Conway Award Candidates

There's a number of ways the Most Improved Player Award can be determined. For this year's Pitt team, it can be a freshman who redshirted last year, transitioning into getting on the field, a returning starter looking to take his game to a new level, or even someone trying a new position.

Jaryd Jones-Smith
When spring began, Jaryd Jones-Smith was a reserve on the offensive line. Due to injuries, he filled in at left tackle. While it was a lot for him at first, coming off a redshirt year with no game experience, he was a regular at left tackle and at times, left guard. He ends the spring with the first team. While the staff is hoping for a healthy Adam Bisnowaty in training camp, the coaching staff discovered the next guy in line thanks to this year's spring drills.

Manasseh Garner
Garner's numbers really took off over the final four games of 2013, so it's no surprised that he'll be in the starting lineup. With any player making a transition to a new position, there can be challenges and difficulties. Garner showed little moving from tight end to receiver. If he perfects this move in the fall, it will not only set him up for a career year, but open up more catches for all the tight ends.

Zach Challingsworth
We're not sure how much we'll see of Zach Challingsworth this fall. It's going be tough with Tyler Boyd, Garner and Ronald Jones catching the majority of the passes. Then, you factor in the tight ends, which will factor in heavily. There might not be a need for a fourth or fifth receiver, but Challingsworth's motor should push the rest of those guys even more. Not to mention, if he continues his steady development, should be a dependable starter after a couple of graduations.

Artie Rowell
Rowell is a case of a returning starter taking his game to another level.a year ago at this time, Rowell wasn't even thought of as a starter at center. He went on to start all 13 games there last year, and asserted himself as an anchor on the line this spring. He sets up a cohesive right side of the line with Matt Rotheram and T.J. Clemmings. He's also breaking in a younger group on the left side with Dorian Johnson and Jaryd Jones-Smith. We also learned during the spring--according to players such as Rotheram--that Rowell is the strongest player on the team, in the bench and squat.

Ronald Jones
Jones is one of two players that were suspended for the entire 2013 season. Jones could have easily thrown in the towel, or transferred, which sometimes happens in that case. He stuck it out last year, then carried over his game-like approach to practices in the spring. He has a chance to rebound with two years experience under his belt, as Pitt looks for a way to replace Devin Street's numbers from last year.

Titus Howard
One starting spot on defense that will be open is corner. Titus Howard took the most reps there, opposite Lafayette Pitts. Howard is up to 170, and hopes to put on another 10 pounds this summer. New secondary coach Troy Douglas said on Thursday that Howard has impressed him the most, so far. It might also be familiarity, but Howard always creates problems for former high school teammate Tyler Boyd, when the two are matched up.

Tyrique Jarrett
Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render are sure bets to start at defensive tackle in 2014. What we didn't know entering spring, is who the third and fourth guys would be. By the third week of spring, Jarrett took a big step forward, and has asserted himself as that third defensive tackle. Pitt won't replace Aaron Donald. However, if this group of defensive tackles can develop and produce as a unit, it can be good this year, despite the loss of a guy of Donald's caliber.

Lafayette Pitts
Pitts admitted early in spring that 2013 was a disappointing season for him. The combination of a new position coach and a new season look like a boost to Pitts' confidence. Douglas is big on playing aggressive. His coaching style combined with Pitts' experience can be a good match. The biggest thing this spring, just seeing Pitts play with more confidence.

Nicholas Grigsby
Grigsby had a couple of breakout games last year against Georgia Tech and Bowling Green. We saw him at outside linebacker, middle linebacker and even up at the line at defensive end, at times. This spring, he was used at outside linebacker and defensive end. The versatility is there. Right now, the Panthers need him more at defensive end, where he has a chance to make an impact. The fact he's needed there should tell what kind of strides he's made.

Khaynin Mosley-Smith
From day one of spring, perhaps no player on the team has looked more forward to 2014 than Mosley-Smith. He was suspended for the entire 2013 season, but he did practice with the team. Still, he did not travel, nor did he play. He has carried over that hunger to the spring. Head coach Paul Chryst has commented on Mosley-Smith's attitude, weight loss and overall play since the beginning of spring.

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