2014 Pitt Preview: What You Need To Know
Pitt WR Tyler Boyd
Pitt WR Tyler Boyd
Posted Jun 9, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Pitt Panthers

2014 Pitt Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Pitt Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Quarterback and the O-line. Common, nagging question marks that'll follow the Panthers into the 2014 season as well. One-and-done Tom Savage is now a Houston Texan, creating an opportunity for sophomore Chad Voytik to lead the attack. The latter is a better athlete than his predecessor, but he lacks similar arm strength. The front wall is a perennial headache at Pitt. Yeah, four starters are back, and head coach Paul Chryst has recruited the unit rather well, but it all means nothing until they prove something on Saturdays. The Panthers will ride the backs of a pair of sophomores this season, WR Tyler Boyd and RB James Conner, who were terrific in 2013. Boyd was a revelation in Year 1, laying the foundation for what could be an All-American career. Conner is the kind of battering ram that nicely fits the type of offense Chryst hopes to showcase to the rest of the ACC.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Panthers were soft when Aaron Donald was ripping through the interior of opposing defenses. Now that No. 97 is a St. Louis Ram, by way of the first round, Pitt will be even more vulnerable in 2014. Where's the star power on D? FS Ray Vinopal is the closest thing to a returning all-star, and he was beatable in coverage. The Panthers are going to have problems versus the run and the pass this fall, depending upon the opponent their facing. Since the pass rush will be a particularly big problem, the secondary will again struggle to limit the long ball. Donald accounted for 11 of the team's 25 sacks in 2013, and 28.5 of its 86 stops behind the line. As if the situation wasn't dire enough, second-leading sacker, Bryan Murphy, decided in March to leave the program. Pitt will take its share of lumps this year, as it prepares to build toward 2015 and beyond.

1. WR Tyler Boyd, Soph.
Boyd's first season at Pitt wasn't been easy; it just looked that way for much of the year. He was an instant impact performer for the Panthers, starting the opener and going on to catch a school freshman record 85 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns. He also carried the ball 11 times for 108 yards and another score, and returned a punt for a touchdown. Ultra-consistent and hard-working, Boyd's advanced hand-eye coordination allows him to make the difficult grabs usually reserved for more seasoned players.

2. RB James Conner, Soph.
Pitt landed a building block player in Conner, wherever he winds up playing. The versatile 6-2, 230-pound battering ram was the Panthers' version of UCLA's Myles Jack in that he's good enough to play on either side of the ball. Running like the second-coming of the Bus in Western PA, he came off the bench to rumble for a team-high 799 yards and eight touchdowns on 146 carries. Conner abused a good Bowling Green defense in the bowl game for 229 yards and a score, showcasing quick feet and a devastating stiff arm. He also drew holding penalties as a defensive end.

3. OG Matt Rotheram, Sr.
Rotheram is the veteran of the Pittsburgh front, with 27 career starts on his resume. The staff wisely moved its 6-6, 330-pound bouncer in a helmet from tackle to guard, where he flourished in 2013. Rotheram does his best work in a phone booth, enveloping opposing linemen in small spaces. The honorable mention All-ACC selection is the face of a unit that wants to blow the other guy off the ball in a roll-up-the-sleeves, no-nonsense fashion.

4. RB Isaac Bennett, Sr.
In his starting debut, Bennett helped solidify a backfield that lost Ray Graham to graduation and Rushel Shell to a transfer. The steady 5-11, 205-pounder from Tulsa was second on the team with 797 yards and seven touchdowns on 171 carries, peaking with a 240-yard effort against Old Dominion. Bennett is a determined between-the-tackles runner, with the moves and the strong lower body to bust through arm tackles.

5. FS Ray Vinopal, Sr.
Can Vinopal get exposed in coverage? Uh-huh. But he compensates by bringing intensity and emotion to the Panther D. The former Michigan transfer has settled in nicely in Pittsburgh, starting all 13 games in 2013. The 5-10, 200-pound Vinopal is like having another linebacker on the field. He was second on the team with 83 tackles to go along with six pass breakups and three interceptions, two in the upset of Notre Dame.

6. LB Todd Thomas, Sr.
It's been an up-and-down career for Thomas, who arrived from Beaver Falls, Pa. as a four-star recruit. He's dealt with knee problems, and he left the team last summer while pondering a transfer. Thomas returned to Pitt to start 10 games at weakside, finishing with 72 tackles and six stops behind the line. He's 6-2 and 230 pounds, yet moves like a much smaller player to create opportunities on blitzes and in pass coverage.

7. C Artie Rowell, Jr.
Rowell is the rock in the middle of a Panther O-line that needs as much stability as possible. He's a blue-collar performer, the glue of the team's front wall. While Rowell isn't very big at 6-2 and 305 pound, he's smart and he's not going to be outworked on Saturdays. From an intangible perspective, he's exactly what the Pitt coaching staff wants at the pivot.

8. CB Lafayette Pitts, Jr.
The Panthers' best cover guy is back with a chip on his shoulder. While Pitts started for a second-straight year, his production slipped in 2013. He had 44 tackles, three stops for loss, four pass breakups and no interceptions; as a rookie, he got his hands on nine passes. The 5-11, 195-pound Pitts is too athletic and experienced—as a corner and a return man—not to bounce with the kind of season that earns him consideration for the All-ACC Team.

9. TE J.P. Holtz, Jr.
Pitt needs someone to take some heat off star WR Tyler Boyd in the passing game. Holtz is an option that too often gets overlooked and underutilized in the Pitt offense. Holtz is a solid in-line blocker, using his upper body strength and every ounce of his 6-4, 245-pound frame to create space for the backs. But he also has soft hands, as evidenced by his 36 catches for 382 yards and three touchdowns over the last two years. Holtz could be a nice safety valve, especially on rollouts and intermediate routes.

10. LB Anthony Gonzalez, Sr.
At long last, Gonzalez has found a home at linebacker. Pitt's well-traveled utility player arrived as a quarterback, and played some H-back and safety, before settling down at strongside last fall. Now 6-3 and 225 pounds, he has the size and the strength to hold up against the run. Gonzalez started every game in 2013, finishing third on the team with 79 tackles. As an active pass defender, he also broke up five passes.

- 2014 Pitt Preview