2013 Pitt Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 11, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Pittsburgh Offense


Pitt Panthers

Preview 2013 - Offense

- 2013 Pitt Preview | 2013 Pitt Offense
- 2013 Pitt Defense | 2013 Pitt Depth Chart

What you need to know: The Panthers are riddled with questions marks and uncertainty on offense entering 2013. But hey, at least they’ve got a full season of experience running head coach Paul Chryst’s physical and balanced pro-style system. Pitt will have plenty of new faces in key places this season. Likely starting QB Tom Savage hasn’t played a game in three years. Isaac Bennett is the new feature back now that star-in-waiting Rushel Shell opted to leave the school at the end of March. And the troubled O-line is undergoing an extreme makeover. The closest thing to stability on this side of the ball can be found on the receiving corps, where WR Devin Street and TE J.P. Holtz have All-ACC trajectories. Unless Savage morphs into an NFL-caliber distributor, the Panthers are likely to struggle to move the ball consistently in their new league.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Trey Anderson
2-2, 53 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Isaac Bennett
29 carries, 141 yds, 3 TDs
Receiving: Devin Street
73 catches, 975 yds, 5 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior WR Devin Street
Players who has to step up and become a star:Senior QB Tom Savage
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE J.P. Holtz
Best pro prospect: Street
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Street, 2) Holtz, 3) Savage
Strength of the offense: The strong arm of Savage, tight end, ball protection
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback inexperience, the O-line, running back, depth at the skill positions

Quarterbacks

Well-travelled and battle-tested, senior Tom Savage is attempting to be the answer for Pitt as it mines a successor for underrated QB Tino Sunseri. Savage has had a rather adventurous career trajectory; he looked like Rutgers’ franchise as a rookie in 2009, later transferred to—but never played a down for—Arizona and is now in Western Pennsylvania trying to rescue his career. The strong-armed 6-5, 230-pounder really steps into his throws, conjuring up comparisons to Joe Flacco, but also has to shake off almost three years of inactivity.

It looks as if the future belongs to 6-1, 205-pound Chad Voytik . The redshirt freshman has spent this past offseason trying to prove that he’s the present as well. Voytik was a four-star gem from the 2012 class, attracting a slew of offers with his accuracy, smarts and mobility. He was lights out in the spring game, dispatching a clear message that he has no plans of going away quietly.

Watch Out For .... Savage to start the opener versus Florida State, but not because of anything Voytik failed to do. The rookie is coming on strong, showcasing the poise and confidence that has the current staff thrilled that the previous one pursued No. 16. Savage, though, is further along, and that starting experience in Piscataway gives him an important edge in this competition.
Strength: Blend of styles. Savage is the quintessential pro-style pocket passer that head coach Paul Chryst likes at the position. He has an NFL arm to go along with the savvy of a former starter. Voytik gives the offense an entirely different look, a sparkplug-type operator who can make things happen with his arm and his feet.
Weakness: Uncertainty. Savage hasn’t faced live action in three years. Voytik has never played a down at this level. The coaching staff has an inkling of what to expect this season, but does it really know how either hurler is going to perform once the season begins? Until proven otherwise, the Panthers quarterback situation will still be up in the air in September.
Outlook: Ideally, the Panthers have rented a next-level quarterback, Savage, who uses his lone year in Pittsburgh to dramatically ramp up his NFL Draft grade. If, however, the fifth-year senior is unable to recapture the potential he had in the early days at Rutgers, Chryst might consider popping the cork on the Voytik era. The rookie is obviously unproven, but does have the quicker feet needed to survive behind a Pitt O-line that perennially struggles in pass protection.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

The Panthers have lost last year’s top two rushers, one without a lot of warning. Starter Ray Graham graduated, but it was the spring decision of former five-star gem Rushel Shell to transfer to UCLA that really has Pitt reeling. He was slated to be the workhorse before deciding he’d be happier elsewhere. Enter junior Isaac Bennett , the new favorite to carry the load. The 5-11, 205-pounder has every-down qualities, such as his speed, quickness and toughness through the hole, and is no stranger to the field. He’s lettered in each of his first two years, running 29 times for 141 yards and three scores in 2012.

