Even with a 6-7 finish this season, Pitt will have some holes to fill in 2013. In looking back on the 2012 season, looking ahead to the start of spring football about two months from now, and on to training camp in August, here is a look at what this team has.
Despite losing multi-year starters Chris Jacobson and Ryan Turnley, the offensive line should be a strength in 2013. The line will return starters Cory King, Ryan Schlieper and Matt Rotheram. The status of suspended players Juantez Hollins and Arthur Doakes is unknown, but if those two are able to go, count two more starters in. Even though he's moving from defense, T.J. Clemmings started the first six games in 2012.
Based on those returning, and the addition of Adam Bisnowaty and Gabe Roberts coming off a redshirt year, this unit is much improved from a depth standpoint. There's also some versatility with King and Rotheram starting at both guard and tackle in their career. A very likely scenario would be those two players at guard, with Schlieper at center. Schlieper took some snaps at center in 2011, but did not see any game action at that position. Artie Rowell sounds like a player who can be ready to go at center, based on comments from players leading up to the bowl game. That could be one decision the staff would have to face--move Schlieper in to give them the three most battle-tested vets inside, or keep King or Rotheram at guard.
The biggest determining factor in how the interior will play out will be what happens at tackle. Aside from Rowell, Adam Bisnowaty sounds like he made the most of his redshirt year. Bisnowaty has reportedly gained another 20 pounds, and sounds like a true left tackle. If T.J. Clemmings can put on another 20 pounds, he would be the ideal right tackle. Therefore, why not return the most expire nice and versatility to the interior positions, and quite possible the two most athletic linemen on the outside?
Hard to believe, but in 2007, Pitt started three different quarterbacks in a game (Bill Stull, Kevan Smith, Pat Bostick). In the five seasons since then, Pitt has started three different quarterbacks (Stull, Bostick, Tino Sunseri).
While we're not sure who that quarterback will be, we might get a better idea once we see the reps getting passed around. Tom Savage joined the team as a walk-on transfer over the summer. Chad Voytik was able to redshirt and get a year in the system, and of college football, under his belt. The team also has this year's backup Trey Anderson, and early enrollee Tra'Von Chapman.
Even if a winner is declared in spring, he will probably be under more scrutiny once the season actually begin. Not to mention, there may be a shorter leash. Though Tino Sunseri struggled in the early part of the season, Anderson was the only other option. Voytik was getting redshirted, and Savage was ineligible due to the answer rule. Whoever wins will be under the gun even more, based on the simple fact there are more bodies around.
FINDING A NEW RECEIVER
Devin Street is staying put for the moment. Of course around 5 pm today, we'll know whether or not Street will stick around for one more year, or declare early for the NFL Draft. If he stays, he'll play the most crucial part in the offense, basically because he has the most proven star power. The last time it was a receiver as the go-to player on offense, and not a running back, you might have to go back to Larry Fitzgerald.
While Street will be the go-to guy, the real question is who is going to step up alongside him. Based on how the reps went this year, Ed Tinker appears to be that guy. He filled in for an injured Street during the Rutgers game catching his first touchdown pass in that game. Outside of Street and Shanahan, over the final two games, he was the next receiver in line.
Tinker may be the guy to beat out but it will be up to Kevin Weatherspoon, Brandon Ifill, Chris Davis and Chris Wuestner to provide competition. Zach Challingsworth and Tyler Boyd will be here in the fall. The opportunity is as good here as it is anywhere for Tyler Boyd to get on the field as a true freshman.
WHO TAKES OVER FOR RAY?
I certainly seems like the coaching staff has a lot of faith and a lot of stock in Rushel Shell. He may not have practiced as much--based on having to sit out at times due to injury. He still saw a significant high number of reps than Isaac Bennett, the guy who took every rep in the spring and the majority of reps in training camp out of all the backs.
With Ray Graham gone, that pressure on Shell turns up a little notch. He'll need to prove that big play ability now to hold on to those reps. We didn't see Bennett as much in 2012, based on the workload he was getting heading into the season. It's clear from that standpoint, the staff wants to see Shell's talents in place. Malcolm Crockett also had an audition, of sorts, in the bowl loss to Ole Miss.
The bigger question might not be who the starting running back is going to be. That questions seems to have been answered based on the reps this year. The real question, is how many of them will we see, and how the reps will be distributed...or even if they are distributed. Shell appears to have a good jump.
HOW MANY TIGHT ENDS?
If Scott Orndoff and Devon Edwards were on the 2012 team, they most likely would have played in the BBVA Compass Bowl. This offense likes to use multiple tight ends, and did more than its share to get Hubie Graham, Drew Carswell and J.P. Holtz on the field. Graham battled injuries from the Cincinnati game on, Carswell was inconsistent, ale the freshman Holtz showed glimpses of a bright future.
Carswell and Holtz may be in a battle for the starting spot, though based on consistency and number of snaps this year, Holtz would get the edge. If Orndoff comes in this spring and learns the offense well, its reasonable to expect to see him playing as a true freshman.