For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh heads into spring practice with a new coach. And for the second year in a row, the Panthers have to learn new schemes on both sides of the ball.
Expectations were high for Todd Graham’s team last season, but the Panthers underperformed on the field and Graham left for Arizona State’s coaching job in December.
The new coach is Paul Chryst, who had enjoyed a productive run as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator. He will install a pro-style attack, which is what the Panthers employed under Dave Wannstedt, who was Graham’s predecessor. The Panthers used a version of the spread last season, but other than TB Ray Graham, there was a severe lack of playmakers.
Paul Chryst must make believers out of a Pitt team playing under its third coach in as many seasons.
|Coach: Paul Chryst (1st season) |
Last season: 6-7 overall, 4-3 in Big East
Spring practice dates: March 15-April 14
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (7): TE Hubie Graham, TB Ray Graham, WR Cameron Saddler, G Ryan Schlieper, WR Mike Shanahan, WR Devin Street, QB Sal Sunseri, C Ryan Turnley
Defense (4): SS Jason Hendricks, FS Jared Holley, LB Todd Thomas, CB K’Waun Williams
Special teams (2): K Kevin Harper, P Matt Yoklic
The move back to the pro-style attack fits the Panthers’ personnel better, but now the biggest issue is that a line that had trouble last season now is looking for three new starters.
The line also is an issue on defense, as the Panthers used a 3-4 last season and only one starter in the front seven returns. Rebuilding the line and finding some pass rushers will be the defensive priority this spring.
Biggest problem: Offensive line. Pitt enters spring camp with numbers but questions on the line. The Panthers graduated three seniors with starting experience, and while they will get Chris Jacobson back for a sixth season, only two linemen on the roster have a full season’s worth of starts. There are some intriguing linemen, but they are all unproven. Building an effective line will be priority No. 1 for Chryst and the new staff.
On the spot: QB Tino Sunseri. He was downright bad in 2011, his second season as a starter. A year earlier, Sunseri was serviceable while working in Dave Wannstedt’s pro-style offense, so perhaps the source of his troubles last season was the spread system Todd Graham used. Now Sunseri will be back in a pro-style offense under Chryst, but whether he improves remains to be seen. Redshirt sophomore Mark Myers will have the opportunity to unseat Sunseri this spring, and four-star recruit Chad Voytik will join the team this summer to provide even more pressure.
[Big East spring preview: A league of mystery]
On the verge: RB Isaac Bennett. He received some playing time late last season, but this spring is an opportunity to show the new staff what he’s capable of. And if he’s going to earn playing time, he’ll have to do it this spring, as this fall will bring star RB Ray Graham back after an ACL injury and touted recruit Rushel Shell to the team. Bennett is talented, but he needs to show it over the next few weeks.
General overview: For the second spring in a row, Pitt will spend March and April learning new systems on offense and defense. Chryst and his staff will bring Pitt closer to what it was under Wannstedt than what the Panthers were last season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy. The Panthers have major questions on the offensive line, and the defense lost seven players with starting experience. Chryst will have the double challenge of finding the right personnel and assembling something of a depth chart while also working to gain a level of working comfort with the players.
For in-depth coverage of Pitt athletics, go to Panther-Lair.com
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