Spring Preview: The Offense

Two of the deeper positions for this spring will be at tight end and the offensive line, which returns five players who started games in 2013.

Paul Chryst met with a few reporters on Thursday, to look ahead at spring practice. This year, practice starts on Sunday March 16, with the spring session closing on Sunday April 13 with no spring game.

Within talking about spring plans, and the limited offseason (two months sinc the bowl game, if you even consider that an offseason), Chryst talked about each position at some point.

Tom Savage is gone after one year as a starter. If anything good came from his short stint besides a 7-6 record and a bowl win, it's the fact that Savage resurrected his career thanks to Pitt. He drew some positive praise for his performance at the NFL Combine, and has a chance to build on that at Pitt's Pro Day on Monday.

Waiting in the wins. Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson. These are the only two slated for action this spring. Adam Bertke joins the fold in June, and will be a true freshman. Chryst sounded confident in what Voytik brings to the table.

And while Voytik's performance in the bowl game was eye-opening because it was he most significant experience he's seen to date, Chryst didn't sound all that surprised. Even when asked if by having Voytik--a quarterback who is more comfortable running and using his feet than his two predecessors--Chryst has had Voytik in the program for two years, making it sound like it's nothing he's surprised in.

"The playing time was significant, there's always that," Chryst said of Voytik. "It's not like this guy broke out of his shell.

"It will be him and Trey [Anderson]. I appreciate the extra work they've been putting in. These two guys will get a lot of work, and that will be good for them."

Chryst must be confident in his running backs, because the only time running backs came up in conversation was in reference to the new position coach John Settle, and in talking about James Conner--and whether we'll see him on both sides of the ball as we did in the bowl game, or just one.

Chryst downplayed the question on Conner.

"We'll see," Chryst answered.

The other part of it, simply that new running backs coach John Settle is still getting established. Yet, he'll only have three running backs working with him in the spring--Conner, Isaac Bennett and Rachid Ibrahim.

Wide receivers hardly came up at all. The only real mention, being that redshirt freshman receiver Reggie Green is moving from receiver to linebacker.

While someone will be asked to start opposite of Tyler Boyd, Ronald Jones is one player that brings a lot of experience to the table.

Behind those toe, it should be Dontez Ford--now eligible after sitting out his transfer year from Syracuse, redshirt sophomore Chris Wuestner and redshirt freshman Zach Challingsworth, who earned a lot of praise during bowl preparations, as being one of the top scout team players overall.

Chryst has been impressed with Jones' demeanor of the past year, after being suspended for the entire 2013 season. He expects him to fit in somewhere. Technically, he has the most playing experience of any Pitt receiver.

"I like how (Jones and Khaynin Mosley-Smith) embraced their situation," Chryst said. "I'm not so sure (Ronald) wasn't the best scout team guy we had."

Kevin Weatherspoon, who saw the most significant action of his career in 2013, before suffering a season-ending foot injury in the Miami game. He is expected to be out for the entire spring.

A big reason Chryst spent so little time on the receivers--while also not stating the obvious, that being Tyler Boyd being a good player--is the number of tight ends that will be in action this year.

Chryst w able to use four, and in different roles. Starting wit Manasseh Garner, who became a more pivotal role in the offense in the last quarter of the season.

Garner took a big step. Chryst, however, had something interesting to add on what he might do with Garner, starting this spring.

"If you took a picture of what he did last year, it's hard to expand (his role) much more," Chryst said. "I think he's a unique guy. I don't know if expanding it, it's a little bit of both. We'll use him in some of our heavier sets. Manasseh can bail you out, but we're going to need him for some of the receiver stuff."

As far as those heavier sets, Chryst of course refers to J.P. Holtz--who has pretty much already been a two-year starter, and Scott Orndoff. Orndoff came in last January, participated in spring drills, and also started in a couple games as a true freshman. Then there's Jaymar Parrish--more of an H-back. Now, starting with this spring, Chyrst can use Devon Edwards and Tony Harper now that they've redshirted. One of the beauties about spring ball is not only getting to use a redshirted player, but also get a glimpse of if and how a new player could contribute.

Edwards is a candidate, perhaps in those heavier sets that Chryst refers to. Harper possibly a candidate at H-back, but Chryst would like to see him a little bigger.

"Devon Edwards and Tony Harper, if they progress, then you have a lot of depth," Chryst said. "Devon is bigger than Tony, I'm excited for them, to have them this spring. A lot of our freshmen, as they should, change their body and are using weight around a lot more. Harp is still more of an H-back type guy. Devon could be that, but is also a bigger guy. Tony can do some of the stuff Manasseh can do. I think it's him getting used to it."

While there certainly looks like an overload at the tight end position--something Chryst predicates this offense on--the offensive line is taking a major step.

Chryst admits, the offensive line is still a year away from where he's in a comfort zone, depth wise. However, this spring, he can run a legitimate two-deep--something that's been hard to do for a number of years.

With four starters returning, five if you include Dorian Johnson, there's already a set of four freshmen who redshirted in 2013, behind the starters.

"There's nothing like genuine competition," Chryst added. "We're one more class away, then they have to get older."

Chryst said Dorian Johnson will be at guard, most likely left guard--the lone starting job that needs replaced. For the spring, Adam Bisnowaty and T.J. Clemmings are the tackles, with redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith behind them. Matt Rotheram will be at right guard, with Carson Baker and Aaron Reese at the backup guard spots. Artie Rowell is at center, with Alex Officer behind him. Depending on Gabe Roberts' health, he could help out at either guard or center.

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