Panthers beef up both lines


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One of the long-term repercussions of the coaching changes that have plagued Pitt the past three years is holes in the roster, some at crucial positions.

The Panthers went a long way toward filling some of those Wednesday, and coach Paul Chryst took a step toward establishing what he wants the identity of his team to be.

Twenty-three high school seniors signed national letters of intent Wednesday to play for Pitt, the first day seniors could officially join the teams they have been verbally committed to for months. They will join the four players that enrolled at Pitt in January to make up the 27-man freshman class of 2013.

After signing 16 players last year, this class was aimed at rebuilding the depth on Pitt's roster, specifically along the offensive and defensive lines.

"We always want to be able to be as close to 85 [the NCAA limit] as you can with scholarships," Chryst said. "I think we ended up dressing 53 guys at the bowl game. That's not what you want. You want to have depth and build depth, and so I think it worked out pretty well."

The class got a late boost Wednesday morning when Clairton receiver Tyler Boyd re-affirmed his verbal commitment to Pitt and signed his letter of intent. Boyd verbally committed to Pitt in early January, but his destination was up in the air after he took official visits to Tennessee and West Virginia the past few weeks.

He made it official with Pitt at a news conference Wednesday at Clairton High School, where he signed his letter of intent alongside teammates Terrish Webb and Titus Howard, who also signed for Pitt.

"The one thing about Tyler that you appreciate is that we knew what was going on," Chryst said. "There was good dialogue."

Boyd said the visits made him reconsider his decision, but he decided Tuesday night to stick with the Panthers.

"I started to get confused because schools were telling me everything I wanted to hear," Boyd said. "I had to sit down with my family and these boys, talk about the pros and cons. This was the strongest pro of the whole situation about the situation, so I had to ride it out with my brothers."

Boyd also spoke highly of his relationship with Belle Vernon offensive tackle Dorian Johnson, the highest-rated player to sign Wednesday with Pitt.

Johnson, the first Rivals.com five-star player to sign with Pitt since Jonathan Baldwin in 2008, was one of five offensive linemen the Panthers took this year.

While most will likely redshirt as freshmen, they should begin providing depth at a position where it was sorely lacking last season.

Chryst said one of Pitt's goals in this recruiting class was "getting bigger," and the offensive linemen are a perfect example. The five linemen come in at an average of 6 feet 5 and 298 pounds.

"To do what we want to do, if we're going to try to establish a pro-style running game, we want to make sure that we have the mass to do it," offensive line coach Jim Hueber said. "There's no other way around it."

Offensive line recruiting and development was a big part of Chryst's success at Wisconsin, but he pointed out that winning in the trenches was a hallmark of most successful football teams, no matter where they are or what style they run.

"You can't keep recruiting five offensive linemen in every class, you'd have too many," Chryst said.

"But, at the same time, if we were going to err, we wanted to err in the [offensive] line and [defensive] line."

Chryst stayed true to his stated model of keeping local talent home, with 13 Pennsylvania players in the class. In addition to Johnson and the three Clairton players, the class includes three other WPIAL players: South Fayette receiver Zach Challingsworth, Gateway fullback Jaymar Parrish and Seton-LaSalle tight end Scott Orndoff, one of the four early enrollees.

The Panthers signed two players -- receiver Jester Weah and linebacker Zach Poker -- from Chryst's home state of Wisconsin, and even landed defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni from Hawaii, thanks to defensive line coach and Hawaii native Inoke Breckterfield.

"We've got the whole gamut, guys that were highly recruited and guys that services or experts would say not highly recruited," Chryst said. "But each one of them adds tremendous value to us and that's, to me, what's exciting."

Pitt's class is rated 33rd nationally by Rivals.com and 22nd in the country by Scout.com.

Rivals has the Panthers with the sixth-best recruiting class in the ACC, Pitt's new conference home in 2013, but Scout ranks it as third best.

mobilehome - pittsports

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published February 7, 2013 5:00 AM


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