Two months to the day of its appearance in the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pitt will kickoff its 2013 spring drills. It marks what is arguably the shortest 'offseason' in the history of the program.
While the limited time off might be cramming it in, this is a program eager to move on from a disappointing finish in that loss to Ole Miss. It's also a chance for some other positions to get a jump start in finding new starters.
Luckily,mafter his first year, Paul Chryst only had to replace one assistant. That assistant was a big one, though, as defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable left to take the same role at N.C. State.
In House's place will be defensive backs coach Matt House, promoted in house so to speak. House will continue to coach the safeties. Chryst went out and hired former Panther Hank Poteat as a graduate assistant. Poteat will likely work with the corners. Poteat's hire is a good one, now giving three assistants (quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger, rceivers coach Bobby Engram) who played recently in the NFL. Recently enough for the current members of the Pitt team to relate to.
Pitt will have a new starting quarterback with the graduation of Tino Sunseri. Sunseri started every game during the last three years. If this spring does anything, it will give us a closer look at Tom Savage, Chad Voytik and TraVon Chapman.
This is the first spring for all three quarterbacks. Savage last played in a game on November 13, 2010 as a sophomore at Rutgers. He then transferred to Arizona, where he did not play in 2011 due to the transfer rule. After Arizona's coaching change, he sat out the 2012 season at Pitt after technically joining the Pitt program as a walk-on.
Both Savage and Voytik benefit from having a year in the system, though it was Voytik who took more of the backup snaps in practice last season. Chapman gives himself a fair shot by graduating high school early to come in and learn the offense this spring.
Pitt will also have Trey Anderson, who of the four quarterbacks on Pitt's roster, has the most game experience. He has played in a relief role the last two seasons. He served as the backup to Sunseri in 2012, allowing Voytik to be able to redshirt. The role may be reversed this season, with Anderson taking a redshirt to preserve an extra year of eligibility.
Last spring, as Ray Graham sat out covering from his knee injury in 2011, we saw Isaac Bennett have a stellar spring. Bennett carried the ball virtually every time, and carried the offense through the spring as well.
Thwt meant very little once the 2012 season came around. While Bennett continued to get a lot of reps in the spring, Rushel Shell ended up taking more carries in 2012. He also got the start in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The number of carries, wasn't even close in fact. Shell had 141, while Bennett had 29.
If we learned anything from Chryst's first year, it was that the amount of seniority, the number of practices, didn't factor. Chryst felt more comfortable going to Shell. One of the biggest questions aside from the quarterback position will be to see who gets the workload, or if we'll see a two-back system, or even three backs.
Malcolm Crockett is back for his redshirt sophomore year. Cryst also moved receiver Demitrious Davis from receiver to running back. He has four scholarship running backs this year, as opposed to just Bennett last year. Both Crockett and Graham were held out of spring drills. Everyone will no doubt have their eyes on the quarterback position. The running back position could also have some competition, but based on the amount of trust Chryst put in Shell as a freshman, this could already be a done deal.
A position where we are sure of a starter--Devin Street.
Street had a breakthrough season with 73 catches for 975 yards and five touchdowns. With similar production, Street will end his Pitt career with several school records for receiving.
The real question at this position, will be who else starts alongside Street. Towards the end of the season, we saw more of Ed Tinker. He finished with five catches for 68 yards, including his first career touchdown against Rutgers. Interestingly, Ronald Jones played in 11 games, finishing with seven catches for 66 yards. Look for Kevin Weatherspoon to get a look, or at let get some significant reps in the spring. Brendon Felder may also be on the watch, even though he filled in at corner later in the season.
The bottom line at this position, is with the highly regarded Tyler Boyd coming in, the time is now for these other returning veterans to lay claim to a spot. This spring is their jump. Not to mention, this is a key position because Street will draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses this year. It's a golden opportunity for someone. The question, is who.
The position gets a boost, but then again it doesn't. Hubie Graham is a significant loss. At the same time, Graham was bothered for much of the year by a collarbone injury he suffered against Cincinnati in Week Two.
Therefore, once Brendan Carrozzoni left the program, Pitt was down to J.P. Holtz and Drew Carswell at tight end. While Carswell was inconsistent at times, Holtz was a true freshman--both players improved as the year went on.
The position gets a boost with Scott Orndoff enrolling early, and being here for spring drills. The position could get another boost if Orndoff has a good spring, not to mention a grewt opportunity for Orndoff to see the field as a freshman. It will certainly be one of the younger positions on the team, but one that has a group of players that will be here for awhile. They'll add Tony Harper to the mix in August.
The good news: the line returns three two starters who started every game in 2012, in Matt Rotheram and Cory King. Juantez Hollins returns for one more year, after serving a one-year suspension.
The bad news: the loss of senior starters Chris Jacobson and Ryan Turnley. Ryan Schlieper may be forced into sitting out this spring, after suffering a season-ending foot injury in week eight against Temple. Arthur Doakes was suspended indefinitely for the BBVA Compass Bowl game, and did not make the trip. His status has not been determined.
While Jim Hueber has a couple of question marks amongst that older group of players, an influx of younger players is going to help this position from a depth standpoint, right away.
Consider this. With Hollins' injury, the redshirting of two freshmen (Adam Bisnowaty and Gabe Roberts), Hueber had the luxury or really only using seven players last year. This year, he'll have the luxury of using 10. He has the luxury of more, if he chooses to play a freshman.
Bisnowaty, by all accounts, could take over at left tackle. Look for Cory King to move inside to guard. Schlieper--if healthy--could move in to center. He did practice there in 2011. That would allow Rotheram to move back in to guard, with T.J. Clemmings at right tackle. Those are all big ifs, but all possible scenarios. That doesn't include if Hollins is ready, or has earned his spot back there. We also don't know what's going to happen to Doakes--though he did participate in some team events since the bowl game.
There is also Artie Rowell, who could have an opportunity to lock up the center spot. He could even come out in the first practice as the first center, regardless of if Schlieper is moved or not. Roberts, and John Guy--a walk-on who redshirted last year--could also be on that two-deep for the spring. Shane Johnson will also be at guard.
The bottom line is that there are a few spots up for grabs, but a lot more bodies. Hueber made it work with limitd numbers last year, and got the most out of his group. You might even argue that the group overachieved a little last year. With more numbers, and some returning starters and an flux of freshmen, we' seeing a transformation at this position at what will become a strength of the team in the near future.