Quarterback: I know a lot of Panthers fans don't want to hear this, but my guess is that Tino Sunseri will start again next year. The difference is, he will now be put in a much better position to succeed. If it's one thing that Chryst is excellent at, it's letting his players stay in their comfort zone, and for Sunseri that should be short, safe passes and turning around to hand the ball off a lot. Sunseri doesn't throw the long ball well so that could hurt as far as stretching the field, as well as giving the running backs room to run, but right now he seems like the best option. Chad Voytik will be a true freshman, obviously, and while I prefer to have him see some time if he's ready, he could redshirt if Sunseri does well enough and redshirt sophomore Mark Myers can be an adequate backup. I know a lot of fans have high hopes now for Myers, but I was told he was a tad overrated as a prospect coming out of high school, and in fact Pitt was his only high-major offer. However, the lefty is big and has a cannon for an arm, so if anybody can get anything out of him it will be Chryst. His development should definitely be interesting. I think it's safe to say that Trey Anderson does not fit this system and I would be surprised if he didn't go back to school closer to his hometown in Texas. Anthony Gonzalez is another player who may have been an option in a spread offense but now will probably stay at tight end. Hopefully either at tight end or elsewhere, he will see the field a lot, because he's too good of an athlete and a player to be on the sideline.
Running back: This has to be one happy group. Chryst loves to run the ball and luckily for him he has the horses to do it. After blowing out his knee this season, I'm assuming Ray Graham comes back for his senior year, because, one, nobody is going to draft him without seeing him on the field again, and, two, a huge year in the new offense will only help him come draft day. If he's healthy, he should team with surprising Isaac Bennett, who played well as a true freshman this year, and elite freshman Rushel Shell. The three should form quit a group, assuming Graham is healthy. While Chryst usually likes to use two tight ends, two receivers, and one running back, from time to time he often utilizes fullbacks. That's a problem for Pitt since they have no real fullbacks, so look for 6'2" 230 pound former high school quarterback Mark Giubilato, and 235 pound Derrick Burns, who redshirted this season after entering the program at 195 pounds, to possibly see some time.
Wide receiver: This group was a disaster this season, as they never took to the spread, and even though they should be better back in a conventional offense, it's still a unit that needs an influx of talent. I'm guessing that returning starters Michael Shanahan and Devin Street will start again, and while their big size hurt them in the spread, that same size will help them immensely while blocking in the running game. Salath Williams and Ed Tinker also have good size, as does Drew Carswell who started out at tight end but moved to receiver later in the season. He could stay at receiver or go back to tight end where Chryst liked to play two at Wisconsin. In a bit of irony, the rest of the receivers are spread offense types due to their smallish size. Between returnees Brandon Felder, Ronald Jones, Darius Patton, and Cameron Saddler, and incoming freshman Corey Jones, and twins Demetrious and Chris Davis, Chryst will have to find a few of them to take a step forward as players.
Tight end: Another Chryst speciality, he loves to throw to the tight ends and he loves receiving tight ends who can really get down the field. Like I stated previously, he also likes to play two tights a lot. That's good news for senior to be Hubie Graham who should see his numbers skyrocket next season. Graham is not the deep threat like the new breed of tight ends, but he's athletic enough. Anthony Gonzalez, if he stays at tight end, could be the type of tight end that can really stretch the field. Brendan Carozzoni impressed me as a redshirt freshman and he could be a really good one down the line. And of course Carswell could figure here, too.
Offensive line: Okay, Chryst is one of the best in the business at developing running backs and tight ends, but it's offensive lines where he's earned most of his bones. And amazingly, this offensive line, now that they are back to doing what they're best at, could actually be pretty good. At right tackle, Matt Rotheram looks like an ideal fit due to his 6'6" 330 pound body. As a redshirt freshman, he played briefly this season and did okay before getting hurt, but now he will be doing what he does best which is drive blocking. He was highly recruited coming out of high school and he could be a future star on the line. At left tackle, I can see Tom Ricketts being the man. The Penn State transfer had to sit out last year and has yet to do anything in college football yet, but he's 6'5" 285, and he has talent. I'm guessing that Chryst will work his magic on him. At left guard, I expect Chris Jacobson back and as long as he's healthy, he will thrive in this offense since he is another prototypical drive blocker. At right guard, Cory King will probably be the guy again, and he should only get better. Ryan Schlieper will also play a lot and could even start. At center, Ryan Turnley will be back for his senior year and while he's never been great, he's a warrior, and Chryst should be able to coach him up. If he still comes, incoming freshman Brandyn Cook could see time as the backup center and be the heir apparent, but if he's not ready, look for Artie Rowell to back Turnley up. And there's always the chance that Schlieper moves to center, too. With that projected starting lineup (and admittedly it's just a wild guess at this point), from left to right, the weight of the linemen would be 285, 295, 320, 325, and 330.
