Three things we learned in the spring about the Pittsburgh Panthers:
1. Breaking in a new QB. Quarterback Tom Savage was good, but not great, in 2013, but the Panthers might miss him more than previously anticipated. He often received little help from his offensive line, and NFL scouts are noticing as Savage’s name is among the hottest with the draft less than three weeks away. While Savage could be one of the first three quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft, the Panthers continue to break in new starter Chad Voytik.
2. The rest of the offense around Voytik should be strong. Receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner were among the best freshmen in the ACC in 2013, and they both figure to improve with a full season and spring camp in their back pockets. Boyd is already one of the country’s top threats on the outside, and Conner is a throwback bruiser at running back. The offensive line needs to continue to develop, but the coach Paul Chryst has recruited very well at the position.
3. Chryst might have created a new spring model. The Panthers did not have a spring game in 2014 as Chryst said he preferred to have a standard 15th practice day. Coaches have been relatively split on the worth of having a spring game, as it often turns into a half- and quarter-speed scrimmage, especially in the second half. It is hard to argue with Chryst that the Panthers were better served practicing than scrimmaging.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Can Voytik build upon the bowl-game performance and spring camp? When Savage went down against Bowling Green in December, Voytik played admirably to lead Pitt to a bowl victory and a winning season. Reports had Voytik playing well as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, but he will make his first career start in the fall. The Pitt staff is hoping for a reversal of last year’s opener when it was first-time starter Jameis Winston lighting up the scoreboard and stat sheet against the Panthers.
2. How will the defense fare? The Panthers struggled mightily at times on defense, allowing big yards and points in a handful of contests. Defensive coordinator Matt House came under fire from fans at times during the season. For Pitt to make a run at a January bowl, the defense will need to step up and play consistently all season.
3. Will Conner play both ways again? Conner was the most impressive player on the field in Pitt’s bowl game, breaking the school rushing record in a bowl game while doubling as a pass rusher on defense. Late in the game, Conner wreaked havoc in the Bowling Green backfield. He will be instrumental to Pitt’s 2014 success, so Chryst might be rolling the dice if Conner continues to play two positions that require collisions on nearly every snap.
One way-too-early prediction:
Voytik has the persona that will endear him to Pitt fans early. The first half of the season is full of winnable games for Pitt, which means Voytik will be one of the surprises in the ACC through at least October.