Pitt wrapped up its 2014 spring practices last week, which means it's time to start looking ahead to fall camp, which will kick off at the beginning of August. While that's still a few months away, it's never too early to start taking a look at what the two-deep will likely look like when the Panthers do get going in preparation for the 2014 season.
Before we get started, a few caveats: First, this projection is assuming everyone is healthy. There are a couple of guys (notably along the offensive line) that missed most or all of spring ball with injuries and, while indications are that everyone will be ready to go in August, you just never know. For that reason, this depth chart will look a little bit different to the one that Pitt ended spring practice with. Secondly, there won't be any freshmen in the two-deep below, for a couple of reasons. It's impossible to tell how the rookies will do once they hit the field (remember last year when Titus Howard and Terrish Webb seemed destined for redshirts?), but I also honestly think the Panthers are at a place right now where they don't need any freshmen to step in and contribute. Last year, there were holes to fill along the offensive line (by Dorian Johnson) and at receiver (by Tyler Boyd). As offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said last week, sure, it would be great if a freshmen steps up to the point where he's one of the best guys on the field, but none of the incoming recruits can immediately be slotted into a key position. That said, if there are any notable freshmen at a given position, I'll mention them in my comments on that group.
With that, away we go...
Note: All heights and weights are from Pitt's official 2014 spring roster
1) Chad Voytik (RS So., 6-1, 210 lbs)
1) Trey Anderson (RS Jr., 6-0, 195 lbs)
We'll start with probably the easiest position group to project. This is Chad Voytik's job and there's really no question about it. Voytik didn't blow anyone away this spring, and he even admitted that one of his biggest takeaways from spring practices was how much he still has to learn in the offense. That said, it's still a long way to go until August. This summer will be critically important to him (just as it was to Tom Savage last year), in that he'll need to show up in August completely up to speed and ready to assert himself as the starting quarterback in fall camp. The traditional knock on Voytik has been his size and arm strength, but the biggest issue he appeared to have this spring was his accuracy, which fluctuated from practice to practice. He can throw the ball, but needs to make the easier throws with more consistency than he did in camp.
The bigger question at this position will be what happens if Voytik gets hurt. I was actually impressed with what I saw from Anderson this spring. For a guy who has pretty much been an afterthought for most of his Pitt career, he looked like he's definitely able to lead the offense if need be. Freshman Adam Bertke will join the mix this summer. The obvious ideal situation for him is a redshirt, and, barring complete calamity at the quarterback position, I think that'll be what ends up happening.
1) James Conner (So., 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Isaac Bennett (Sr., 5-11, 205)
3) Rachid Ibrahim (So., 6-1, 185 lbs)
The Panthers ended spring practices with only one of these guys (Ibrahim) able to participate fully in practice. Conner suffered a knee sprain, but is expected to be back for summer conditioning. Bennett, meanwhile, needed surgery to correct a shoulder injury, but should be back in August. Conner will be the lead back in this group, assuming he stays healthy, but Paul Chryst likes to mix guys in, so there will be other carries to go around, too. The question is who gets those carries, and a lot of that depends on how ready freshman Chris James is to play when he steps on campus this summer. If the four-star prospect is ready to step into some sort of role, that will likely have a ripple effect throughout the depth chart. Despite Chryst's propensity to spread carries around, there really isn't enough playing time for more than three running backs (last year it was two main guys, Bennett and Conner, with Ibrahim as a third-down guy). If James is one of those top three guys, then that opens the possibility that Ibrahim could take a redshirt next year.
1) Tyler Boyd (So., 6-2, 185 lbs)
2) Ronald Jones (RS Jr., 5-8, 170 lbs)
3) Kevin Weatherspoon (RS Sr., 5-10, 175 lbs)
1) Manasseh Garner (RS Sr. 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Dontez Ford (RS So., 6-2, 200)
3) Zach Challingsworth (RS Fr., 6-2, 185)
I took a stab at listing two wide receiver positions, like Pitt does in its official two-deep, but the reality is a bit more complex than this. It's pretty obvious that Boyd and Garner are the top two guys, and will likely line up opposite each other on most plays. Beyond those two, Jones and Weatherspoon are probably the top two slot options. The coaches have been pretty effusive in their praise for Jones coming back from suspension this spring, and Weatherspoon (though limited by injury this spring) came on pretty nicely before he got hurt late in the year.
The question here is who the options are on the outside beyond Boyd and Garner. Ford looked more and more impressive as spring went on, and physically looks even better than he did in Detroit last year. Challingsworth has drawn a lot of praise from coaches and teammates dating back to last year's bowl preparation, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a role for him, too. Jester Weah started to show some flashes at the end of spring practices, but he's still probably a little too raw to contribute significantly on offense this year.
These outside depth guys could play a bigger role than last year, too, because Boyd said he has been working in the slot a lot more this spring than he did last year. The goal there is to get better matchups for him, but you also need to capitalize on that with guys on the outside who can beat their man (we'll see if Ford or Challingsworth fill that role). A big answer to this could be incoming freshman Adonis Jennings. As his name would suggest, Jennings is impressive physically, at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. If he's ready to play right away, he gives a nice immediate injection of depth at the receiver position.
