Four weeks from today, Pitt will kickoff its 2013 football season at home against Florida State.
Prior to that will be three weeks of training camp, which will start on Tuesday. Players are reporting today for meetings. Before that, head coach Paul Chryst addressed a number of topics.
* Two players are suspended for the 2013 for separate incidents. Junior receiver Ronald Jones is suspended for a violation of team rules. Junior defensive lineman Khaynin Mosley-Smith--already indefinitely suspended from the team following an off-campus incident in April--remains suspended. Both will practice with the team.
Jones was expected for an even bigger role at receiver this season. He has played in a total of 23 games in his first two years, and was a prime candidate to start opposite of Devin Street. With him gone for the year, it opens the door even wider for senior Ed Tinker, junior Kevin Weatherspoon and freshman Tyler Boyd.
"Devin is established," Chryst said. "Tinker, who's it going to be? Spoon gives you a lot. He's knowledge based. At receiver, who's going to stay healthy enough to survive it? Tyler, he's going to get put in right away. (Zach) Challingsworth and (Chris) Wuestner, a freshman and a redshirt freshman, who's going to see it. Jester (Weah), we don't know. That is probably the most open, of all the spots on offense, probably on the team."
Another player at receiver is Brandon Ifill. Ifill has been bothered by injuries over the last year. He played defensive back as a freshman, then moved to receiver last year. If he's healthy enough, Chryst said he would like to get him on the field somewhere.
"I love the kid," Chryst said. "You talk about a great kid. I think he's one those, you talk about at safety. He's brought it up. He's a great kid. If he was healthy, there's a guy who's played in games, but I don't know."
Pitt is in good shape at defensive tackle with two-time all-conference performer Aaron Donald, and senior Tyrone Ezell. The loss of Mosley-Smith hurts depthwise, as sophomore Darryl Render and freshman Tyrique Jarrett will be counted on to be in the rotation.
"Whether that's by committee, or whether it's Murph (Bryan Murphy) or David (Durham), we have to keep progressing," Chryst said. "What's Q (LaQuentin Smith) and Devin (Cook) going to do? Devin, had the opportunity against Virginia Tech, and he did some good things."
* Aside from the two suspensions, freshman quarterback TraVon Chapman remains suspended indefinitely. His status is still being evaluated. After entering a guilty plea in an April assault in Ohio, Chapman entered a guilty plea last Monday and served a three-day jail sentence.
* One of the many position battles to watch for this training camp will be at right tackle. Defensive end T.J. Clemmings started six games, and played in eight at defensive end last year. In bowl game preparations, he was moved to right tackle. He earned the Ed Conway Award for most improved player on the offensive side of the ball in spring. He's the leading candidate, but also in contention for the job is incoming freshman Dorian Johnson and redshirt senior Juantez Hollins. Hollins was suspended for the entire 2012 season, but did practice with the team. He started six games at left tackle and one at left guard in 2011.
"Truly, three unknowns," Chryst said. "We like what T.J. did, glimpses (in the spring). That's his best spot. Dorian, we think he can handle it. It won't get too big on him. We have to find out best five, and then find the best spots for them. It is an open competition at right tackle."
Chryst said he wouldn't rule out a true freshman from starting on the offensive line, as he's seen a number of cases like that over the years.
"It's something we've done, even though we haven't felt comfortable," Chryst said. "(Former Wisconsin lineman) Joe Thomas didn't start as a freshman. You have to make sure they're ready, and that it won't hurt their development."
He cited sophomore J.P. Holtz as a good example of that--someone he would have preferred to redshirt, but felt comfortable enough that he wouldn't be lost, and that it ultimately wouldn't hurt his development. Holtz finished with 13 catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns last year, playing in all 13 games and starting ten.
Chryst also said there will be a battle between Gabe Roberts and Artie Rowell at center. He didn't say there was a competition at left tackle, but all signs lead to Adam Bisnowaty winning that job. He practiced exclusively with the first team in the spring. Though Cory King and Matt Rotheram are returning starters, both move to left guard and right guard, respectively. Technically, this year's offensive line will have five new starters, from a positional standpoint.
"I like the position a lot more this year than I did last year, at this time," Chryst said. "We still have more questions. We truly have some competition."
As for playing true freshmen, regardless of position, Chryst hopes to redshirt as many of them as possible.
* As for position switches, the only one for now is Rachid Ibrahim going to running back. Ibrahim was initially going to start off at safety. However, with more of a need for some bodies at running back, Ibrahim can help out with the depth there. He's no stranger to running the ball, setting a school-record with 4,835 career rushing yards at Avalon School.