The new No. 2 in the rotation is 5-10, 200-pound Malcolm Crockett . The sophomore is a not-quite-as-speedy version of Bennett, running with determination on every down. Mostly a special teamer in 2012, he only carried the ball 12 times for 50 yards, while catching a couple of passes.

The Panthers employ a fullback, which will be handled by 6-2, 230-pound junior Mark Giubilato . Strictly a north-south blocker, he gets on the field when it’s time to create some daylight for the tailbacks.

Watch Out For .... Shell to be missed, but Bennett to soften the blow. No. 34 has been itching for an opportunity to shine in a starring role, and he’ll have that chance this fall. No, he won’t match Shell’s upside potential, but he will tote the ball 20-25 times a game, with a 1,000-yard season an achievable goal.
Strength: Toughness. Bennett and Crockett won’t always be the flashiest backs in the ACC, but they’ll both attack the hole with authority, always churning for extra yards. The Panthers are a blue-collar program, with an offense that’ll be spearheaded by a couple of blue-collar backs.
Weakness: Depth. This season was supposed to be the year that Shell took the baton from Graham, and started his journey toward becoming the next great Pitt running back. That plan has been changed, replaced by a small contingency of successors with only two career starts between them.
Outlook: The Panthers were forced to readjust their 2013 ground game blueprint after Shell decided to continue his career elsewhere. The encouraging news is that Bennett does have feature back potential, something he displayed as early as his rookie year in 2011. Pitt can still build its offense around him, but the backfield becomes perilously thin and unproven after the junior.
Rating: 6.5

Receivers

Whichever contender succeeds Tino Sunseri at quarterback can take solace in the return of last year’s top receiver, Devin Street . The 6-4, 190-pound senior has been the Panthers’ most effective wideout, two years running, catching 73 balls for 975 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. While Street isn’t a consistent threat to get behind the secondary, he does do an excellent job of using his size to gain an advantage on the defender. He’ll shield his man from the ball, and use his long arms and sticky hands to simply pluck the ball out of the air. He’s at his most effective in confined spaces, such as near the opposing end zone.

Street’s partner in the receiving corps will be senior WR Ed Tinker , who’ll attempt to pick up the slack left by the graduation of Mike Shanahan. The 6-2, 190-pounder has played in just 10 career games, catching his first five balls for 68 yards and a score in 2012. He’s smart and well-sized, attributes that should help keep him in the lineup.

The program has an upwardly-mobile tight end in 6-4, 245-pound J.P. Holtz , who logged 10 starts in his rookie year. Now a more seasoned sophomore, he’s eager to build on last season’s 13 receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns. The four-star recruit from 2012 ideally fits the profile for a program that likes its tight ends to be athletic, yet nasty enough to contribute as a blocker.

Filling the H-back role, when it’s employed, will be 6-4, 220-pound junior Drew Carswell . He has the finesse and agility of a wide receiver in a big body, giving the quarterbacks a sizable target with which to connect. In his first two seasons, he’s started seven games, catching a total of 26 balls for 303 yards and three scores.

Of the cadre of backups fighting for playing time, juniors Ronald Jones and Kevin Weatherspoon are the two who’ve graduated to the second team. The slippery, 5-8 and 170-pound Jones caught seven balls for 66 yards, while Weatherspoon was held off the stat sheet in his four games.

