So this kind of snuck up on us, right?
Football. Is. Here.
Not entirely, of course. We've still got about a month until Pitt plays any games, but with the opening of training camp today, we're finally back to having actual things to discuss.
In the past, we've been graciously invited to attend the closed practices and several of us have gotten down there before. I'm going to hopefully make it to a practice or two as usual.
As always, there will be plenty of storylines. Here are the top five as I see them:
5. How will players respond to Pat Narduzzi?
Players talked in the offseason about the staff being intense and tight end Scott Orndoff was one that spoke out about the workouts being much different than in the past. JD mentioned the intense nature, too, in the offseason workout he attended.
In past years where I attended limited practices at camp, the team has had some fiery coaches. But Chryst, as a whole, was laid back as were many of his staff members. I expect things to be ratcheted up with Narduzzi and company and it will be interesting to see how the players react to that.
4. How much competition does Chad Voytik see?
No, I don't think quarterback Chad Voytik is in danger of losing his job - even with a lackluster camp. But if he struggles a little, it will be interesting to watch how much he's pushed by offseason transfer Nathan Peterman.
Last year as a first-time starter, Voytik had virtually no competition with Trey Anderson and freshman Adam Bertke around. This year, the addition of Peterman provides some real depth at the position. Voytik really improved in the second-half of last season and as Narduzzi has said before, the job is his. But if he underperforms and Peterman impresses, the gap could at least shrink a little bit heading into the season.
3. Which wide receivers step up?
One thing to watch on offense is which players step up at wide receiver. In particular, Pitt is in need of a No. 2 wideout to play alongside Tyler Boyd with the graduation of last year's starter, Manasseh Garner. Dontez Ford had the inside track leaving spring camp, but several new guys are in the mix and the Panthers have a ton of depth at the position.
We'll want to see who steps up to claim the starting spot opposite Boyd as well as who figures into the two deep rotation. The consolation prize for the No. 3 receiver could be starting in the season opener as Boyd sits out due to his suspension.
2. How does the team sort out its offensive line?
Pitt's offensive line isn't in shambles, but there are questions. The team lost two starters, T.J. Clemmings and Matt Rotheram, to graduation. A projected starter for this year, Jaryd Jones-Smith, is on the shelf for the season with an injury. The good news is that there's depth. Pitt gets former starting center, Artie Rowell, back after an ACL injury. The Panthers also have a ton of depth due to the stockpiling that Paul Chryst did. The question isn't so much if there are players to fill the gaps, rather, where do they play.
Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson appear to be penciled in at tackle and guard, but after that, questions remain. Rowell could play at center or the team could keep Alex Officer, last year's starter, there and slide Rowell over one spot to guard. If that happens, projected guard Alex Bookser could move to tackle. Those three could be the ones to get the nod, but where they play isn't yet finalized.
1. What impact does Jordan Whitehead make as a true freshman?
Whitehead comes to Pitt as the team's biggest recruit in the 2015 class. A top-ranked cornerback, it is expected that he begins his career at safety. As I wrote at the time, it was a somewhat curious decision but nothing is written in stone yet. Does Whitehead stay at safety and does he become a starter right out of camp? We won't know for a while.
The good news is that wherever he plays, he'll make an impact. Pitt's secondary will not only be bolstered from some of its younger players getting a year better, but by his presence on the field.
Whitehead could also make an impact on special teams as a return man. If he does play in that role, it would take pressure off of Boyd, who played there last season. Pitt can ill afford an injury to Boyd and getting Whitehead on the field as a returner in his place not only gives the Panthers talent at that position, but gives Boyd one less thing to worry about.
It shouldn't be forgotten that Whitehead is a true freshman. There's no guarantee that he becomes a star, let alone one in his first season. By all indications, Whitehead is ready for college football. But the exact impact he makes in 2015 is very much up in the air.
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