Pitt offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Joe Rudolph was excited on national letter of intent day. The Panthers signed 15 offensive players including three tight ends.
"We had some holes to fill and we have a chance to generate some competition at some spots where it wasn't present before. We also had some injuries last year that put a constraint on what we could do." Rudolph said. "It will be great to get these guys in and see who is far enough along on the curve to be able to help us compete. It will definitely open some things up for us."
Two highly-touted offensive players, offensive lineman Dorian Johnson, who coincidentally, is from the same high school as Rudolph (Belle Vernon), and receiver Tyler Boyd, highlighted this year's class.
"The Pittsburgh area wasn’t really mine but we worked different guys, according to familiarity or position coaching, that was pretty fun," Rudolph said. "Anywhere that's your home, it's that much more pressure. We wanted to be exhaustive in our approach [in recruiting Johnson]."
Boyd has the athletic ability to play several positions, which Rudolph feels will give the Panthers some options they did not have before.
"[Boyd] really shows the ability to play some different spots. That gives us some flexibility," Rudolph said. "Obviously, the constraint will be how much he can absorb and learn and can be consistent with. It's a good problem to have."
Boyd was recruited by wide receivers coach Bobby Engram who spoke with Boyd Tuesday night before settling on his decision to stick with Pitt on commitment day. Boyd was torn in several different directions a week before Letter of Intent Day. West Virginia and Tennessee both heavily pressed for Boyd's services in the final days.
"Outside of the home visit [the week before LOI Day], I didn't have much contact with him. I kinda backed off. I just wanted to give him some space to think. He had a lot of people coming at him and he was getting a lot of information," Engram said. "We had a really good conversation Tuesday night. I felt good about it and I was glad he decided to come [to Pitt].
Engram feels Boyd will be an asset to the team, not only because of his ability but because he is a team player.
"The intangibles, with all the accolades and recognition, it wasn't always about Tyler [Boyd]," Engram said. "He's a team guy. It's what could he do to help his teammates. He's a humble kid. He's a hardworking guy. He wants to be great."
Engram is looking forward to adding all the new wide receivers to the roster.
"This group is exciting. They're tall, long, they can run, and are athletic. Now it's up to me to coach them up as good as I can and prepare them to go out there and perform," Engram said. "We want to create a competitive environment and see who rises to the top. I told them I'm going to be demanding from day one. I think they're up for the challenge."
"We needed to do something. We were short on numbers. Our expectation is these five guys will be a part of what we do. We'll see how mature they are when they show up," Hueber said. "Absolutely it's good to have Dorian Johnson. One of the most-disappointing things was when he went elsewhere. It was great to see him come back."
He was happy with all five linemen that were signed and feels confident they will all adapt to college football.
"We targeted these guys among others. We know we have five good kids who like football. They all visited here so they know what to expect when they show up," Hueber said. "It's not as hard with o-linemen blending in with each other. You have to compete here. You have to grow up."
Dual threat quarterback Tra'Von Chapman is another key recruit in this class. He enrolled in January and has gotten a head start on learning the offensive system, much to the delight of quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger.
"We already got a chance to work with him. It was a chance for him to acclimate himself to Pitt and his teammates. We're looking forward to working with him in the spring," Bollinger said. "The early enrollment is a trend that started with quarterbacks since that first off-season is so important. It almost buys you an extra year getting that spring."
He also feels there is even more of a learning curve as many players are coming from a spread offense and need to shift to more of a pro style system in college.
"Generally speaking, there's so much learning from high school to college. Sometimes it’s a bigger jump for a quarterback from high school to college than it is from college to the NFL," Bollinger said. "A lot of players have been in some sort of a spread and they have to start back at square one so it can be a huge transition."
The defensive line was in need of numbers as much as the offensive line, so defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield was excited with the signing of five defensive linemen.
"We're excited about this group. We're filling holes where we needed. The defensive line as a place we felt we needed to get some bodies in," Breckterfield said. "We needed the addition of defensive ends and also needed depth inside."
Jeremiah Taleni is one new signee that will be adding depth inside. He will be coming a long way from home to play at Pitt. He hails from Hawaii and it is an eleven hour flight.
"He just wanted to see something different. He felt comfortable here and with me being on staff, and [former Panther] Penny Semia being of Samoan descent also being here," Brecterfield said. "On his trip it was the first time he saw snow. He made us stop the truck and he got out and made a snowball. He was pretty excited about that."
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