Pitt's receiver depth opens door to a lot of options
August 8, 2014 12:00 AM
Coach Paul Chryst coaches wide receivers Tyler Boyd (23) and Kevin Weatherspoon (88) at the first day of Pitt's preseason practice Monday at their training facility on the South Side.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As Pitt looks for secondary receiving options to complement budding star Tyler Boyd, the choices quite literally come in all shapes and sizes.
They range from 5-foot-8 speedster Ronald Jones, coming off a one-year disciplinary suspension, to 6-3 Jester Weah, a freak athlete with limited football experience.
"I don't really look at guys and their height, their weight, their stature, their size and their speed," receivers coach Greg Lewis said. "Ron is a football player and all our receivers are football players."
There are 11 scholarship wide receivers, to be exact, on Pitt's roster. Boyd will almost certainly be the star, and Manasseh Garner will see plenty of balls in his tight end/wide receiver hybrid role, but beyond that there's plenty of playing time for anyone willing to earn it.
Lewis' biggest challenge so far in training camp might not be identifying any early leaders, but rather just making sure there are enough practice snaps to go around.
"I'm a smart guy, I'm pretty intelligent," Lewis said. "I got like a 30 on the ACT, so I can keep track of the guys and get everyone the reps they need to get."
Jones seems poised to be Boyd's direct backup and will spend most of his time in the slot. In practice, he's usually the one running end-arounds and wide receiver screens when Boyd isn't on the field.
The most intriguing option might be freshman Adonis Jennings, who returned to practice Thursday after missing three days with a groin injury.
Jennings, one of Pitt's most touted freshmen, was a four-star recruit on Rivals.com and caught 64 passes for 1,153 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Timber Creek High School in New Jersey.
Jennings has gotten consistent reps with the second team so far in training camp and said he's hoping to make an impact on the field this year. Like most freshmen, he said the toughest learning curve is getting used to the speed of the college game.
"It's a lot different than high school, so I'm just getting adjusted to it," Jennings said. "They want me to get adjusted to it fast because there's big expectations. I'm trying to get into it"
Lewis was careful to temper his praise for Jennings just four practices into his college career (three of which were limited by injury), but admitted he definitely looks the part.
"Getting a guy that's big, tall, fast, strong, you can't have enough of them," Lewis said. "Having Adonis here is a big positive for us."
On the other end of the experience spectrum is redshirt senior Kevin Weatherspoon, who did not have a catch entering last season but grabbed 14 passes for 155 yards, including a key third-down reception late in Pitt's 58-55 win against Duke that sealed the victory.
At 5-10, Weatherspoon is another smaller receiver, but hopes to turn into a dependable option for quarterback Chad Voytik.
"I just try to play every play like it's my last," Weatherspoon said. "But at the same time, it's a team game so it can't just be one person; we've all got to play together. I feel like when we do that, that's where the most energy comes from."
Finally, there's Weah. A natural athlete, he didn't play football until his sophomore year of high school. Weah still is raw, but made some plays in the first few practices of training camp.
"Jester is playing with a lot of confidence right now," Lewis said. "I think that's a year in the system. He's a guy that hadn't played a lot of football and now he's getting opportunities and he's feeling more confident about the plays, the concepts, the alignments and all the little details. So now he can let his athletic ability show."
So even if Lewis doesn't know exactly what the wide receiver depth chart will look like beyond Boyd for the opener Aug. 30 against Delaware, at least he knows he has options.
"Having a bunch of guys that can play football for you, that's a great problem to have," Lewis said. "It's hard to get all the guys in there, but you know you could put any one of them in there and they're going to get the job done."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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