We're now two years into the Paul Chryst era, and we're getting a better idea of how this staff is in developing quarterbacks.
What will be different in 2014, and for the next few years, is that they now have a candidate that has been in the system for two years, in Chad Voytik.
The only knock on Voytik is the experience factor. If there's a silver lining in that knock, it's the fact that Voytik has had two full years in the system, working with the same set of coaches. Even better, he took the majority of snaps in last year's spring game, throwing for 300 yards. Take it for what it's worth, but that in itself is a bonus for him heading into this year's spring game--experience to build on.
Kind of the way Voytik built off playing in three games in the regular season, leading Pitt to two fourth quarter scores in Thursday's Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, including a five-yard touchdown.
Two years in the system is a plus for Voytik, but nothing compared to the two quarters of action he saw on Thursday. Had he not played Thursday, he would carry the questions about his inexperience into the spring, through training camp, and all the way to the 2014 opener. Instead, his performance on Thursday not only gave him some experience to build off of, but also a huge boost in terms of confidence.
One thing that may be different this year, and this comes from just watching Voytik in action, is rolling out of the pocket. Tino Sunseri and Tom Savage weren't much for rolling out of the pocket. Though Savage rushed for a few touchdowns in 2013, it already looks like there's more of a comfort level in the staff allowing Voytik to roll out.
Paul Chryst--normally mum in talking about what players do well--didn't shy away from expressing that comfort level, following Thursday's win.
"It did tonight," Chryst said.
For the spring, Chryst will have Voytik and redshirt junior Trey Anderson, Voytik will get the majority of reps. The good thing about Anderson, is having another quarterback who has been around for four seasons. Another guy that is like having a coach on the field. Anderson has also played in five career games. Compare Pitt's 2014 quarterback situation to that of 2007. That year, it was Bill Stull, who attempted a total of six passes. In addition to Stull, redshirt freshman Kevan Smith and true freshman Pat Bostick were the only other options. Neither played in a game entering that season. There might not be a lot of experience, but already, the 2014 crop is in better hands.
In training camp, Wade Freebeck and Adam Bertke join the fold. It will give Pitt four scholarship quarterbacks. While it's still thin in terms of depth, a good season from Voytik in 2014 bodes well for the future of the position. Voytik has a chance to lock this position up for the next three years. If the staff is able to redshirt both Bertke and Freebeck this year, all four quarterbacks for 2015 will then have multiple years in the system. In other words. They'll have some time to mold and develop the 2014 signees.
Though not rated high, both Bertke and Freebeck come from successful programs, and played in several high school games with high stakes involved. Freebeck guided Florida power St. Thomas Aquinas to a 10-3 record, after throwing for 1,626 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Bertke led his team to three consecutive Ohio State championships, and a record of 41-4 as a starting quarterback.
One thing that should be refreshing for this staff, is getting a chance to build off Voytik's two-plus years in the program. Chryst turned Sunseri's 2011 season (10 TDs, 11 INTs, to 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions in one year. He also threw for 3,288 yards--second-most in school history. They took Savage, a player who transferred to Arizona, then joined Pitt, being forced to sit out two whole seasons. Despite all that time off, Savage came on to throw for 2,958 yards--the fifth-most in school history. Savage also threw for 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions, six of which were thrown in the first four games.
The position is a year away from being a strength of the team, but it is certainly on the right track. If Voytik is able to follow in the footsteps of Sunseri and Savage--in terms of efficiency, and if the freshmen can come in and just get enough practice reps, the position is going to be in good shape. In terms of recruiting, the staff will then have multiple selling points for future quarterbacks. They can show their ability to mold guys like Sunseri and Savage in one year. They'll also be able to sell the development of a guy like Voytik, and how that benefits a quarterback.
It's now Voytik's team. If the second half of Thursday's game showed us anything, it's that Voytik's two years of development have paid off, and he's gotten an early first step in successfully taken over the reigns. Again, two years of holding the clipboard, communicating with the coaches in the booth is one thing. Guiding a team to a win in a bowl game in just one half, his most significant experience to date, is a completely different step.