Today we get to part four of our look at Pitt’s 2013 recruiting class, which will sign National Letters of Intent for the Panthers Wednesday. Today, we’ll dive into a position that was clearly very important for Paul Chryst and his staff in their first full recruiting class: offensive line. Click below to view this post...
Early enrollees: None.
Dorian Johnson (6-6, 280 lbs)
Belle Vernon High School (Belle Vernon, Pa.)
Rivals: 5*, No. 2 OT
Scout: 4*, No. 12 OT
ESPN: 4*, No. 2 OT
Alexander Officer (6-4, 310 lbs)
Eastridge High School (Rochester, N.Y.)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 47 OG
ESPN: 3* No. 39 OG
Aaron Reese (6-5, 280 lbs)
Chambersburg High School (Chambersburg, Pa.)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 62 OT
ESPN: 3*, No. 66 OT
Jaryd Jones-Smith (6-7, 300 lbs)
West Catholic High School (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 91 OT
ESPN: 3*, No. 91 OT
Carson Baker (6-5, 310 lbs)
Fairborn High School (Fairborn, Ohio)
Rivals: 2*, NR
Scout: 2*, No. 119 OT
ESPN: 2*, No. 164 OT
Remaining targets: None.
One word comes to mind when I look at this class: size. First, the five offensive linemen are the most Pitt has taken in a single class since 2003. Yes. You read that right, this is Pitt’s largest offensive line class in 10 years. Last year, the Panthers only signed two offensive linemen (Gabe Roberts and Adam Bisnowaty) and Todd Graham inked just two in 2010, as well. You have to go back to 2009 to find a “full” offensive line class of four prospects. Those holes up front were pretty evident this season, especially when Pitt had to shuffle things around due to injuries or suspensions (see Zenel Demhasaj starting the BBVA Compass Bowl at right tackle, with Matt Rotheram sliding inside). One of Chryst’s biggests goals in terms of roster management is creating a pipeline of talent and experience along the offensive line in years to come. It’ll take some time, but this class is a good start. As a general rule, you can never have too many offensive linemen. There’s almost always some attrition, and some guys just don’t pan out, so the more options you have up front, the better. Also, experience matters more at the offensive line than other positions, as high school players need time to put on weight and build strength to play the position in college. Because of that, building a talent pipeline along the line is more important than, say, running back, where a highly-talented freshman can step in and play effectively right away.
When I said that this group makes me think of the word “size,” I meant it in more ways than one. Look at those heights and weights again. The five players come in at an average of 6-5, 296 pounds. And that’s before any of them has spent a second in a college weight room. Chryst’s offense at Wisconsin was known for its huge, road-paving offensive lines that opened giant holes for the Badgers’ running backs. His 2011 Rose Bowl team had a line checked in at an average size of 6-5, 323 pounds. Like I said, in most ideal cases, an offensive lineman wouldn’t see the field until at least his third year in the program, so give these freshmen some time in the weight room and all of them have big frames they can fill out with even more good weight.
Finally, the crown jewel of this position (and the class as a whole) is obviously Dorian Johnson. Johnson is Pitt’s first Rivals five-star recruit since Jonathan Baldwin signed in 2008, and really couldn’t come at a bigger time or position for Pitt. For any Pitt coach, one of the primary recruiting goals should be keeping elite WPIAL talent home at Pitt. While you can’t win ‘em all (see: Foster, Robert) this was a big recruiting win for Chryst, getting a guy that had offers from pretty much every big-time program. I spoke to Johnson around the time he committed, and he said that coaches told him he would have a chance to earn a spot in the starting lineup as a freshman. I think he’ll certainly get his shot, but in a perfect world for Pitt, a redshirt year is probably a preferable scenario. This is no knock on Johnson, who is an elite talent, but it would be a little worrisome (though not totally out of the realm of possibility) if the Panthers’ upperclassmen on the offensive line were beaten out by a freshman, even one as talented as Johnson. Plus, as I said earlier, redshirting is almost always the best idea for an offensive lineman, just because of the nature of the position. There are rare exceptions, though, and Johnson could be one of them.