Top 10 Questions to be Answered at Spring Practice

Spring ball begins March 15th and will finish up with the annual Blue/Gold scrimmage on April 12th. The first day of practice will be here before you know it! Here are what I consider the top 10 questions to be answered during the spring practice sessions. Some of the questions may not get answered till fall camp, when the incoming recruiting class arrives, but the more questions that can be answered this spring, the better off the team will be.

  1. Who will replace departed linebackers Gerald Hayes and Brian Beinecke, and who will win the backup positions on the two-deep depth chart? Hayes was a very dominating player who is moving on to the NFL and Beinecke had an outstanding career at his rush linebacker position. They will not be easily replaced. Lewis Moore, who started at strong side linebacker last season, will move inside to replace Gerald Hayes. Candidates for the strong side position include 6-4/245 sophomore Joe Dipre and 6-1/230 redshirt freshman Azzie Beagnyam. They can both play inside also. Another candidate is 6-1/230 senior Malcolm Pinder, a star last spring with his outstanding speed and hard-hitting style. He suffered some nagging injuries at fall camp last year and looks to rebound. The two leading candidates to replace Beinecke are 6-1/220 junior Malcolm Postell and 6-0/220 redshirt freshman Charles Sallet. The coaches were impressed by Sallet's play last season in practice. He has a reputation as one of the hardest hitters on the team.
  2. Who will start opposite returning starter Shawntae Spencer at cornerback? Sophomore Josh Lay, at 6-2/195, is the leading candidate but will be pushed by 6-0/190 redshirt freshman Reggie Carter. 5-10/185 Senior William Ferguson has recently been moved back to the cornerback position and will also push for a starting position. Ferguson is a former starter and brings much-needed experience to the position. Redshirt freshman Larry Moore (5-9/175) will also look to break into the two-deep. Junior Marcus Furman (5-9/185) has been moved to CB from his running back position and should provide depth this season if he doesn't redshirt.
  3. Will former JUCO star Princell Brockenbrough step up and be the receiving threat the team needs, to keep opposing teams from double teaming superstar Larry Fitzgerald? The Pitt coaches have raved about the 6-3/210 Brockenbrough not only for his athletic ability, but also for his ability to knock out defensive players with vicious blocks. Joe Stephens, a 6-0/190 sophomore speedster from Florida, also looks to earn a spot in often-used three WR sets.
  4. Who will replace departed standout offensive linemen Chad Reed and Bryan Anderson? Junior Justin Belarski, at 6-3/290, is the leading candidate at center. Justin is one of the strongest players on the team and has had a chance to learn under multi-year starter Chad Reed. Junior transfer Rob Frederick (6-3/295) will also compete for the starting job at center. Guard Bryan Anderson was 4-year starter and an All-Big East performer, so he will be tough to replace. Former starter senior Jon Schall (6-4/295) will be given the first opportunity. He will be pushed by talented redshirt freshman, 6-3/290 John Simonitis.
  5. How will the running back position develop? Senior Brandon Miree (6-0/235) shook off some early season rust to have excellent performances in the Panthers' biggest games the second half of the season. Will he pick up where he left off? Will 5-10/190 sophomore Jawan Walker push for the starting position? Last year he had pulled even with Miree in fall camp before suffering a knee injury. Can 5-10/215 junior Raymond Kirkley break out of his sophomore slump and push Miree and Walker for playing time?
  6. Who will win the backup QB position and will Rod Rutherford continue to make excellent strides in his development as a QB? Will 6-2/210 sophomore Tyler Palko be redshirted this season? Will 6-2/225 redshirt freshman Luke Getsy win the backup position outright? Getsy has added close to 20lbs. since he started in Pitt's strength and conditioning program and looks to have a promising future ahead of him. Rod had a very good season last year as a first-year starter. Last season he was the #2 rated QB in the conference. If he cuts down on his turnovers and improves on his accuracy, he will be among the best QB's in the country.
  7. Who will replace Brian Guzek at defensive end? Sophomore Thomas Smith (6-4/265) is the leading candidate. He will battle 6-5/275 sophomore Kevin Harris and 6-4/245 sophomore Andy Alleman for the starting position.
  8. Can new running backs coach Dino Babers develop depth at the fullback position? Senior fullback Lousaka Polite has been one of the best fullbacks in Pitt history. The Panthers have had very little depth at the position the last few years though. Converted running back Tim Murphy (5-10/230) has excellent running skills and looks to take his game to the next level this season. A.J. Schneider, a 5-11/245 redshirt freshman, looks to push for playing time also.
  9. Can 6-3/295 redshirt sophomore Troy Banner break into the two-deep at defensive tackle? Banner has struggled through injuries up to this point in his career, but may finally be healthy and ready to produce. He will have his work cut out for him as the Panthers return their entire two-deep at defensive tackle.
  10. Will the talented group of tight ends become more of a threat in the Panthers offense? Returning senior starter Kris Wilson is an excellent receiving threat. The 6-3/240 Wilson has excellent speed and hands. Talented sophomore Erik Gill is the backup. He is a 6-5/255 tight end with excellent hands but played mostly in blocking situations last season. Redshirt freshman Steve Buches, a 6-3/230 receiving specialist, also looks to contribute this season.

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