1) JP Holtz (Jr., 6-4, 245 lbs)
2) Scott Orndoff (So., 6-5, 255 lbs)
1) Jaymar Parrish (So., 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Tony Harper (RS Fr., 6-4, 200 lbs)
This sort of delineation came about last year, when the Panthers moved away from using a true fullback, and more towards an H-back/hybrid type (basically a second tight end). Let's start at the traditional tight end spot, though, occupied by Holtz and Orndoff. One of the problems with Pitt's offense last year was that the pass protection was so bad that Holtz had to stay in and block, which removed him as a weapon in the passing game. He'll still probably do a lot of that this year (which, frankly, might be a better role for him anyways), but he did catch some red zone passes during scrimmage drills this spring. Orndoff, meanwhile, seems to have a real connection with Voytik. Both practiced with the second team a good deal last year, which may explain that rapport. If I had to make a "bold" prediction for 2014, it would probably be that Orndoff will be Pitt's leading tight end receiver.
As for the other position, it's really similar to what a fullback does, but Parrish will flex out wide a bit more often. Sometimes he'll motion it to block inside, but he can also work in space. Fellow redshirt freshman Devon Edwards could also see some time at this spot.
1) Adam Bisnowaty (RS So., 6-6, 300 lbs)
2) Jaryd Jones-Smith (RS Fr., 6-7, 295 lbs)
This might be one of the biggest concerns on offense heading into the summer. Bisnowaty missed all of spring with the same lingering back injury that cost him the end of last season. The coaches say he'll be back for the summer, but back injuries (especially since this is something Bisnowaty has dealt with since high school, can be tricky). In his absence, Jones-Smith spent the entire spring working with the first team. He certainly looks the part, with a giant frame and almost impossibly long arms, but might not be quite ready for primetime yet. I asked Matt Rotheram at the end of spring if Jones-Smith would be ready to step in a game right now if need be. Rotheram hesitated and basically said that we'll see where Jones-Smith is at next fall.
1) Dorian Johnson (So., 6-5, 290 lbs)
2) Gabe Roberts (RS So., 6-5, 305 lbs)
Roberts is another guy who has had his Pitt career plagued by injuries. If he can stay healthy this summer into fall camp, he could (though it's probably unlikely) push Johnson for the starting job here. Remember, a lot of people sort of assumed Roberts would be the starting center heading into last year before he was unseated late in training camp by Artie Rowell. Johnson practiced with the first team for all of spring camp, and he'll probably be the guy on opening day next year. That said, while he has the talent to be a good offensive lineman, he still needs to bulk up a little bit. That's probably the area where not redshirting last year hurt him the most. It helps that he seems to finally have found a home at guard after bouncing around during his first year, but this summer will be critical to Johnson as he tries to fulfill his five-star potential as a starter next year.
1) Artie Rowell (RS Jr., 6-2, 305 lbs)
2) Alex Officer (RS Fr., 6-4, 290 lbs)
As I mentioned earlier, Rowell sort of came out of nowhere to win the job last fall, but has done a good job and really grown into the role through a full season as starter (in addition to being one of the best interviews on the team). He'll be the guy directing the line and, even if Rowell got hurt, I think it's more likely that Roberts would slide over to take the job ahead of Officer. Officer practiced with the second team all spring, but still seems to be probably a year away from being ready to contribute. He still has some conditioning issues, and is working on getting his weight down to a manageable playing weight. If Officer can get that under control, offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he certainly thinks Officer can be a valuable offensive lineman for Pitt.
1) Matt Rotheram (RS Sr., 6-6, 330 lbs)
2) Carson Baker (RS Fr., 6-5, 280 lbs)
Rotheram is probably the most sure thing along the offensive line. He's the most experienced guy, and the leader of the unit. Seeing No. 74 lined up at right guard against Delaware is, barring injury, one of the safest bets you can make regarding the 2014 Pitt football team. I know the coaching staff is high on Baker, but, ideally, he won't have to contribute this year.
1) T.J. Clemmings (RS Sr., 6-6, 305 lbs)
2) Aaron Reese (RS Fr., 6-5, 300 lbs)
Clemmings drew rave reviews from the coaches and fellow offensive linemen this spring, his second since moving from defensive end at the tail end of the 2012 season. At the end of the spring, he was rewarded with the 2014 Ed Conway Award for the Panthers' most improved offensive player. Clemmings seems to have made really remarkable progress since making the position change, and, ideally, he'll look even more comfortable in the role next season.
Keep in mind that Pitt will bring in two high-level offensive line prospects this summer in Mike Grimm and Alex Bookser. As I mentioned earlier, for the first time in Chryst's tenure, Pitt's depth is at a point where neither guy will have to come in and contribute. In fact, I'd say it's highly unlikely that either guy will see the field this year. It would probably take a catastrophic injury situation, plus an incredible training camp from one of them. Both are certainly talented, but, even with the best offensive linemen, a redshirt year is almost always the best course of action. Grimm and Bookser will both likely be good players for Pitt along the offensive line, and could compete for a starting job as early as 2015, both I wouldn't expect to see either this year.