New Pitt Offense Could Boost TE Position

With Whipple leading offense, Panthers emphasizing passing game in Spring

Josh Rowntree
April 04, 2019 - 5:14 pm
Pitt TE coach Tim Salem in practice in April 2019

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan


If there is one, undeniable area that Pitt needs increased production from in 2019, it is the tight end position.

Despite helping pave the way for a pair of 1,000-yard rushers last year, Pitt received just minimal pass help from the tight ends, who accounted for just ten receptions for 69 yards and no touchdowns. 

“It was real frustrating,” said redshirt senior Will Gragg, who led the Panthers’ tight ends with five catches in 2018. “Me and (Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi) had multiple talks and, after the season ended, he promised me that something was going to change on his part. He did it and it’s all uphill from here.”

And something did change, as Pitt made a move at offensive coordinator, bringing in 39-year coaching veteran Mark Whipple. 

“He’s come in, sat us down and taught us what we need to know,” Gragg said. “He’s formatting his offense to his personnel. He’s working to our strengths.

“We’re in practice ten and I’ve already got more balls in practice than I got all of last year. So hopefully it keeps going.”

Whipple’s impact can be felt all around football, including a stop with the Pittsburgh Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger’s first quarterbacks coach. 

“Coach Whipple has a knack, he’s a quarterback guy, he’s got a fluid personality,” Panthers tight ends coach Tim Salem said. “In his brain, he wants to coach and have fun, which rubs off on the players, they want to do the same. It makes coming to work that much more energized.”

While Pitt won’t totally go away from it’s ground-and-pound style of offense that won the ACC’s Coastal Division in 2018, there should be more variety for expected quarterback Kenny Pickett to work with in his second year as a full-time starter, something Gragg thinks Pickett has embraced this offseason.

“Just his level of confidence,” Gragg said. “He’s taking the deep balls, the shots that he normally wouldn’t take, the throws that he would be hesitating on last year. He’s actually making them, he’s throwing them. He’s taken some criticism, but it wasn’t all on him. This year you can really see him blossom.”

Picket threw for 1,969 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions for the Panthers last season. Those numbers should be expected to climb with Whipple now in charge. 

“There’s no question that under Coach Whipple’s offense, as an eligible receiver, you better be ready, because that ball can come to you at any time,” Salem said. “The tight ends have caught more in Spring practice, like all positions have caught more.”

Gragg, meanwhile, is expected to lead a tight ends group that also features redshirt sophomore Grant Carrigan, redshirt freshman Kaymar Mimes, as well as walk-on Jake Cortes. 

“Will’s an athletic guy that can catch the ball and run down the field,” Narduzzi said. “He’s got to be a better blocker, really. He’s had a nice Spring so far. He’s getting tougher in there blocking. He’s got to be able to block. If you’re going out there and they know you’re able to throw it, you’re in trouble.”

While the offense’s passing game never led to high numbers for the tight ends, the physicality and blocking of the group was strong. And Salem saw good things on and off the field.

“I think the one thing that was really nice about the room last year is that it wasn’t like they’d complain,” he said. “They’d say ‘I’m a team player.’ The team was on a quest to do something that was unique and special, and they stayed focused that way. Every room wants to score 20 touchdowns, every team wants to score 100 points, but when you’re winning — and winning some of the right games — it’s a fun season.”

Hear all of what Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem had to say below.