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Pitt in search of ‘explosives’ from wide receivers

October 3, 2018

Pitt’s Shocky Jacques-Louis leaves a Georgia Tech defender in his wake in the third quarter Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Heinz Field.

When freshman wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis heard Kevin Sherman, his position coach, is looking for “explosives,” he smiled.

“I’m going to give him all the explosiveness he needs. Whatever he needs, I got,” Jacques-Louis said.

If that burst of confidence can carry over to Saturday’s game against Syracuse, many of Pitt’s problems could be solved. The Panthers are hoping improvements in the passing game can help stop their two-game losing streak.

Jacques-Louis has the speed to stretch a defense, but he’s only a freshman. He’s just learning what it takes to balance academics and football.

Meanwhile, he has only five receptions for 48 yards (9.6 per catch), but expectations for him are high.

“He’s a guy we’re looking for, to see what he can do in a game-type situation and create a big-time play,” Sherman said.

Jacques-Louis, who is more than a month shy of his 19th birthday, graduated early from Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Fla., and was with the team in spring drills. A shoulder injury curtailed his progress, but he said recovery has made him feel like “a new person.”

“I feel locked in,” he said. “When I first came in with my shoulder, I wasn’t really locked in.”

A hit in practice from cornerback Dane Jackson also gave him a healthy dose of reality.

“He wasn’t even trying to hit me,” Jacques-Louis recalled. “I had a jet sweep, fake motion, running to the left and Dane just steps up and hits me and I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ That definitely felt different.

“I started getting my weight up more. Now, those hits don’t mean anything to me.”

Through training camp, Sherman spoke of his “posse” of wide receivers, most of them young players trying to find their way.

Through five games, junior Maurice Ffrench has been the most productive of the seven who have caught at least two passes.

Sherman likes Ffrench’s talent and his willingness to try to perfect his craft.

“He’s a guy who’s really focused right now,” Sherman said. “He wants to be a good player. He wants to be a productive player. He wants to learn all the details of the position.”

Ffrench leads the team in receptions with 14 -- all but one in the past three games -- for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

“The last couple weeks, he’s been productive,” Sherman said. “Now, the thing we have to do is be consistent. Because we need guys to step up and make explosives. That’s where we have to do a better job of being explosive, and he’s a guy who can do that.”

Overall, the passing game has struggled. Pitt is 13th among 14 ACC teams with 758 passing yards and only 6.2 per attempt. The blame can be traced partially to the 10 sacks of quarterback Kenny Pickett and an inexperienced wide receiver group.

But Sherman doesn’t want to hear about the latter excuse.

“I tell them they’re not freshmen anymore,” he said.

And he’s right. Jacques-Louis is the only first-year player among the seven who have caught passes.

“They’ve been in big stadiums. They’ve been in big-time games,” he said. “So they know what it takes to play the speed of the game. It’s all about consistency.

“As a coach, I have to try to keep it simple, coach harder, coach better, get these guys to play fast on Saturday.”

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