Star receiver catching on to new offense as Delaware begins first preseason under new coach

·5 min read

The most important recruiting pitches Ryan Carty delivered after becoming University of Delaware football coach last December were aimed at retaining his all-conference quarterback and wide receiver.

Nolan Henderson and Thyrick Pitts each entered the transfer portal after previous coach Danny Rocco’s firing. Carty’s background of coordinating explosive, pass-oriented offenses at New Hampshire and Sam Houston convinced them to stay.

As the Blue Hens began preseason camp Friday morning for the 2022 season, it was quite clear Pitts, the 6-3, 200-pound sixth-year graduate student, was excited about his and Delaware’s prospects.

Pitts is 11th all-time among UD players with 1,798 receiving yards and 13 TD catches and 15th with 115 career receptions. Those numbers should grow in an offense more pass-oriented than those operated by Rocco’s offensive coordinators Matt Simon and Jared Ambrose, especially with Henderson back after missing the last seven games of a 5-6 2021 fall season with an injury that needed surgery.

Delaware Blue Hens wide receiver Thyrick Pitts (1) runs the ball during the first preseason football practice at the University of Delaware football practice field on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.
Delaware Blue Hens wide receiver Thyrick Pitts (1) runs the ball during the first preseason football practice at the University of Delaware football practice field on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.

He has played college football long enough and had enough success that there is not a starting-over sensation for Pitts. But there is a learning process that will continue leading to Delaware’s challenging season opener at Navy on Sept. 3 and throughout the season.

“The foundation is still there,” Pitts said after practice Friday, “but [the new offense] is definitely a little more up-tempo, more fast-paced, a little more receiver friendly.”

Carty’s offensive schemes involve fewer tight ends and more wide receivers. Pitts is the most experienced and proven among them and will undoubtedly be the object of Blue Hen offensive affections.

From the moment he arrived as Delaware coach last December, Carty knew keeping Pitts was imperative. His first impressions after seeing Pitts on film were that he could flourish.

Delaware Blue Hens head coach Ryan Carty leads the first preseason football practice, his first as head coach, at the University of Delaware football practice field on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.
Delaware Blue Hens head coach Ryan Carty leads the first preseason football practice, his first as head coach, at the University of Delaware football practice field on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.

“He’s a presence physically,” Carty said of Pitts, who has long had a knack for making difficult catches with defenders on him or on balls seemingly out of reach. “What sets him apart and what really struck me the first time I met him and when I was trying to recruit him back to the program was his personality, his seriousness, his intensity, his deliberate attempts to get better in every question he asks. ‘How do I become great?’”

It was easy to convince Pitts to return. Even though he had opportunities to play at a higher level, there was considerable appeal in familiar surroundings where he’d had success knowing the new offense’s potential.

In four seasons running the offense at Sam Houston, Carty had teams that never averaged less than 419.8 yards per game.

“That’s part of the reason I came back for this last year when I was talking to [Carty],” Pitts said. “His history of having very successful offenses,"

Delaware receiver Thyrick Pitts (1) pulls in a pass between James Madison's MJ Hampton (32) and Taurus Carroll in the second quarter at Delaware Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.
Delaware receiver Thyrick Pitts (1) pulls in a pass between James Madison's MJ Hampton (32) and Taurus Carroll in the second quarter at Delaware Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.

Carty added that Pitts has the same challenge as any offensive player in learning new schemes, but pointed out that he has an established set of superior skills.

“He’s still proven in games he can make plays,” Carty said. “That does trump a lot of things. When you play football well, you can play in most situations and in most offenses and that’s what happens in the NFL, right? They go from system to system to system and guess what? The great ones are still making plays. That’s on us as coaches to make sure he can understand just as well as the offense he was in prior. That won’t be an issue. He’s smart as heck.”

Carty said Pitts is ideal for the offense Delaware is now running.

“I really just gravitated toward coach Carty’s offense and the people he brought in to surround us, too – the coaches and the other players,” Pitts said. “I had to learn a new system, but we were all learning it together.”

The UD wide receiver room includes returnees Brett Buckman (16 catches/219 yards last year), Mount Pleasant High grad James Collins (12/138/2 TDs), Jourdan Townsend (9/71/1) and Noel Miller.

It has also received a significant boost from transfers Jalyn Witcher, an All-American after catching 80 passes for 1,121 yards and 12 touchdowns for Presbyterian as a freshman last fall; Michael Jackson, who had 695 yards on 51 receptions with six touchdowns at VMI and 1,210 receiving yards over four seasons; and Chandler Harvin, whose 69 catches covered 974 yards and netted seven touchdowns in this offense at Sam Houston.

“I would say it’s a work in progress that can have a high ceiling,” Carty said of Delaware’s wide receiver crew, adding that part of preseason camp is shaping the offense to fit the players’ skills.

Delaware Blue Hens lead quarterback Nolan Henderson (2) throws a pass during the first preseason football practice at the University of Delaware football practice field on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.
Delaware Blue Hens lead quarterback Nolan Henderson (2) throws a pass during the first preseason football practice at the University of Delaware football practice field on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.

First-day sentiments for Carty

“Every once in a while I kinda look around and realize where I am and get very excited about it,” Carty said of starting his stint as head coach at his alma mater. “It’s amazing. I say it to people when they ask me how I’m doing. ‘How could I not be great?’ This is one of the best programs in the country and I get a chance to put our stamp on it.”

Flacco joins staff

Tom Flacco, the former Towson quarterback who was 2018 CAA Offensive Player of the Year, has joined the UD coaching staff as an offensive assistant. Flacco is the younger brother of former UD quarterback Joe Flacco, now beginning his 15th NFL season. Tom Flacco spent part of 2021 in the Canadian Football League.

Solid first day

Carty praised his team’s energy and tempo on the first day of practice, adding it’s imperative that it becomes a consistent quality.

“We’ve got to decide to do that on a daily basis week in and week out,” he said, “because that’s the stuff that separates the great teams from the teams that are just pretty good and maybe didn’t win close games at the end or maybe didn’t win games at the end of the season.”

Have an idea for a compelling local sports story or is there an issue that needs public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at ktresolini@delawareonline.com and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Star University of Delaware receiver is really happy now that he didn't transfer