Spring Football: Five Things We Learned

Pitt wrapped up spring practices last week. Here's one last look at a few things we took away.

* Quarterbacks. For being the only two quarterbacks in spring, both Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson progressed during spring. Voytik picked up where he left off, after leading Pitt to a come-from-behind win against Bowling Green in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl.

Voytik now gets ready for a summer where he will take the reigns, and hold separate workouts with his receiver--aside from the summer conditioning. Though Voytik will be a new full-time starter for the Panthers, the fact he's entering his third year in the program gives the position some continuity at the position, it hasn't had in the first two years of the Paul Chryst era. He may lack the game experience, but he's made the most of his first two years in the program to put himself in a good position.

* Is there ever such a thing as too many running backs? One big question entering training camp, will be the health of the position--specifically James Conner (knee) and Isaac Bennett (shoulder). Experience shouldn't be the issue, being that both handled the work load in 2013, and should do the same to start 2014.

The position will benefit from the addition of Chris James, Qadree Ollison and Dennis Briggs coming in. All three could have helped this spring, given the injuries to others.

Rachid Ibrahim made the most of his opportunity in spring. He may look like a forgotten man in the rotation, but he proved his value this spring when Bennett and Conner went down.

But the old theory 'you can never have enough' certainly applies to Pitt's running back position. It may look like a log jam, with three more added to the stable in training camp. But think back to two years ago. In Paul Chryst's first year, he had Rushel Shell and Malcolm Crockett. In less than a year, both left the program. This spring proved there are never enough.

* One of the pleasant surprises of the spring was the wide receiver position. Pitt lost Devin Street, who is in position to be drafted next month. Receivers coach Bobby Engram left the program to become receivers coach for the Baltimore Ravens.

This group responded well to new receivers coach Greg Lewis, who was hired shortly before the start of spring drills. He quickly learned his group of receivers, and that group responded well to him as a coach.

Manasseh Garner adjusted well to his new position, while Tyler Boyd continued to work--showing he's not satisfied with what he did in his first year. The program should get a boost from the return of Ronald Jones. It looks like redshirt freshman Zach Challingworth could see the field. Redshirt sophomore Chris Wuestner is battling for a spot, as is transfer Dontez Ford.

With Boyd alone, this group is in good shape. There is a lot of depth here. The depth should push Boyd to become even better. This position resembles the type of condition Paul Chryst wants at every position--talented returners, good coaching, and a lot of guys battling for a spot just to compete.

* The offensive line position is highly motived to improve last year, looking to cut down on the number of sacks allowed.

With five players returning, who started in 2013 (Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson, Artie Rowell, Matt Rotheram and T.J. Clemmings), this position is rising.

Jaryd Jones-Smith appears to be catching on, and the staff seems to like him. They also have a lot of confidence in him.

Clemmings is poised to take his game to a new level, as he showed in the spring. With new additions Mike Grimm, Alex Bookser and Connor Hayes coming in, the depth on the offensive line is getting stronger. Not a finished product according to head coach Paul Chryst and position coach Jim Hueber. However, for the first time in awhile, the offensive line is developing depth. Returning starters still feel there's a lot to prove.

* The loss of Aaron Donald is not one of the main concerns with this group. Khaynin Mosley-Smith looks to bounce back after being suspended in 2013. Darryl Render is looking to take himself to the next level of his development. Pitt should be fine with these two. However, they're looking for depth. Specifically, Tyrique Jarrett and Justin Moody will battle for the next spot in the rotation. Despite two returning starters, that third player will be key.

The bigger overall question is getting some depth at defensive end. David Durham and Shakir Soto are more polished. They still need two guys behind them, who can get in the rotation. Health factors in, as position coach John Palermo would like to see Ejuan Price a little more--assuming he's healthy. Devin Cook is also coming back from a knee injury. Ideally, these guys are next in line, assuming they're healthy. We may see a true freshman contributing here. Rori Blair took advantage of graduating early, and enrolling to be a part of spring drills. Nicholas Grigsby may also make a more full-time move to end. Assuming these guys are healthy, Pitt should be okay. However, health is the biggest problem.

* Of all positions on the defense, Pitt is in best shape at linebacker. Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez have tremendous upsides, even building off their success in 2013. Matt Galambos is the favorite at middle linebacker. He's quickly developed a good understanding of the defense.

Pitt will need to develop depth behind these three starters. Devon Porchia and Mike Caprara will push for a backup spot inside. This year will be a big development year for Bam Bradley, as he is slated to take the reigns for either Thomas or Gonzalez when they graduate after this year.

* Just like the receivers, the secondary bought into new coach Troy Douglas' philosophy of being more aggressive. Lafayette Pitts and Ray Vinopal are taking on a leadership role, and both have more confidence under the direction of Douglas.

There will be a new starter at corner, opposite of Pitts. Either Titus Howard or Trenton Coles will battle for that spot. Whoever loses the battle will become the extra corner in nickel and dime packages--which we will see more of, depending on the opponent.

There's a safety spot up for grabs, with Terrish Webb, Jevonte Pitts and Reggie Mitchell battling. Whoever loses out on this battle will see a significant role, most likely as a hybrid safety/outside linebacker in passing downs.

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