Watch Out For .... Holtz to emerge as one of the ACC’s best young tight ends. Precocious in his debut out of high school, he figures to be even more productive in Year 2. Tom Savage to Holtz is a hook-up that could easily produce a half-dozen touchdowns through the air this season.
Strength: Size. The Panthers’ four primary targets, from Street to the tight ends, are all 6-2 or bigger. Pitt will feature the kind of receiving corps that creates mismatches with linebackers and defensive backs. Particularly near the end zone and on jump balls, the Panthers figure to be able to out muscle defenders and pluck balls out of the air.
Weakness: Wide receiver depth. Pitt has an all-star candidate in Street, but who else? Tinker has taken until his senior year to be a factor for a reason, and the backups are as green as the Heinz Field turf. The way it stands now, Street is so head and shoulders above his teammates that he’s going to consistently attract the other guy’s best defensive back—or two.
Outlook: Shanahan will be missed unless Tinker is able to rise up and catch at least 50 balls. Street will continue to be the best weapon through the air, if not the entire offense. And Holtz has the look of a clutch playmaker at a position the program really likes to utilize. The Panthers will be strong enough up top, but need to give Savage more than just a couple of options in the passing game.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

The perennial pursuit of a formidable O-line continues this offseason at Pitt. The Panthers are breaking in a couple of new starters into a unit that struggled in 2012. The biggest hole is at center, where all-star Ryan Turnley must be replaced. Taking the lead in the spring for the job was 6-5, 295-pound Gabe Roberts , who is only a redshirt freshman. He shifted inside earlier in the year, and while there have been obvious growing pains, he’s holding a lead on 6-2, 300-pound sophomore Artie Rowell .

Roberts’ learning curve is being aided by the presence of veterans to his left and right. At left guard, massive senior Cory King is moving inside after starting all 13 games at left tackle. The 6-6, 325pounder is better suited to an interior position, where his heavy feet and struggles in pass protection are less likely to get exposed. .

Interestingly, the Panthers are taking the same exact tact with last year’s right tackle, 6-6, 335-pound junior Matt Rotheram, who has been relocated to right guard. Big, physical and difficult to move, he’ll have a much better chance at success now that he’s no longer attempting to protect the edge.

The Panthers are guardedly optimistic about the new tackles. On the left side, 6-6, 300-pound redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty has all but locked up the starting job. The three-star recruit from the 2012 class is a former wrestler, who blocks with the leverage and the mean streak that the coaches like. Obviously, there’s a lot to learn, but he could be an anchor up front for Pitt for a number of years to come.

Exiting spring, junior T.J. Clemmings, who started six games at defensive end in 2012, was holding down the starting nod at right tackle. The 6-6, 290-pounder has good size and strength for the position, but will need a crash course in footwork and properly using his hands to seal off edge rushers. He’ll be challenged by the Panthers’ best tackle off the bench, senior Juantez Hollins . The versatile 6-5, 330-pounder was slated to be in the lineup last fall, but was suspended for the entire season.

Senior Ryan Schlieper will somehow fit into the rotation this season. The 6-5, 310-pound veteran of two letters started the first eight games of 2012 at guard before going down with a broken foot. He’ll compete for playing time at all three interior spots, doing no worse than filling an important role off the bench.

Watch Out For .... the impact of four-star recruit Dorian Johnson . The 6-6, 300-pounder didn’t choose Pitt over the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Notre Dame to sit on the bench. He’s a gifted, athletic blocker, who’ll be given every opportunity to crack the two-deep of a unit craving an infusion of elite talent.
Strength: Girth and physicality. Yeah, they plod at times, but the Panthers are big and physical, and they can be effective as run blockers. King, Rotheram and Hollins are all at least 325 pounds, wide bodies who can envelop opposing linemen when they’re able to lock on.
Weakness: Pass protection. This is a perennial problem that just doesn’t seem to go away. Pitt ranked 102nd nationally in sacks allowed last season. This season, the Panthers’ tackles are a rookie and a junior who has played his entire college career on the defensive line.
Outlook: Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Panthers are pulling out all the stops this offseason. Pitt has reshuffled the deck in the trenches, moving last year’s tackles to guard, turning a former guard into a center and looking to the D for tackle help. The result? It’ll be a classic wait-and-see approach, though the program finally feels that it’s going to put its five best blockers on the field at the same time.
Rating: 6

- 2013 Pitt Preview | 2013 Pitt Offense
- 2013 Pitt Defense | 2013 Pitt Depth Chart