Posted: 1:00 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26, 2013
Training camp 2013 is in the books. With the Panthers now in game week mode (#BEATFSU), it's time to close up our camp coverage by revisiting some of the summer's biggest stories. Between the Paul Chryst era entering year two, the splashy entrance into the ACC, and a refreshed roster, this camp certainly had a different feel than years past. Looking back, here are five of the biggest developments to emerge during the past month.
5. The offensive line takes (big) shape
The offensive line is always a question heading into a new season since its success largely paves way for the team's overall success. Hampered by unsettled o-lines during the past couple seasons, Chryst has made it a top priority to get bigger up front and this year's group suggests solid progress towards that goal. All the line positions except center seem to be decided at this point and these guys are big. From left to right, the first team looks like it'll be Adam Bisnowaty (6'6" 300), Cory King (6'6" 325), Gabe Roberts (6'5" 305) or Artie Rowell (6'2" 305), Matt Rotheram (6'6" 340), and T.J. Clemmings (6'6" 305).
Again, that's 340 pounds for Rotheram. Yep, these men are big.
A strong, burly offensive line - a mainstay of Chryst's Wisconsin teams - is an asset that Pitt has seriously lacked in recent years so I'm thrilled to see it being built back up like this. Although size doesn't guarantee success, this starting group emerged pretty quickly in camp and has a seasoned teacher in Jim Hueber coaching them. I'm looking forward to a noticeable improvement up front this year.
4. Isaac Bennett's injury gives way to James Conner, others
After Rushel Shell transferred, Isaac Bennett became the heir apparent to the starting running back job. That picture became a bit muddled, though, when Bennett went down with a knee injury on August 9 and spent most of camp sitting out. The general feeling seems to be that Bennett will be ready to go for next week's season opener, but his recent absence gave us a better look at the depth behind him. True freshman James Conner took the opportunity and ran with it, impressing during practice and even saying he plans to be the starter against Florida State.
If I had to guess, I think we'll see Bennett against FSU but chances are he won't be 100%. That means either Conner or Malcolm Crockett will be in there as well, so it'll be pretty interesting to see how this typically-strong spot for Pitt plays out (If you ask me, it all comes down to the offensive line).
3. Tyler Boyd separates himself from the pack at wide receiver
We all knew Clairton's Tyler Boyd had a chance to make an impact immediately when he committed to Pitt back in February. In camp, Boyd lived up to his billing and made it clear he's ready to play at the next level. The 6'2'' 185 pound receiver will almost definitively start this year across from veteran Devin Street and that duo could prove to be dangerous.
Boyd already is looking forward to going against ACC defenses this season with Street.
"Me coming on the offense I think will open it up because [Street is] going to get more triple- and double-teams," Boyd said. "People are going to think of me as just a freshman."
Really since Jon Baldwin left in 2010, Pitt's receiving corps has been more of a puzzling hodgepodge than a serious offensive weapon. But that could change this year with Street poised to have a stellar senior year and a talented Boyd quickly emerging. I feel more confident about the receiving game this year than I have in the past couple.
2. The Todd Thomas saga
Ah, Todd Thomas. Training camp got off to a shocking start when the ultra-talented linebacker said he planned to leave the team on just the second day of practice. It was unclear whether he was unhappy over a demotion to the second team or if a deeper issue existed. Speculation, criticism, and general discontent filled the internet, but after a long, confusing week, Thomas quietly returned to the Panthers.
Two and a half weeks later, it's still not exactly clear what happened, but at this point it doesn't really matter. Thomas is back with the team, probably hungrier than ever. Although he may not begin the year as a starter (Bam Bradley, Anthony Gonzalez, and Nick Grigsby are all vying for time), he'll certainly see the field and it wouldn't shock me if he earns back a starting job.
1. Tom Savage named starting quarterback
The most rejuvenating news for me, as a fan, going into this season is knowing that a man not named Sunseri will be Pitt's starting quarterback. That's right - it is a new day, my friends. And even though it was pretty much known that redshirt senior Tom Savage would be Paul Chryst's choice to lead the offense, it was still big news when the announcement was officially made. After all, we're talking about the starting quarterback job of a BCS program.
As a quick refresher, Savage's career has been markedly non-traditional.
Five years ago, Savage was Rutgers' starting quarterback as a freshman before getting hurt and losing the job the next season. That's when he transferred to Arizona and, finally, to Pitt last year in a final attempt to resurrect a once-promising career.
Savage hasn't played since 2010 — and, then, only four starts — after throwing for Big East freshman records in yardage (2,211) and touchdowns (14) in 2009.
Although he's only a one-year-transition type player, I agree with Chryst's assessment that Savage is the quarterback who offers Pitt the best chance to win this year. He's big, he's strong, and he neatly fits into the Panthers' pro-style offense. Since he hasn't played since 2010, it's really difficult to predict what we'll get with Savage. Almost impossible. If I had to guess, I think he'll be serviceable - not great, not bad.
But at the end of the day, I'm just thrilled it's football season again and we enter the year with a new quarterback and conference.
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