ACC: Jester Weah

Second-year stars: Pitt

May, 14, 2014
May 14
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.

See our previous projections here.

Next up: Pitt Panthers

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.

[+] EnlargeJoyner
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesPitt surrendered 3.31 sacks per game in 2013, a problem that must be addressed.
Second-year star: OT Jaryd Jones-Smith (6-foot-7, 295 pounds)

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.

Q&A: Pitt WRs coach Greg Lewis

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
Pitt opens spring practice Sunday, kicking off Year 2 of the ACC era and Year 3 of the Paul Chryst era. We caught up with Chryst's newest staff addition, receivers coach Greg Lewis, to preview the position and learn about his rapid rise up the coaching ranks following a stellar NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.

How did this opportunity come about?

Greg Lewis: I've always wanted to coach at the highest level of college football, and I got an opportunity to do some interning with the Eagles when Coach (Andy) Reid was there, and that sort of kick-started my coaching career. I got an opportunity to get out to the University of San Diego, which has been a hotbed for coaches to start their career, and I did a good job down there and our head coach (Ron Caragher) got the job at San Jose State the next year and took me with up there with him, and it was a great opportunity out there. We did well. Offensively, we had some great numbers, some good receivers that I helped be a little better than they had been the previous year, and I saw an opportunity when Coach (Bobby) Engram got the job in Baltimore to maybe get out to Pittsburgh. And I talked to Coach (Jim) Hueber and Coach Chryst and they brought me out here and it was a good for me, and they felt confident in what I bring to the table, and it was basically a done deal from there. I'm excited to be a part of what we're doing and really get started.

[+] EnlargeGreg Lewis
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelFormer NFL receiver Greg Lewis began his coaching career as an intern with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012.
Did you have any kind of connection with Coach Chryst before? How did you get into the interview process?

GL: I didn't know Coach Chryst personally; I knew of Coach Chryst and what he did. I played at Illinois and he was at Wisconsin, so I saw what they were doing there, and obviously they were good all the time, and offensively they had some guys that put up some numbers, and it was a good fit. And me being in Minnesota with the Vikings, I knew Coach Hueber -- he's the O-line coach here at Pitt and he was the O-line coach at Minnesota when I was there -- so when the opportunity came available I contacted him first and saw if he could gauge any interest in the job opportunity here at Pitt, and Coach Chryst liked what he saw, liked what he heard from me and about me, and he brought me in for an interview. So other than that I didn't know him personally, but I knew of him.

What do you think of what you've got in front of you here, particularly Tyler Boyd? What are your initial impressions of him?

GL: I spent some time with Tyler and he's a very hard-working kid, very humble and what really stood out to me is that he wants to get better. He wants to get coached and he wants to be better than he was the previous year. And that's a big step, but he's willing to put in the work to do that and to achieve those goals. I wasn't here for him so I'm not going to say he's Larry Fitzgerald by any means, but he did a tremendous job being a freshman last year, a freshman All-American, and now he's got to back it up and do it again and do more than he did the previous year, and he's willing to do that. And that's all you want as a coach are guys that want to work and want to get better. That's easy to coach. And I expect big things from him, as well as the rest of the young guys that we have here in the program, so it's going to be exciting this upcoming season.

You mentioned the young guys. Not a lot of people are familiar with a lot of those guys, especially after Devin Street just graduated. What do you think you have behind Tyler Boyd? Who are some guys you think could make some names for themselves this spring and work their ways into big roles this fall?

GL: Ronald Jones, he's a junior, not young, but he's a quick, fast-switch guy that has playmaking ability. He'll have an opportunity to get out there and show what he can do this spring. (Kevin) Weatherspoon, another older guy, I see him stepping his role up from what he did the previous three or four years, has the opportunity to do some things. And then we got the young guys. Jester Weah, he's fast, he's extremely fast. Big, imposing figure, big opportunity to take another step from last year as a freshman to this year, coming in and getting an opportunity to play. And we've got (Zach) Challingsworth and (Chris) Wuestner, two guys that have the opportunity to come in and do the same thing. We've got a lot of big, imposing guys that are very physical and very fast. Just fine-tuning and getting confident in the offense and what they need to do and what they need to work on. There will be big things for them ahead.

