So, yeah...we are all still taking in the bowl win against Bowling Green. It was an exciting win that gives Pitt their first winning season since 2010. It may not be much, but it is something, and this program needed something, anything really, to hang its hat on for this season. The senior class made its presence felt, and guys like Aaron Donald, Devin Street, and Tom Savage will be missed greatly.
Still, this team moving forward has some very young players. Pitt had a depth chart filled with freshmen this season, and that does give fans hope heading into 2014. Obviously, some transfers will occur, the recruits are not sure bets, and basically anything can happen between now and August 30. Here is just a brief look at what the 2014 Panthers might be bringing to the table.
(Returning starter in bold, true freshman it italics)
QB - Chad Voytik Trey Anderson Wade Freebeck
Pitt will be ushering in a new quarterback for the 2014 season, and all things point to Chad Voytik. Voytik played in the second half in the bowl game, and showed a lot of promise. Voytik unleashed a deep ball to Boyd, used his feet for a touchdown, and even converted a key third down throw. Voytik is not a big guy like Savage, but I think the fan base and coaching staff will feel better knowing he can perform in a game setting. Trey Anderson will likely be the backup as a senior, and probably will not seriously challenge for the job. Wade Freebeck may come in and give the staff something to think about, but will need to really impress to pass Voytik.
RB - James Conner Isaac Bennett Chris James
Pitt is pretty well set in the running back department. In a perfect Paul Chryst/Wisconsin world, three running backs can all make runs at 1,000 yard seasons simultaneously. It is happened before, and I think Pitt will try to mimic that the best way they can. Conner finished as Pitt's leading rusher despite never being the official starter. He had some monster games, and ones were he did not do very well. But the Bowling Green game looked like an arrival if I have ever seen one. Bennett is a steady veteran, and James is a highly touted four-star recruit from Chicago who expects to play this season. Pitt also has Rachid Ibrahim and another touted freshman in Qadree Ollison in the mix.
FB - Jaymar Parrish Mark Giubilato Adam Lazenga
Pitt did not list a fullback officially, but for all intents and purposes, that is exactly what Jaymar Parrish played in 2013. Parrish proved he can handle the ball when called upon, but looks like a veteran while he blocks. Parrish will be a four-year starter in this role.
WR - Tyler Boyd Manasseh Garner Kevin Weatherspoon Ronald Jones Dontez Ford
After a standout freshman year, Tyler Boyd will enter the 2014 season on the short list for any major wide receiver awards and he is one of the elite receivers in college football. Manasseh Garner was technically a tight end, but lined up more in a receiver type role. Parrish/Garner were listed as one tight end, but in actuality they both played very different roles. Garner can certainly be the go-to-guy opposite of Boyd. Weatherspoon brings experience, while Ford is an intriguing transfer. Also, don't forget about Ronald Jones who returns after his suspension. He'll almost certainly have a chance to factor into the two deep. In addition, Pitt is still in the running for some highly regarded recruits here, and they have plenty of depth behind these first five so it's all a matter of who makes the improvements to play.
TE - JP Holtz Scott Orndoff Devon Edwards
Pitt is in fine shape with Holtz and Orndoff. Holtz is a player with tremendous size and strength, and that leads many to believe he will play on Sundays. Orndoff is a big 6-6 pass catcher, and is a valuable commodity in this offense.
LT - Adam Bisnowaty Jaryd Jones-Smith
LG - Matt Rotheram Shane Johnson
C - Artie Rowell Gabe Roberts
RG - Dorian Johnson Aaron Reese
RT - TJ Clemmings Alex Bookser
Pitt has four returning starters, plus Dorian Johnson, who had starting experience. Simply put, this line was bad for the most part. They had some new guys in there, and some guys that moved spots, and it seemed they never really gelled. Overall, these guys came in as touted prospects and you would think there is a possibility to turn things around before it's too late. Johnson was a mega recruit, and hopefully with some size and strength, we will begin to see that. Pitt is bringing in two massive four stars from the area and really building an offensive line. I believe Alex Bookser, Pitt's latest offensive line recruit, may come right in and compete for time.
DE - Bryan Murphy Ejuan Price David Durham Shakir Soto Devin Cook
Ejuan Price will be back and could be a real impact player. He started to show signs of being a big time player before he went down with his season ending injury. Bryan Murphy is the most experienced guy, and looks the part of an elite end. I think the real wild card here is Shakir Soto. Soto looks the part physically, and showed promise down the stretch. Devin Cook was thought to be that same kind of player, but he missed the whole season essentially. Of all the defensive units, the ends may be in the best shape.
DT - Darryl Render LaQuentin Smith Justin Moody
This is Aaron Donald's spot, and nobody is replacing that production. Darryl Render has appeared in nearly every game of the first two games of his career, so at least there is some experience in here. Render is the most athletic of the interior linemen, and perhaps could be a disrupting force.
NT - Khaynin Mosley-Smith Tyrique Jarrett Jermiah Telani
Tyrone Ezell was the less celebrated Pitt defensive lineman, but he still a very important part of the defense. Ezell played a lot of football over the course of his career, so his presence alone will be missed. Khyanin Mosley-Smith will return from a year long suspension, and bring experience to the table. Mosley-Smith has never been overly productive, but like Render, him being on the field for extended periods of time should help. Jarrett and Telani are two big-bodied redshirt freshmen, and could play the role of space eaters.
MLB - Matt Galambos Mike Caprara James Folston Jr.
Galambos played a good bit this past season as a true freshman, and even started a few games when Shane Gordon was down with an injury. Galambos is a smart linebacker, and could be locked into this spot for the foreseeable future. Caprara is a hard working linebacker, and was in the conversation in the preseason, before barely seeing the field in 2013. I imagine he will be more of a factor in 2014.
OLB - Todd Thomas Anthony Gonzalez Bam Bradley Nicholas Grigsby
Thomas and Gonzalez are coming off solid season as the outside backers. Both players have offensive skill position backgrounds in high school, and that athleticism helps being an outside linebacker in the ACC. I would say both players need to improve their pass coverage, although Gonzalez seemed to be better with it as the season unfolded. Bam Bradley and Grigsby both showed promise at times, including a strong effort from Grigsby in the bowl game, so expect to see more of them.
CB - Lafayette Pitts Titus Howard Trenton Coles Jahmahl Pardner
Lafayette Pitts did not have a great 2013 season, but we saw what he was capable of in 2012. I think an offseason will do Pitts a world of good and he can get back to where he was before this season. Both Coles and Howard played meaningful snaps this season, and their athleticism is right where it needs to be. Obviously, they need to get better with one on one coverage as it seemed they drew some penalties this year.
S - Ray Vinopal Terrish Webb Ryan Lewis Reggie Mitchell
Vinopal actually had a pretty good season, especially down the stretch. He made plenty of big plays, and certainly was a positive more often than a negative. Vinopal is Pitt's most experienced defender, and will be one of the leader's on this team. I know that statement may scare the anti-Ray crowd, but the guy is better than most realize. The competition to replace Hendricks should be interesting. Reggie Mitchell comes in as a transfer from Wisconsin, while Terrish Webb made his way onto the field as a true freshman. Ryan Lewis, Jevonte Pitts, and Cullen Christian are also names you may see in the conversation.
K - Chris Blewitt P - Ryan Winslow
Blewitt had a solid season for a freshman kicker. Perhaps with time, he can grow into a good one. Ryan Winslow is on scholarship to punt, so I would assume he will take the job.