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Fresh Faces - A look at the Newcomers Likely to Play

Written by Paul Zeise on .

Tomorrow I am writing about Ronald Jones, the freshman receiver who has coaches salivating because of his speed, athleticism and ability to make big plays.

In Saturday's scrimmage he broke a long punt return for a touchdown, causing Todd Graham to say to himself "I didn't know he could do that...."

Graham compared Jones to Tulsa star Damaris Johnson, who holds the NCAA’s all-time records for all-purpose yards (7,796) and career kickoff return yardage (3,417 yards) despite being only 5-foot-8, 170 pounds.

That's high praise for a kid who hasn't yet played a game and in case you are looking for a little flavor as to just what kind of player Johnson is and what are some of the things we may able to expect from Jones this fall and beyond, here is a video of  Johnson at Tulsa in a game against Hawaii.

Pay particular attention to the number of different ways Johnson is used and how many different places he lines up on the field - it is what is in store for Jones.

Now, Jones is one of only a handful of freshman and newcomers who are expected to play this season and a number of them should have an impact.

Here is a look at them:

Ronald Jones  (WR, 5-8, 165 pounds) - Jones, who is from Fort Meade, Fla, -- is a receiver and like we've said has game-changing ability. He is fast, he has great change of direction and he is going to fit in well in this offense. He will not only be a slot receiver, he will run some sweeps, some reverses, return kicks and punts and they'll find plenty of ways to get him the ball. He will definitely play and likely, if he makes plays, will play a lot more as the season progresses.

Corey Davis (RB, 5-11, 180) -- Like Jones, Davis has excited the coaches and anyone who has watched practice with his big-play ability. He is a game-changer. He will get an opportunity to play in the backfield but is also going to return kicks. He is extremely fast, explosive and he can make people miss. He is behind both Ray Graham and Zach Brown but I get the sense this is the kind of offense that there will be plenty of opportunities to get a third back involved.

Zach Brown (RB, 5-10, 220) - Brown is not a freshman, he is a senior who transferred from Wisconsin. He is compact but he is fast and he runs downhill, like bowling ball. He seems to enjoy contact and is the kind of physical runner who can move the pile in short yardage. He is quick, though, and can also make big plays. He is definitely going to play a big role in this offense.

Ejuan Price (PLB, 6-0, 235 pounds) - Price, who is from Woodland Hills, will be the back-up at Panther linebacker. He is explosive, he is athletic but he is young and he will make some mistakes. Still, at that position, he should be able to shine because so much of what he is asked to do is going to be tailored towards his ability. He has a chance to be an excellent player.

LaQuentin Smith (MLB, 6-2, 225) - Another Florida guy (Orlando), Smith is not quite as far along as Jones and Price, but he is right now the fourth inside linebacker (there are two spots so he is a back-up). Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson told me that Smith is still learning and will get on the field initially in certain situations because of his natural ability. But he expects Smith to get a little more time each week as he gets comfortable, particularly since he is physically ready to play right now. Patterson likes Smith's ability to make big plays.

Lafayette Pitts (CB, 5-11, 180) - Another Woodland Hills guy, Pitts was supposed to be the star of this class who returns kicks and punts and even plays some on offense. But his progress hasn't quite been what coaches had hoped -- plus Jones has been dynamic in most of the roles coaches thought Pitts would play - so he is right now a reserve corner. It really is just an experience thing with Pitts - he has been pretty impressive in spurts so it will only be a matter of time before he has an impact. The thing is, the three corners ahead of him - Buddy Jackson, Antwuan Reed and Kwaun Williams haven't slipped any so Pitts will need to make the most of his opportunities to prove he deserves more playing time.

Lloyd Carrington (CB, 6-0, 180) - Carrington is probably on the border of a guy who will play and a guy who will take a redshirt. He is likely the fifth corner right now, so he may need some situations to fall his way in order to get playing time but he does have ability and coaches are excited about his future. He will likely get a chance to play but again, Tony Gibson said situation will dictate how much and when.

Josh Brinson (WR, 6-2, 195) - He is not a freshman, he is a junior college transfer (El Camino Calif.), but he is a newcomer so I'll throw him in here. He right now is probably somewhere around the fifth or sixth receiver and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said he has progressed enough and shown enough to merit playing time. I've liked what I have seen from Brinson, I think he is pretty fast and he catches the ball well so he will fit in well.

Darius Patton (WR, 5-10, 170) - Patton, who is from Poland, Ohio, has a lot of ability but he was slowed a little at the end of the week and is a player that Norvell said they would like to try and get ready to play this year. I'm not sure how much he will play because the receiver position is getting crowded. He is quick and has decent hands but has to get a little more physical.

Nicholas Grigsby (LB, 6-1, 210) - An ankle injury has slowed his progress considerably and may even hold him back enough that coaches decide to redshirt him. But Grigsby, who is from Trotwood, Ohio, was on the fast track to compete for considerable playing time at inside linebacker before he got nicked. Graham said today he really likes his ability and even though he is a little behind, he will be given every opportunity to get back into the mix and perhaps even into the regular rotation by midseason. Grigsby, like Smith, can make a lot of plays on the strength of his considerable athleticism alone and once he figures out what he is doing, he has a chance.

Malcolm Crockett (RB, 5-10, 180) - If a fourth running back is going to be used, it will likely be Crockett, who is from Takoma Park, Md., at least least according to Graham. Crockett is "ready to play" according to Graham but he also said he'd like to be able to redshirt a couple of the tailbacks, so Crockett's playing time this year may be determined by what happens with the other tailbacks.

Isaac Bennett (RB, 5-11, 190) - Listening to Graham, Bennett is likely headed for a redshirt. But Bennett is a little bigger and more physical and more of a downhill runner than Davis and Crockett, so if Zach Brown were to get hurt, perhaps he will get an opportunity.

Now, again, I don't know that all 12 of those guys will play but most of them will and some, like Jones, Davis, Brown, Price and Smith all are expected to have an impact.

*** Pitt's annual FanFest will be held this Thursday night (Aug. 25th) at Heinz Field from 6 to 8:30. Admission is free. Parking is available for $5 in Gold Lots 1 and 2.  You can meet the players and coaches, get autographs and pictures and there will also be music, entertainment, games and inflatables and you can also purchase season tickets. Rumor also has it that Pitt marketing guru Chris Ferris will sing Neil Diamond songs - and has a special dance arranged for when he sings Sweet Caroline - and then he will sign autographs as well.

Of course, if you'd like to see the actual team on the field in a light practice, you know, so you can get a feel for the new players and the team, well, you are out of luck.....

*** A programming note - The Pitt version of the "Nightly Sports Call" was such a hit last year that it will be back again this year, starting next Thursday, Sept. 1st. at 10:35 on Pittsburgh's CW.

It will be an entire show dedicated to talking Pitt football (then hoops) and it will be hosted by yours truly along with either Bob Pompeani or that pretty boy from Maryland whose name escapes me....Laughing  (relax, I'm just busting some chops, Jory Rand is a friend and he's really a good dude, well, sort of.....)

At any rate, it was a huge success because you, the fan, made it one so tune in and watch and give us a call so we can make it a great place to talk about all things Pitt.

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