to be an improvement over the departed Tino Sunseri.

Why they're pretenders: Let's stay with the offense for a second. The offensive line has not been very good the last several years, and once again, this is an area of concern going into the spring. The top two linemen from a year ago -- guard Chris Jacobson and center Ryan Turnley -- are gone. Depth is not very good, either. At receiver, there are major question marks outside of Street, who will see his fair share of double teams as the player in the spotlight in that group. Shell, meanwhile, was inconsistent last season. How will he handle 20-plus carries in a game as the starter? While there is the expectation that quarterback play will improve, Sunseri did start for three years and led this team to three bowl games. So that position remains an unknown. Defensively, Pitt needs players to step up on the line next to Donald. Putting more pressure on the passer is a must, as the Panthers only had 24 sacks last year, compared to 43 in 2011. Getting Thomas back should be huge for a linebacker group that also has been inconsistent.

Final verdict: I truly believe Pitt will be a contender in Year 1 in the ACC. The defense should be solid; the offense should be better. And these players get the luxury of having the same head coach for two straight seasons. Believe you me, that is huge for a program that has been rocked by transition up at the top.

More in this series

Pitt injury update

March, 5, 2013
Pittsburgh has released its injury report for the first day of spring practices, and the Panthers will be without two starters: linebacker Shane Gordon and leading tackler Jason Hendricks. Gordon, who returns in the middle, missed three full games and parts of others last season due to injuries. He finished with 48 tackles and six TFLs. He was also effective in pass coverage and ranked second on the team with six breakups.

Hendricks returns at free safety after earning All-Big East honors in 2012. Hendricks led Pitt in tackles (90) and interceptions (six). His interception total was the highest by a Pitt player since 2000, while his 0.46 INTs per game led the Big East and ranked sixth nationally.

Here is the full injury report, as released by the school: