So Pitt's not going to be playing in the NCAA Tournament. Definitely not something we're used to. But at least we've got spring camp to distract us from basketball season.
Camp opens on the 15th for the Panthers and with a new head coach comes a whole new playbook to learn between now and when Pitt kicks off against Youngstown State on September 1st. Only about 170 days to go!
1) Tino's progression: Tino's career as the starter has been an interesting one. His first year was definitely better than his second and I think many hoped that he would continue to progress as a QB in Todd Graham's system. As we know, it didn't. Some of that is definitely on him, no argument there. But some of it was also due to the system, which he was definitely not made to operate. It also certainly didn't help that the offensive line, which largely was healthy throughout his first year and was decimated by injuries last season.
2010: 223-346 (64.5%), 2572 yards, 16 TDs - 9 INTs, 137.0 QB rating
2011: 247-385 (64.2%), 2616 yards, 10 TDs - 11 INTs, 124.1 QB rating
This may be difficult, but I'm suggesting that we as fans just wipe his stats from last season from our heads. I think Tino can definitely progress as a passer this season with a coach that runs a system he can work with. Last year was like trying to force a square peg in a round hole. Am I suggesting that Tino is suddenly going to be able to become a deep ball passer? Of course not (and if he didn't learn that over the past two seasons, he never will). But I think he can become a more confident quarterback as he learns more of Chryst's offense. And with confidence, his numbers can only get better. He will be the almost surely be the starter come Youngstown State, regardless of what Voytik does in fall camp, but a poor start could result in a switch. He has no excuses this season if he can't be successful early - a weak beginning schedule and a coaching staff that runs a pro-style offense are at his disposal.
2) Improvement of the offensive line: The offensive line was, in a word, terrible. We can attribute some of that to learning the spread offense and the injuries, but this is a unit that needs to improve. Blocking in the running game was generally pretty good, but there were numerous breakdowns when Sunseri looked to pass. One good aspect of the injuries is that many linemen saw playing time, which helped a number of players gain experience. Chris Jacobson's return is much needed as is the eligibility of Tom Ricketts, a Penn State transfer who sat out last season because of NCAA rules.
Having Bob Bostad coaching the offensive line would have been great, but I think Jim Hueber, who has spent many years coaching the position, can do just as good a job. He has a big task in front of him, though. The line lost three starters, including a possible NFL draft pick in Lucas Nix, and they weren't very good to begin with. All we can hope for is that they stay healthy throughout spring camp because this unit cannot afford any injuries.
3) Who emerges on defense? Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard, Brandon Lindsey, and Aaron Donald. These are just a few recent names of players who emerged on the Panther defense and became a force throughout the season. Donald returns next season, but Pitt loses a lot on the defensive side, including Lindsey, Myles Caragein, and Chas Alecxih.
A few players have shown potential. Juan Price and Todd Thomas are two that come to mind. Pitt's defense has never been about one player and there are always multiple threats to get in the backfield season after season. But there will be some new names this year who should emerge due to the losses from graduation and also the changing systems as Pitt moves from a 3-4 back to a 4-3.
4) Improving receiving corps
The receivers were expected to shine in the spread offense and that didn't work out so well. Part of it was on Tino, but there were also times when the receivers either didn't make the catch or didn't run the correct route. Going back to a pro style offense will make things easier and less confusing, but Pitt also has to avoid being too reliant on the run and abandoning the pass - and that means the receivers need to get better. There was no real deep threat like there has been in years past when Jon Baldwin left early for the NFL and with all due respect to Devin Street, I don't know that that's going to change this season. Defenses will quickly shut down the run if Pitt can't get some form of a passing game working. The good news is that there should be some continuity as Pitt won't lose any of its starters with Mike Shanahan, Cam Saddler, and Devin Street all returning.
Is there another unit you think needs watching?