After an up-and-down season, Pittsburgh is ready to reboot in spring practice.
The Panthers were one of the nation’s most confounding teams in 2012, starting the season with back-to-back losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati before bouncing back to defeat Virginia Tech. Later in the year, Pitt took Notre Dame to triple overtime, only to lose to Connecticut the following week.
Spring 2013 will be a chance for Pittsburgh to find some consistency. That might not be easy, though. The Panthers must replace a three-year starting quarterback for their first season in the ACC while looking for a sophomore to be the next star tailback.
Pittsburgh Panthers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 6-7 (3-4)
Spring practice dates: March 5-April 12
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 9
Passing: Trey Anderson, 2 of 2, 53 yds.
Rushing: Rushel Shell, 141 car., 641 yds., 4 TDs
Receiving: Devin Street, 73 rec., 975 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Jason Hendricks, 90
Sacks: Aaron Donald, 5.5
Interceptions: Hendricks, 6
Redshirts to watch: OL Adam Bisnowaty, DB Trenton Coles, WR Chris Davis, WR Demitrious Davis, LB Devon Porchia, LB Deaysean Rippy, QB Chad Voytik, OL Gabe Roberts
Newcomer to watch: QB Tom Savage (Rutgers transfer)
Sept. 2 Florida State (Mon.)
Sept. 14 New Mexico
Sept. 21 at Duke
Sept. 28 Virginia
Oct. 12 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 19 Old Dominion
Oct. 26 at Navy
Nov. 2 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 9 Notre Dame
Nov. 16 North Carolina
Nov. 23 at Syracuse
Nov. 29 Miami (Fri.)
Offensive Strength: Hopes are high for Rushel Shell to step into a line of Pittsburgh running backs including LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. The decorated prep tailback split carries with Graham last season, but he’ll need to shoulder the load with Graham gone. Pitt also has a standout receiver returning in Devin Street, who caught a team-high 73 passes a year ago.
Offensive Weakness: Pittsburgh’s ability to keep its quarterback upright improved in 2012, but it still remained last in the Big East, giving up nearly three sacks per game. Pitt will be looking for a fresh start both from its quarterback, where Tino Sunseri has exhausted his eligibility, as well as new faces on the line.
Defensive Strength: Led by tackle Aaron Donald, defensive line may be Pitt’s top position on the defense. Donald finished with 18.5 tackles for a loss last season. The most notable loss is of starting end Shayne Hale.
Defensive Weakness: The defensive line is a strength, but Pittsburgh will look to produce more of a pass rush. The Panthers ranked second to last in the Big East in sacks last season at 1.9 per game, down from 3.3 a year earlier.
Spring Storylines Facing the Panthers:
1. Solving an intriguing quarterback battle. Pittsburgh has the classic quarterback competition with the veteran, but seldom used backup (junior Trey Anderson), the transfer (Tom Savage, from Rutgers) and the potential QB of the future (redshirt freshman Chad Voytik). Anderson has attempted 35 career passes, but only two last season. Savage was a major recruit when he signed with Rutgers and enjoyed some success as a starter a freshman before he lost his started job midway through the 2010 season. Voytik was a U.S. Army All-American who was a key recruit to stay after Todd Graham bolted for Arizona State after one season.
2. Offensive line movement. Pittsburgh will try to solve its offensive line issues this spring by shifting players around and adding new faces. Redshirt freshmen Adam Bisnowaty (left tackle) and Gabe Roberts (center) enter spring with a chance to start at key positions. Meanwhile, last season’s starters at tackle, Cory King and Matt Rotheram, are slated to move to the guard spots, which are their natural positions.
3. Finding receiver depth. Street will contend for All-ACC honors, but who else will catch passes for the new quarterback. Mike Shanahan is gone as is multi-threat back Ray Graham, who caught 36 passes. Look for tight end J.P. Holtz, who caught 10 of his 13 passes last season in the final five games, to be more of a target.
4. How good can a healthy linebacker corps be? Shane Gordon, Dan Mason and Todd Thomas missed a combined 11 games last season. If this group stays healthy, this could be one of the team’s strengths.
5. A full spring with the same coach. This can’t be overstated. Pittsburgh will have back-to-back spring practices with the same coach for the first time since the end of Dave Wannstedt’s tenure. Only one assistant, defensive line coach John Palermo, is new since last season. Early in the season, the Panthers were a disjointed group, perhaps contributing to Pitt’s inconsistency. The stability on the coaching staff will be a welcome relief for a group of veterans who have had spring practice under three coaches.
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