With the Pitt spring game on Friday, thought I'd cobble together a list of five things I'll be looking for:
5. Kicking game: I mentioned this elsewhere in a spring game preview, but the kicking game should be a focal point. While it wasn't the case last season, the Panthers are often a part of a lot of close games (in 2011, the team played six games that were decided by a touchdown or less and in 2009, they were involved in seven such games). Because of that, Pitt needs it's kicking game to be on target to win as many games as possible. The kicking competition should be a good one.
4. The deep ball: Devin Street made some mention of Pitt working on a deep ball a bit more with quarterback Tom Savage. That's something that's been missing from Pitt's play in the Tino Sunseri era and in a run-heavy offense, is something Pitt needs to develop to keep defenses honest. We'll see if Pitt's getting closer to unleashing a legitimate deep passing game.
3. Play of linebackers: Pitt's linebackers struggled mightily the last two years, but the unit could finally turn things around this year. Not only is Todd Thomas going to impress, but word is that Anthony Gonzalez has looked good in spring practices. When you factor in Shane Gordon who should eventually return as the starter, the unit has a chance to be pretty good. And with guys like Ejuan Price, Deaysean Rippy, and Mike Caprara, there's young depth there as well.
2. Isaac Bennett: Heading into spring camp, Bennett figured to be fighting for the backup running back spot with Malcolm Crockett. Those plans changed, though, when expected starter Rushel Shell decided he was leaving Pitt. Bennett had a huge spring last year and the stakes have gone up for him. A strong finish in the spring game and a solid fall camp should mean he holds off Crockett and gets a crack at the starting job.
1. Tom Savage vs. Chad Voytik: This is the big one folks will be watching. Savage likely leaves spring as the starter, but it's not a done deal. If he struggles during the game and Voytik shines, that could open things up a bit. I fully expect Savage to enter the year as the starter, but he hasn't had a great spring by all indications. An impressive showing by Voytik could make head coach Paul Chryst think twice about the position.