Training Camp Begins

Training Camp Begins

Looking to build off a 7-6 finish a year ago, the program is looking to build off the momentum after a 30-27 win over Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

After a 13-13 record in his first two years, Paul Chryst is looking for more progress in the 2014 season.

That first step starts today, with the opening of training camp.

Here are a few of the key storylines to look for in this training camp.

* At quarterback, the question is not how will Chad Voytik fare in his first year as the full-time starter. It's how different will the offense look, under his direction?

Voytik comes in with very little pressure. Aside, of course, from the pressure of holding on to the job, which could be said for any quarterback of any team.

What's good for him, is what he has around him. He has a stable of running backs who all saw significant time in 2013--senior Isaac Bennett, sophomores Rachid Ibrahim and James Conner. Not to mention, highly-regarded incoming freshman Chris James. Whether it's by committee, or if one rises above the rest to be the workhorse, the idea of running the football eases the pressure of being a first-year starter.

Not to mention, having an ideal playmaker in Tyler Boyd, and having an experienced offensive line. If anyone is going to take over as a first-year starter, you could not ask for a better situation as a quarterback.

* Going back to that running back position, how will all of these guys be used? Or, could we see just one? If you look at last year's numbers, it looks on paper that Bennett and Conner alternated carries (Conner 799 yards, 8 TD, Bennett 797 yards, 7 TD).

If Bennett and Conner can take it a small step further, combined with Ibrahim and possibly James also getting involved, the run game should be a bigger factor. Will it be enough to win games? That will be one area to watch for.

* Can Tyler Boyd build off an impressive freshman year? The nice thing Boyd had going for him last year, was having Devin Street on the other side. Now, Boyd is the go-to guy. However, as Street missed three games last year due to injury, Boyd has already been in the role of go-to guy.

Opponents may have to think twice about double-teaming Boyd. With Manasseh Garner (6-2, 215) moving from tight end to receiver, he can create some matchup problems for opponents. Or at least make defensive coordinators think twice about how to defend Pitt. Not to mention, if Ronald Jones can come back off a suspension and contribute. We should also see redshirt freshman Zach Challingsworth in the rotation, possibly sophomore Dontez Ford and even heralded freshman Adonis Jennings.

Just like Street last year, he needed a distraction for him to produce numbers. That distraction was Boyd. Now, Boyd needs someone to do what he did last year, create a distraction.

* 43. That's the number circled in the offensive line room, the number of sacks allowed last year. There may be no other position under closer watch than this group. However, they return five players who started games last season, providing one of the most experienced groups the program has seen in quite some time.

Even better for the offensive line, aside from returning starters Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson, Artie Rowell, Matt Rotheram and T.J. Clemmings, there are a few other candidates--Gabe Roberts, Jaryd Jones-Smith--who can push the others. It's one thing to have a starting five, but the Panthers finally have some quality backups.

* What to expect from the defensive line. Overall, Pitt appears stronger on the offensive side of the ball, as opposed to the defense. No one in the building is expecting anyone to have an Aaron Donald type year. Luckily, there are enough experienced players up front.

Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render have started games at tackle in their career, as have ends David Durham and Shakir Soto. This team will not make it with just four defensive linemen. Of all positions, training camp is most important for the defensive line, just to see who else can rise up and get a spot on the two-deep, and hopefully be in the rotation.

The loss of Ejuan Price for the season (torn pectoral) is a big one. Price was expected to come back from a back injury that ended his 2013 season. Prior to his injury, he was making a nice transition as a pass rusher. Nicholas Grigsby may see a permanent move to the defensive line. After that, it's wide-open. Sophomore Tyrique Jarrett and redshirt freshman Justin Moody will be counted on to be game-ready. At defensive end, redshirt freshman Luke Maclean will also get a shot, as will true freshmen Shane Roy and Rori Blair. Blair may benefit the most from enrolling in spring drills.

* While the offensive line always seems to be a question mark, and is not this year in the experience factor, the same can be said for linebacker.

Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez look to build off their development, as two of Pitt's best overall athletes. That's something Pitt has struggled to develop at linebacker, in recent years. There's no reason both can't have career years, and they'll be counted on to have career years.

A new middle linebacker isn't a concern because of sophomore Matt Galambos, who played in all 13 games a year ago, making two starts.

* Despite returning two starters in Lafayette Pitts and Ray Vinopal, the secondary also has questions. However, they're questions that could be answered in training camp.

On Friday, Paul Chryst announced that sophomore Titus Howard--the front runner to start at corner alongside Pitts--was suspended for the entire 2014 season.

That opens the door for Trenton Coles to lock down the starting job. However, it also opens the door for true freshmen Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley to earn a spot.

Reggie Mitchell, who transferred in from Wisconsin a year ago, could battle for a spot at corner or safety. Keep an eye on Jevonte Pitts, who is also expected to compete for a spot at safety.

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