Defensive line: The line was good this season, but it's going to look very different in 2012, and that includes the look, which I expect to be a 4-3. As a pass rushing end, you have to say Bryan Murphy is the man if he comes back to the team. Murphy, who sat out this season because of academics, is a tough and relentless pass rusher and could really be good in this defense. At the strong side end, it may finally be time for T.J. Clemmings, who is a chiseled physical specimen at 6'6" and 295 pounds. If Murphy and Clemmings start, and live up their potential, then look out. On the inside, Aaron Donald is going to be an All-American candidate, and he should be joined by Khaynin Moseley-Smith, who is very similar in size and playing ability, if not production. Depth could be a real problem unless some freshman make an impact. Inside, Tyrone Ezell will be a redshirt junior but he hasn't shown much yet. Neither has soon to be senior Shayne Hale at end. Incoming freshman end Darryl Render could see time, as could fellow freshman, 320 pound Tyrique Jarrett. Possible commitments J.P. Holtz at end, and Ryan Watson at tackle, could also make an impact, especially Watson, an elite talent who could play a lot immediately if the Panthers can land him.
Linebackers: The best part of running a 4-3 is that now Pitt's lack of linebacker talent and depth isn't as big of a problem. In fact, the starters could be very good, even though they will also be very young. Soon to be sophomore Ejuan Price is too good not to be on the field so I look for him to start at one outsider spot. If the new DC is Todd Orlando, he loves to blitz linebackers and Price could be devastating in such a defense. On the other side, Todd Thomas had a good season as a redshirt freshman this year and he's only going to get better. Few teams in the country, and definitely nobody in the Big East, will have two quicker starting linebackers. In the middle, a healthy Dan Mason would make the starting linebacker group phenomenal, but that's just a pipe dream, so I'm guessing that it's LaQuentin Smith's job to lose. It's an interesting group with a ton of potential, but they are also all going to be sophomores. After that, there is a severe drop in talent and experience, and there's no incoming freshman who are probably ready to play a lot, though Dakota Conwell should eventually be good. Nicolas Grigsby, who redshirted this season, is fast and athletic, and could also be good in the future. But this is definitely a position that needs a major upgrade.
Defensive back: Outside of the defensive line, this was the best group next year and they return all but one starter and one reserve. There are a lot of candidates to play next season, but K'waun Williams at corner, and Jarred Holley at strong safety, are guaranteed starters. At the other corner, Michigan transfer Cullen Christian, and Lloyd Carrington, who played some as a true freshman this season, may be the best bets to start. At free safety, Jason Hendricks began the season as a starter, but then was lost for the remainder of the season due to injury. He was replaced by Andrew Taglianetti, and both will be back next year, as will Lafayette Pitts, who was redshirted but is talented enough to take both of their jobs if they're not careful. Other reserves include Brandon Ifill, who lettered as a redshirt freshman this season, Michigan transfer Ray Vinopal, who started as a true freshman for Wolverines, and Roderick Ryles, a very talented safety who was redshirted this season. If that wasn't enough, there are also four more incoming freshmen who are defensive backs, though none are expected to get playing time next season. Two possible incoming freshman, who haven't committed yet but Pitt would love to land, are Demetrious Cox and Bam Bradley, and both of them are good enough to see time as freshman if they became Panthers.
Summary: Let's start with the bad news first. There are still some units that are mediocre at best and depth is poor at almost every position. It's doubtful that the passing came will be anything more than average and the front seven on defense has a lot of "ifs" that need to be answered or the defense could be in trouble. When Todd Graham came to the program, the offensive line, receivers, and linebackers were lacking depth and to be honest, his one year didn't change that. Also, outside of Ray Graham, there's still no real game breakers, and it's not even certain that he'll be back and be healthy.
Now the good news. Sunseri and the passing game, while still not that good, should at least be better in some ways with Chryst using his talents to get what he can out of them. The running backs and tights should be very good, giving Chryst a head start on getting the offense he wants, and the offensive line suddenly looks like it could be very effective. On defense, Donald is excellent and Williams, Holley, and the rest of the secondary are very good. The success of the defense may come down to just how well Murphy (if he's even on the team), Clemmings, Price, and Thomas play. All four at least have big time talent.