By now a lot of you are aware of the position moves involved with the Pitt football team this spring and that leads to some questions. Other questions surround the team as well. Pitt will play their spring game this Saturday, April 16th, at 1:00 p.m. and will be played at Heinz Field.
There is a lot of excitement about some potential first year impact players, but with the exception of Chawntez Moss and a couple of other early enrolling freshmen, we won't know exactly who will earn early playing time. With all of that being said, let's look at five burning questions facing Pitt right now as we head into the spring gamel
1. Can Shakir Soto make an impact on the interior part of the defensive line?
With the defensive ends stacked five or six deep right now, Soto was moved to the interior of the defensive line where Pitt sorely needs both bodies and talent. They are in such need that some true freshmen are expected to step in and see the field in the trenches. Soto could provide some much needed help there. As a former defensive end, he will probably have a slight quickness advantage inside, but will he be able to add the explosiveness, technique, and more strength to make a difference in there? Right now, only Tyrique Jarrett provides some stability inside and the Panthers need more to keep teams from gashing them up the gut during games. Saturday will allow us to see Soto publicly for the first time at his new position.
2. Is Manny Stocker good or is Pitt's quarterback depth that bad?
Sorry to be blunt, but this really needs to be answered. By all accounts, the UT-Martin transfer, Stocker, who started at receiver, moved to quarterback and looks to be the backup to starter Nate Peterman. That's a little scary. We all know Chad Voytik transferred, but I think several of us expected it wouldn't be a problem with Adam Bertke and Ben DiNucci there. We can't say much for their in-game ability, but they were perceived by most to be the leaders in the clubhouse in the backup competition. One thing is for certain: Incoming freshman Thomas MacVittie probably just upped his off season workouts before arriving in Oakland. He's talented as can be, but he also may have to be ready to dress this year. Saturday should give us a glimpse of Stocker and his ability to be the backup.
3. Who will step up at receiver?
This has been one of the top questions facing the team once Tyler Boyd decided to leave school early for the upcoming NFL Draft. 2015 starter Dontez Ford looks solid, but after that, questions remain. Unlike defensive tackle, Pitt has a lot of bodies to choose from at this position. The freshmen will arrive looking to move up the ladder day by day, so the veterans have to be ready to make that jump up. They have so many bodies that Elijah Zeise, a guy that looked promising last spring, was moved to outside linebacker this year. Among the pass catchers with a chance to hold off the newcomers are Rafael Araujo-Lopes, Tre Tipton (my favorite to step up, by the way), Quadree Henderson, Zach Challingsworth, and Jester Weah. One or two of those guys are a little banged up, but we hope to see someone have a nice day on Saturday.
4. How will the players adapt to Matt Canada and vice versa?
I think Pitt fans know all too well that new game plans can take some time to adapt at the college level. Even an offensive guru such as Paul Chryst, who had Pitt's offense rolling at times, took a little while to get going. The depth and talent at offensive line will help, as will a veteran like Nate Peterman under center. The Panthers will also have a solid tight end this season as well as a stable of running backs that most college coaches would kill to have on their rosters. The question is simple: How will Matt Canada's offense transition at Pitt? Will they struggle at first? This is one question that probably won't be answered until a few games into the 2016 season.
5. How will the outside linebackers fare?
We have seen two good developments in camp so far and one is that there have been some good reports about Zeise's position change so far. The other is that Bam Bradley tweeted out the other day that he is done with shoulder rehab and ready to roll. Bam has always flashed a big play and he absolutely has the talent. Can he put it all together this year? It would go a long way in helping solidify Pitt's defense. Pitt has some talent and quality young linebackers, but someone has to stand out. Not much will be known until camp starts for the year, but some players like Mike Caprara and Saleem Brightwell can use Saturday to get a jump on the competition.