Recruiting-wise, do you have a specific territory? How are you going to approach that?

GL: I haven't sat down and really got into the recruiting aspect of it yet with Coach, but obviously I'm going to have some type of area, and whatever area that is, I'm going to dive in head-first and get after recruiting and continue getting guys that fit the program and what we're trying to do here. I'm excited about that part. I actually like recruiting, so I'm excited to get started with that as well.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsGreg Lewis is excited to work with Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd, who had a breakout freshman season in 2013.
Recruiting obviously is one part of the job. I'd imagine you, just getting out of the NFL a couple years ago, are probably running into teenagers who are more familiar with you as an Eagles wide receiver. Does it seem kind of strange being on the other side of that?

GL: Not really. I feel good that they do see me as sort of a role model and they watched me play before. It's given me a sort of leg up, so to speak, in some aspects because I've done what they're trying to do, and I'm teaching what they're trying to do now. And they want to learn from somebody that has done it at some time. And I use that to my advantage in recruiting in trying to get guys to buy into what I'm trying to teach or what the program is trying to build. So I like it. I think it's positive for the program and for myself and for the kids. Everything they're trying to go through or going through at this present time, I've been through it all. Every single thing. And what they're trying to get to, I've done that, too. So I'm just trying to impart knowledge on the guys with the situations that I'm in and what to expect when they get there.

Being relatively young, and presumably in shape, how tempting is it for you now just as a coach to go out there and want to get back on the field, whether it's just to show them a drill here and there or to show yourself you still have it?

GL: It's actually a benefit for me just being able to actually demonstrate some of the drills and do some of the things. No, I don't want to get back out there and catch passes or run routes or do anything of that nature. But being able to show them exactly what I mean -- because some guys are visual learners, and they need to see it done, to see exactly what you mean, whereas some guys can get it and go do it. But I think seeing something done benefits me as a coach and it benefits the players as well. Because this is exactly what I want, this is exactly how I want it done and I know it works. So I think it's cool. But no, my cleats are hung up, my helmet's put up, I'm not doing anything physical (laughs).

Who would you say have been some of your mentors as a coach so far? Even going back to your college or high school days. Was this something that was ever in the back of your mind at a young age that you knew you wanted to eventually do?

GL: My high school coach (Rich Murphy, from Rich South in Chicago), he just was always on me as far as just trying to be the best I can be and stuff, so he sort of started the whole deal with his dedication to our program, which wasn't a great program, but seeing the time and effort that he put into us and then it came to fruition and he got something out of it, it was rewarding for him and it was rewarding for us. That sort of started it a little bit. When I got to college I was just more focused on playing and whatnot. My receivers coach, Coach (Robert) Jackson, was a great mentor. I could talk to him about anything, so that sort of helped, and I wanted to mold myself into that a little bit, having an open-door policy with guys and having them feel a little more comfortable with me. Coach (Andy) Reid with the Eagles, I just liked everything about what he stood for and how he went about doing things. And I told him when I got there that I wanted to get into coaching, and I would tell him every year that I was interested in coaching. I always saw myself as the extension of the coach, whether it was playing basketball or football or any sport. Players would always look to me for what to do. I considered myself a coach, so why not do it for a profession once I'm done?

Got to ask you this one, being a former Eagle: Philly or Pittsburgh?

GL: (Laughs) Living or team?


GL: Living, I can't say right now because I haven't been in Pittsburgh long enough to get a good sample, but thus far there have been good people out here, stuff to do. It sort of reminds me of Philly. Going from California to out here, I feel more at home in Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, being a Midwest guy. California was awesome, it was just different for me. I wasn't used to it on the West Coast, so I didn't know too much about it.



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12