First day of practice out of the way. First open session with the media for a few weeks. If you expected anything concrete, you are delusional.
Spring practice is the ultimate mirage. The illusion of football, especially for the starved fans. On the bright side, it’s about a month of fluffy content that isn’t centered on the decisionmaking process of 16-17 year-old boys.
It’s been two months since the last time they played. Motivation, conditioning, recovery from injury or just the season as a whole will vary. A kid who redshirted last year is more energized and has a lot less to recover from during the down time than the junior who went through all 13 games.
What we see. What we think we know. Don’t get caught up in the little stuff. This is broader picture. Who has recovered from what injury, or how much longer will they need. A rough outline of the depth chart. To whom the coaches will need to send a message about the summer conditioning and fall training camp. Who they need to ride herd on to stay up on their academic obligations, so there won’t be a real problem come the fall.
So, let’s start with Coach. As he gets to know his players and goes through his first spring practice at Pitt and– Whoops. Sorry. Old habits. Not used to having the same coach in the spring for two straight years.
It’s those little things that suddenly makes a player grateful for consistency on the coaching end.
“It’s a blessing,” redshirt junior linebacker Todd Thomas said. “I’m happy. It’s nothing new. A little kinks in there, but nothing new. I’m happy to come into spring with the same coach, not have to learn a new defense.”
So. So many questions.
The most high-profile battle will take place at quarterback between fifth-year senior Tom Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik. Chryst said he had no timetable for naming a starter, but was looking forward to see what each player had to offer.
“I think the quarterback spot is no different [from any other,]” he said. “[You want] consistent play, and that takes time. You just want to see Tom and Chad grow.”
Whoever wins the starting job will need some targets to throw to, and receiver is another position where the staff will look at some new options. Devin Street, who caught 73 passes for 975 yards as a junior last year, comes back as the No. 1 option, but there’s much uncertainty behind him.
Ed Tinker and Ronald Jones will get their chance this spring, before they are joined by Clairton star Tyler Boyd in the fall.
“We’re not real deep there for the spring,” Chryst said. “I think there’s some guys that need to step up, and we need to be able to see them truly perform at a winning level and do that consistently.”
The Panthers have questions to answer on the defensive side, too, but of a different nature. Ten of the 11 starters from last season will return, although some will miss parts of spring practice due to injury.
The freshmen who redshirted last season will provide Pitt a wealth of talent at linebacker.
In fact, Pitt has so many options at linebacker that Eric Williams, who played in every game at linebacker last season, is moving to safety for the spring.
“I hope we’re saying [we have depth at linebacker] at the end of spring ball,” Chryst said. “I think we’ve got a chance. I think that’ll be one of the good stories for us and for everyone to follow, to see can we build some depth there.”
Some early injuries.
- DB Brendon Felder (right foot)
- LB Shane Gordon (neck)
- DB Jason Hendricks (right toe)
- WR Brandon Ifill (left knee)
OUT OPENING WEEK
- QB Trey Anderson (sick)
- QB Tra’Von Chapman (groin)
- DL Devin Cook (right foot)
- LS Pat Quirin (sick)
Then there are switching positions. The above Felder sat out last year as a transfer from UNC. He had been a WR. His change may have taken place before, but corner could be a great spot for him. The injury, though, is a setback for getting into the two-deep.
On the O-line, some movement. Gabe Roberts — redshirt freshman — is moving to center as the back-up to the only true center on the squad, Artie Rowell. T.J. Clemmings is sticking with the move to the O-line from the defensive side as he is now at right tackle. Both Matt Rotheram and Cory King will resume playing guard on the line. They were forced to play at tackle when Ryan Schleiper was injured.
Juantez Hollins is back from a year-long suspension to try and reclaim his left tackle job. Strong competition is expected from redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty (who I’m guessing most are hoping claims the starting job).
Arthur Doakes — who was suspended indefinitely before the BBVA game — is back to practice with the team, but Coach Chryst isn’t promising anything beyond that.
“Right now, he is helping us get through practice,” Chryst said. After that? “Nothing final yet.”
Must have really pissed off Chryst, and/or needs a lot of motivation. At the same time, barring academic ineligibility, I don’t see how you bring him back to practices “to help” then once again kick him off the team. That would be a real asshole move.
The nomadic Anthony Gonzalez is still playing outside linebacker. Most expected him to switch back to safety given his athleticism. Especially with so many linebackers available to practice. I think they are working to make him more of their hybrid LB/S. A need against a lot more of the offenses Pitt will be facing.
Ohio State transfer Dave Durham has been moved from fullback to defensive end, and looks very promising. Given the lack of depth at DE, he should find plenty of opportunities.
I’m sure I missed a couple of other moves, but with a month and 15 practices I’m sure there will be a puff piece on the move and how much they like it.
Then there are the suspensions. Well, only a couple for “off-the-field” issues.
Chryst said there is no timetable for Mason’s return. He also said redshirt sophomore linebacker Nicholas Grigsby had a similar problem and would not practice, but Grigsby apparently resolved his issues and participated when Pitt opened spring drills later in the afternoon.
I think I’ll wait a couple days on worrying about Mason’s suspension.
Finally, give Pitt athletic department credit for getting into the whole multi-media thing. You can now see post-practice interviews with some of the players (Voytik, Shell and Thomas) along with interviews/pressers from Coach Chryst and QB Coach Brooks Bollinger (Spoiler: he feels “good” about a lot of things). More content to consume. Must have more content.