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Football opens 2014 spring drills on Sunday, March 16

Linebacker Todd Thomas is one of 14 starters back for Pitt.

Linebacker Todd Thomas is one of 14 starters back for Pitt.

March 16, 2014

LINK (PDF): 2014 Pitt Football Spring Prospectus

 

Pitt will open its third edition of spring drills under Coach Paul Chryst on March 16. The Panthers return 14 starters and 42 total lettermen from last year’s squad that finished with a 7-6 record, including a 30-27 triumph over Mid-American Conference champ Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

   The following is a position-by-position look at the 2014 Panthers as they open spring workouts.


THE OFFENSE

QUARTERBACKS

Pitt must replace 2013 starter Tom Savage, who in his lone season of eligibility at Pitt, threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns.

   As a redshirt freshman last season, Chad Voytik played in four games as the top reserve, completing 6-of-11 passes for 116 yards. Voytik’s most prominent action came in the final game, a 30-27 win over Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, when he played the entire second half in relief of the injured Savage.


 

 

   Voytik helped engineer the win by completing 5-of-9 passes for 108 yards and rushing twice for 24 yards. His five-yard scoring run put Pitt up, 27-20, in the final quarter and he also had a key 19-yard rush on the game-winning field goal drive.

   Voytik will be pushed by junior Trey Anderson, who in two seasons of backup duty has completed 14-of-35 passes for 108 yards with three interceptions.

   Freshman Adam Bertke, a three-time state champion quarterback out of Ohio’s Marion Local, will join Pitt for fall training camp.

 

RUNNING BACKS

The Panthers return their top three rushers from a year ago in senior Isaac Bennett and sophomores James Conner and Rachid Ibrahim.

   Bennett and Conner, both physical “downhill” runners, got the bulk of the carries in 2013 and combined for 1,596 yards and 15 touchdowns. Conner, buoyed by a 229-yard effort in the bowl victory, rushed for a team-high 799 yards and eight TDs on 146 carries (5.5 avg.). Bennett netted 797 yards and seven TDs on 171 attempts (4.7 avg.). Ibrahim served as a change-of-pace back and gained 136 yards on 27 carries (5.0 avg.).

   Returning at fullback are senior letterman Adam Lazenga, sophomore Anthony Rippole and redshirt freshman Colton Lively

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Tyler Boyd was the nation’s most productive — and spectacular — freshman receiver, compiling 85 catches for 1,174 yards (13.8 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Boyd set Pitt freshman records for both receptions and yards, eclipsing marks previously held by Larry Fitzgerald (69 catches for 1,005 yards in 2002).

   Boyd closed his debut season in highlight-reel fashion with eight catches for a career-high 173 yards (21.6 avg.) and a 54-yard punt return touchdown in the Panthers’ bowl victory. He scored nine total TDs on the season.

   An All-ACC selection as a freshman, Boyd could be poised for national honors as a sophomore.

   Pitt will need to replace one of the most productive receivers in school history. The graduated Devin Street finished his collegiate career ranking first in all-time catches (202) and third in receiving yards (2,901) at Pitt.

   Looking to fill that void opposite Boyd is senior Manasseh Garner, who began last season in an H-Back role but moved to receiver late in the year when Street was saddled with injuries. Garner finished as Pitt’s third-leading receiver with 33 catches for 391 yards (11.8 avg.) and three TDs.

   Three additional lettermen return in the receiving corps in senior Kevin Weatherspoon, junior Ronald Jones and sophomore Chris Wuestner. Sophomore Dontez Ford, a 2013 transfer from Syracuse, saw action in Pitt’s bowl game upon becoming eligible and will also vie for time. Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah enter active duty after freshman redshirts.

 

TIGHT ENDS

Junior J. P. Holtz is a returning starter at tight end who has proven to be an asset in the run and pass games. A traditional “in-line” tight end, Holtz is also an effective receiver with 36 catches for 382 yards (10.6 avg.) and three touchdowns over the past two seasons.

   Sophomore Scott Orndoff was enjoying a productive freshman campaign until suffering a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game. Still, Orndoff was a valuable contributor, starting five contests and catching six passes for 50 yards (8.3 avg.) and two scores. Sophomore Jaymar Parrish is also back following an impact debut season. Parrish played in all 13 games with six starts as a true frosh and had seven catches for 40 yards.

   Redshirt freshmen Devon Edwards and Tony Harper will add depth and competition in their first active seasons.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

Pitt returns four starters on the offensive front, led by senior guard Matt Rotheram, the elder statesman of the group with 27 career starts. Rotheram received Honorable Mention All-ACC recognition last year and is ready to assert himself among the league’s best offensive linemen in 2014.

   Both offensive tackles are back. Senior T.J. Clemmings started all 13 games at right tackle, his first full season on the offensive line after previously playing defense. On the left side, sophomore Adam Bisnowaty returns after having his promising debut season cut short by injury. Bisnowaty made eight starts as a redshirt frosh but saw his season end in November due to a back ailment. 

   Junior center Artie Rowell returns as the glue of the unit. A starter in every game last season, Rowell earned postseason media praise for his performance in the bowl victory when the Panthers’ churned out 487 yards despite playing with an injury-plagued offensive line against Bowling Green.

