Photo Credit- Atlantic Coast Conference
The Panthers opened up their 2023 schedule with a home tilt against the Wofford Terriers, winning 45-7. Pitt entered the contest a 36.5 point favorite in a game that was meant to be a tune up for an increasingly more difficult stretch of three games against Cincinnati, West Virginia and #21 North Carolina.
Scouts were excited to get a closer look at Pitt’s new starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who made his debut for the Panthers and is finally healthy after two injury plagued seasons at Boston College.
Pitt’s defensive prospects took the field first and instantly showed their dominance. NFL defensive tackle prospect Dayon Hayes tallied a sack against quarterback Byrce Corriston and on the next play possible late round pick DeAndre Jules (DT) tackled running back Ryan Ingram for a 4-yard loss. The Pitt secondary led by M.J. Devonshire and Marques Williams were able to shut down the passing attack of the Terriers on a consistent basis by being athletic and aggressive.
On offense Rodney Hammond Jr. showed scouts that once he gets moving he is a load to bring down and has that extra gear once he gets in the open field.
Draft 412 takes a closer look at the Pitt draft prospects and what was seen during the week one win:
The local high school star made his return to Pittsburgh and played well and showed he has mobility and an NFL calibur arm. On the first drive, he appeared unsure of himself and held onto the ball longer than he should have, taking a 12 yard sack.
After the first drive “rust” was gone and Jurkovec looked like a quarterback who was comfortable once again running Frank Cignetti’s offensive system. He made several throws that showed off his arm, none more impressive than a 28-yard seam pass to Gavin Bartholomew to set Pitt up with a first and ten. The throw was into traffic and the placement of the ball was precise.
Later, he showed his mobility off on a 23-yard scamper on a “read run,” in which Jurkovec saw an opening and rambled untouched for a touchdown. He spread the ball around, using his entire compliment of receivers, including his tight ends.
Looking through the eyes of an NFL scout, Jurkovec is calm in the pocket, letting his plays develop. This week’s opponent did little to pressure Jurkovec, and Draft 412 is interested to see how he performs over the next three weeks against more talented opponents.
RB-Rodney Hammond Jr.
Hammond Jr. only had 4 carries for 24 yards but did score 2 touchdowns. On one run, a 10-yard burst, he fought through the initial contact and exploded forward before getting knocked out of bounds. He runs with a low base and is powerful and defenses have trouble wrapping him up. On the downside, Hammond had a bad drop on a broken play where Jurkovec made a nice read and pass but he moved before securing the catch.
Means showed off his speed on several different routes, and even though the ball wasn’t thrown to him, scouts could see separation from the booth. He had 2 catches for 39 yards on 4 targets. On one throw he was three yards behind the defender but the ball was just overthrown by backup quarterback Christain Veilleux. Means has the speed and playmaking ability to play to make it at the next level. But scouts—including Draft 412—will be watching to see if he improved his hands from last year and if he runs each route with vigor, regardless if he’s the primary receiver or not.
T- Matt Goncalves
The 6’6” 330 lb. tackle had his way all day with the smaller Terrier defense. On several occasions while running to his side, he created holes by hitting and moving defenders at will. He looked comfortable on his pass protection as well and movement looked improved from past seasons. It is tough to get a good read on a top tackle going against this type of opponent, but Draft 412 will get a good read on this next week against Cincinnati.
TE- Gavin Bartholomew
Gavin Bartholomew is an athletic tight end who will put pressure on secondaries each week. He made a 28-yard reception against the Terriers defense down the seam, showing off his route running acumen and used his hands well to snatch the ball, not letting the ball get into his body. He exploded off his blocks (which is a noticeable improvement from last year and something he’s been working on in the offseason) and looked aggressive in his route running.
Bartholomew was underused in 2022 and perhaps part of that was the lack of connection with quarterback Kedon Slovis. Phil Jurkovec however used his tight ends a lot in game one and it will be interesting to see if this continues in the future.
DE- Dayon Hayes
On play one from scrimmage Dayon Hayes exploded through the line of scrimmage to sack quarterback Bryce Corriston. Hayes was all over the field and showed off his speed to go along with power and finished with 4 tackles, 1 sack and 1 quarterback hurry. He is part of a defensive line that has some up and coming draft prospects, and this is an underrated unit.
DT- DeAndre Jules
Every season there seems to be a Pitt defensive lineman that pops his head out and says “here I am.” This season DeAndre Jules appears to be that player.
He lost around 20 lbs in the offseason and is still a monster at 6’3” and 310 lbs. Jules is hard to move and has speed and strength to cause damage in the backfield, like he did on the second play of the game hitting Wofford running back Ryan Ingram for a 4-yard loss. He is in his 5th season and if he continues this trajectory will be rising up the scouts boards.