"Isaac (Bennett), (Malcolm) Crockett--can he be more consistent, he's got a lot of ability, you have two freshmen, and can Des (Brown) give you anything," Chryst said. "Lets find out. That's what we have to answer in camp.
"If you start to establish some depth (by moving Ibrahim), in the middle of camp, can you move someone else? I think it's going to be a little more fluid."
Running back will be a question mark, just as receiver is, and quarterback. Chryst is looking to see if Bennett can be the every down back. If not, who else does he use, and when does he use those players.
"All of them have to be consistent," Chryst said. "The guys can certainly handle all three downs. We'll see."
Could it be a running back by committee?
"We might have to," Chryst said. "I think you have to have the flexibility, can you have three starters, or can you get two to be one."
* One of the positives as the team enters training camp, is the overall health of the team. Even last year, Ray Graham and Todd Thomas were coming off knee injuries. This year, there are only two players with minor injuries, that should be able to go through camp--freshman defensive lineman Jeremiah Taleni and junior defensive lineman David Durham. They may be limited to start camp.
Jahmahl Pardner, who played in the first three games of 2012 before suffering a knee injury, is ready to go. Also cleared are Shane Gordon, Jason Hendricks and Cullen Christian--all players who were held out of spring drills.
In fact, Christian could get a shot at safety. Chryst said he would like to find a role for him, somewhere.
"A great wild card," Chryst said of Christian. "There's a guy that's got to give us something, corner, maybe safety, something."
Chryst sounds comfortable at corner with K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts back. He also has all-conference performer Jason Hendricks back, but he does have one void to fill at safety. Overall, he feels good with the secondary.
"I like how they worked in the summer, and we have some good young players," Chryst said. "If Jahmahl can pick up where he left off, Trenton (Coles) has some ability, Cullen we talked about. There could be some depth there, too."
* Chryst said he's comfortable at tight end, despite the loss of Hubie Graham to graduation and the dismissal of Drew Carswell. In addition to Holtz, Manasseh Garner is eligible to play this year after transferring in from Wisconsin. Freshman Scott Orndoff will almost certainly see the field.
"I like those three, but we're not deep," Chryst said.
* At the linebacker position, Chryst has Shane Gordon in the middle, Todd Thomas at the WILL position, and Anthony Gonzalez at the SAM. He feels pretty good about those spots. Now, it's about establishing depth at those spots, where he's got some good options
Mike Caprara, who filled in at the middle linebacker while Gordon was out this spring, moves to the WILL. Part of that is based on the development of others, so they don't stack too many players in the same class at the same position. For example, if Matt Galambos is also in the middle, they might want to have him and Caprara both on the field at the same time, as opposed to one waiting his turn behind the other.
"It depends, does Matt show us anything early, that we have two young ones," Chryst said. "We think Mike has a chance to be pretty good. If Matt has a chance to be pretty good, we might not want to stack them."
Chryst said he's also anxious to see where Ejuan Price is, and where he might be able to contribute. Price played in all 13 games as a true freshman, before missing all of last year due to a pectoral injury. He's never had any game action under Chryst.
"Last summer, last spring, we knew nothing about him--you knew about him, but you didn't," Chryst said. "We got a little glimpse in the spring. We're still trying to figure out what his top skillsets are. That's our job, in playing those strengths. I'm excited about him."
Chryst added that the MIKE and WILL positions should be interchangeable.
* As for quarterback, which is expected to generate a lot of conversation over the next few weeks, Chryst said he hasn't named a starter. He said he could make a decision during camp, on whether he'll start Tom Savage or Chad Voytik. Like the other positions, he would like to see them compete.
"It needs to be done, and nothing would be gained right now (by naming a starter)," Chryst said. "I think they're so different in where they're at. It's so much different when you have one redshirt sophomore and one redshirt freshman. They develop, and it's which one is going to take the bull by the horn. Here, we have to see which one is ready to go. That's really all we're concerned with."
* Matt Yoklic will handle the punt duties this year. There will be a new kicker. Chryst said there may be some open competition there, as well. It could come down to incoming freshman Chris Blewitt handling both placements and kickoffs, or possible Blewitt doing just the placements and Ryan Winslow doing the kickoffs.
*It will be interesting to see if Chris can handle both," Chryst said. "Ryan is capable of doing it. There's also a possibility if Matt can stay healthy, with Ryan, there's a guy you can redshirt."