   Sophomore Dorian Johnson lettered as a true frosh, playing in the final 12 games and starting three contests. Johnson was used at both tackle and guard last season but will focus on the latter position this year. He will compete with sophomore Gabe Roberts – who was limited to three games in 2013 due to a shoulder injury – for the guard spot opposite Rotheram. Sophomore John Guy will vie for time at tackle.

   Four players who redshirted as freshmen will enter active duty in 2014: guards Carson Baker and Aaron Reese, tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith and center Alex Officer.

 

THE DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE

Gone is one of the most decorated players in Pitt history, tackle Aaron Donald, who won every major defensive award last season and figures to be a top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Back are seven lettermen and five players with starting experience for a unit striving to improve upon last season’s production. 

   Pitt will need to fill both positions on the interior. In addition to Donald, two-year starting nose tackle Tyrone Ezell has also exhausted his eligibility.

   Junior Darryl Render lettered as Donald’s top backup the past two seasons. His 25 tackles in 2013 lead all returning defensive linemen. Pushing him at tackle will be senior letterman LaQuentin Smith and redshirt freshmen Justin Moody and Trent Neavin.

   At the nose, junior Khaynin Mosley-Smith is a returning two-year letterman. Also vying for time will be sophomore Tyrique Jarrett and redshirt frosh Jeremiah Taleni.

   At defensive end, senior David Durham returns after being a starter in 2013. Strong competition will come from junior Ejuan Price and sophomore Shakir Soto. Price was emerging as the Panthers’ most productive defensive end last year until an October back injury ended his season. Soto, a top reserve for most of the year, closed his true frosh campaign with a starting assignment in the bowl game. 

   Junior letterman Devin Cook is also looking to bounce back from a 2013 injury (knee) that limited him to three games. Luke Maclean and Jeremy Gonzales join the mix at end following freshman redshirts. Freshman Rori Blair will participate in spring drills after joining Pitt as a mid-year enrollee.

 

LINEBACKERS

Pitt welcomes back two starters and six total lettermen at linebacker. The returning experience and playmaking ability make this unit one of intriguing potential. 

   One of the Panthers’ most active defenders, senior Todd Thomas mans the starting Will linebacker spot for the third consecutive season. Last year he collected 72 tackles (fourth best on the team) and added six TFLs (ranking third). Sophomore Bam Bradley provides quality depth behind Thomas after lettering in a reserve role. Sophomore Jacob Craig is also in the mix at Will.  

   Senior Anthony Gonzalez started every game at Sam last year, his first as a full-time linebacker. Gonzalez finished third on the team with 79 tackles. He added five pass breakups – tops among all linebackers – and a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown (at Duke).

   Redshirt freshman Reggie Green, cut from the same “athlete” mold as Gonzalez (both were high school quarterbacks), moves to the Sam after working at receiver last year. Redshirt frosh Nico Elms also adds competition at this position.

   Junior Nicholas Grigsby has experience at the Sam and Will. He was effective as a hybrid end/linebacker at the end of last year and could be similarly deployed in 2014.

   In the middle, sophomore Matt Galambos appears ready to seize the starting role after playing in all 13 games as a true frosh. Galambos made two starts, including the season-ending bowl victory against Bowling Green, and totaled 38 tackles for the year. He will be pushed by a pair of sophomores, Devon Porchia and special teams letterman Mike Caprara. New to active duty are redshirt freshmen Zach Poker and Michael Dunn.

 

SECONDARY

Pitt lost a pair of four-year contributors in the secondary – cornerback K’Waun Williams and safety Jason Hendricks – but still returns a promising nucleus.

   Junior Lafayette Pitts is a two-year starter at cornerback and should be poised for his finest season to date.  Additional competition and depth at corner will come from three sophomore lettermen: Trenton Coles, Titus Howard and Jahmahl Pardner.

   Senior Ray Vinopal returns at free safety after receiving Honorable Mention All-ACC in 2013. Vinopal was Pitt’s second-leading tackler with 83 stops. He led the Panthers in interceptions with three and ranked second with six pass breakups. Sophomore Ryan Lewis, a special teams letterman, will vie for time behind Vinopal.

   Competition for the vacant strong safety spot will revolve around a trio of sophomores: Terrish Webb, Reggie Mitchell and Jevonte Pitts. Webb boasts the most experience, playing in all 13 games and earning a start in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Pitts lettered in special teams capacities last year, while Mitchell sat out the season after transferring from Wisconsin.   

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Chris Blewitt returns after handling placements and kickoffs as a true freshman last season. Blewitt set a Pitt freshman kick-scoring record with 82 points, converting 14-of-18 field goals (78%) and 40-of-41 extra points (98%). Perhaps his biggest kick was a 39-yard field goal with 1:17 left that provided the winning margin in the Panthers’ 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl victory over Bowling Green.

   Pitt will need to replace Matt Yoklic, a three-year starter at punter. Redshirt frosh Ryan Winslow served as Yoklic’s understudy last season and looks to seize the starting role.

   Junior David Murphy was the long snapper for punts, field goals and extra points in all 13 games last year. He will be pushed by sophomore Pat Quirin

   Pitt returns experience and production in the return game. Lafayette Pitts (23.1 avg.) and Tyler Boyd (22.4 avg.) shared the kickoff return duties in 2013. Kevin Weatherspoon averaged 8.2 yards as the Panthers’ primary punt returner. When Weatherspoon was sidelined due to injury for the bowl game, Boyd took over and had three returns for 69 yards, including an electric 54-yard TD, the Panthers’ first punt return for a score in seven years.