Thursday, December 8, 2011

Voytik still best option for now

I've spent the last few days researching and talking to many people involved in recruiting and other writers around the country, and as of now, I still don't see a better option than true freshman Chad Voytik.  But don't get me wrong.  Ideally, I would prefer for Voytik to play part-time next season, and I know the Pitt staff thinks the same way.  But let's look at why I'm thinking this way at the moment.

First, there's graduate transfers.  I've identified four players currently who have already said they were either transferring after graduation, are expecting to transfer after graduation, or who could conceivably transfer after graduation.

Those players are Dayne Crist (Notre Dame), Ryan Katz (Oregon State), Jacob Karam (Texas Tech), and Danny O'Brien (Maryland).  The only problem with that is that none of the four are spread quarterbacks who are a serious running threat.

Crist was one of the top two or three quarterbacks prospects in the country when he came to Notre Dame, but injuries, badly timed mistakes, and Brian Kelly, were too much to overcome and he lost his job to the less talented Tommy Rees.  But Crist has a strong arm, is somewhat athletic for a big quarterback, and has a lot to prove.  But he's also a pro-set quarterback if there ever was one.  He is also expected to be highly coveted for pro-set programs (including maybe some giant programs like  Wisconsin and Texas), not to mention the coach who recruited him to Notre Dame, Charlie Weis, is now the new head coach at Kansas.  All of that means Pitt's chances are virtually nil to land him.

O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year when he threw for 22 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.  This season, however, O'Brien started the first seven games and threw 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  A lot of his problems could be because Torrey Smith became a first round pick of Baltimore since last season, because Maryland is an awful team, and because Randy Edsall had one of the most disastrous coaching disasters of all-time.

Like Crist, O'Brien isn't a running quarterback but has more than enough athleticism to be at least as good as Tino Sunseri has been.  The question is, will he want to run that offense?  He failed in Edsall's spread offense and Graham's is even more complex.  He should have options that fit him better and I suspect he would chose one of them.  He also would have two years of eligibility remaining meaning if he succeeded, Voytik would not start until his third season.  That's not necessarily a bad thing because it means the quarterback situation would be set for the next five years.

He's from North Carolina so he may want to play in the ACC, but you have to wonder if Edsall would want him to go to a potential opponent.  All of this could be a moot point, however, if O'Brien doesn't graduate (reports claim he will, Edsall has doubts).

Katz is at a lower level than Crist and O'Brien, but has a cannon for an arm and some mobility. But once again he's not a running quarterback.  As a sophomore, he threw for 2,401 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.  He was also sacked 33 times.  He lost his job at halftime of the first game to redshirt freshman Sean Mannion, and though Mannion put up some big numbers, many close to the Oregon State program think they could have won more games with Katz. He will graduate in March and will have one year of eligibility. However, when it comes down to it, it doesn't seem reasonable that a pro-set quarterback from Santa Monica, CA is going to come to Pitt to run the spread, when there is some team out west who would be a better fit.

Karam is the least accomplished of the four but that's because he's only lettered for two seasons and was only a redshirt sophomore this season.  Of course that also means he has two years of eligibility left.  He is the wildcard of the four because while he was recruited for the run and shoot by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, he has enough mobility to be a pretty good runner in Pitt's system.

He was the top backup this season at Texas Tech, behind star Seth Doege, but only completed 9 of 17 passes on the season.  He was well thought of by people at Texas Tech, however, on the field for his charismatic leadership, and off the field where he's practically a legend in the local community do to his personality and charitable contributions.  He's also a wizard in the class room (he graduated in two and a half years) and wants to go to law school.

He's about the same size as Sunseri and Voytik (about 6'0" 200) and in high school he had offers from the likes of Oklahoma, Stanford, Houston, Louisville, Missouri, and Arizona.

Karam is from the Houston suburb of Friendswood, TX, and though Graham and Todd Dodge are more from the Dallas area, they still have a lot of connections in Texas high school football.  In fact, the neighboring town of Friendswood is Pearlman which just happened to win the state title last season behind a quarterback by the name of Trey Anderson, the Panthers current backup.

So it looks like Karam is the only one of the four that could be even close to a possibility, and even that is a long shot right now.  Things could change, of course.  The Panthers staff may target one of these four and convince them that Pitt is the place for them.  But until they do that, all four are simply a pipe dream.  And of course there's always a possibility that another quarterback decides to transfer.  That player would probably have to be a sophomore with two years of eligibility, however, because I've gone over every roster in the country with a fine toothed comb, and I see no more juniors who fit the bill.  It's impossible, however, to know which sophomores are due to graduate, like O'Brien and Karam, until they actually announce it.  And you also can't tell if somebody who started this season as a junior simply wants to start somewhere else, like Russell Wilson did this season.  But until somebody like that becomes apparent, we have to to assume this is it.

The next option to start next season is a junior college player but that's not looking good either.  The only two jucos the Panthers are looking at, as far as we know, are Andrew McDonald and Deon Anthony.  McDonald has no offers and Jackson only has an offer from Troy, who he has actually verbally committed to.  But neither appears to be a sure thing.  If the staff thought they were the answer they would have been offered already.  I know many Pitt fans watch Jackson's tape and thinks he could be excellent, and maybe he could, but he has one offer, from Troy, and even they aren't bringing him in to start.  In fact, he may end up at wide receiver there.  That doesn't mean he can't come into Pitt and do well at quarterback next season, but it also means that it would be quite a surprise if he did.  Bottom line, I couldn't see him beating out Voytik, who is significantly more talented.  It may be nice to add him, though, to add depth.

The last option are the players already on the team.  Physically, Sunseri is nowhere near as bad as he's looked at times, but it's clear that, one, his skill set doesn't match this system, two, he is mentally beaten down, and, three, he no longer has the confidence of anybody on the team.  That's a lot to overcome.  And of course there's always a chance that he could transfer out of the program.

Let's get Trey Anderson, Mark Myers, and Ronald Jones out of the way right now because none are options.  Anderson is still too small and not just talented enough to overcome his limitations, Myers is a horrible fit for the offense, and Jones is 5'8" and not a good enough passer.

That leaves Anthony Gonzalez, who could be a sleeper in all of this.  He was a high school legend at Bethlehem Liberty and was the Player of the Year in the state as a junior.  He's a very good athlete, and he is definitely a good enough runner to be called a running quarterback.  He's also solidly built at 6'3" and 210 pounds.  He was one of the most improved player in spring practices before the season and looked to be the favorite to back up Sunseri.  Instead he got busted for having pot on him and he was suspended for two games.  When he came back he was a tight end.  But it will come down to his passing.  His arm is strong enough but his technique is rough and his decisions aren't always the best.  But he's still a work in progress and you never know when the light bulb goes on.

So Gonzalez is a good athlete who can run and if he doesn't know how to run the spread as well as Graham wants yet, he will by next season.  That is if Graham allows him.  He's made no promises that Gonzalez will return to quarterback but if the only other alternatives are Sunseri and Voytik then Graham needs to have his head examined if he keeps him at tight end.  It's worth a shot to see if Gonzalez can do it, and if he can't, he can always move elsewhere- preferably safety so he doesn't continue to get wasted as a backup tight end.

To sum it up, unless Graham can unearth a gem that nobody else can see, or somehow manages to convince one of the four known quality graduate transfers to come to Pitt (and then learn how to be a spread QB), then the quarterback battle for now comes down to three- Sunseri, Gonzalez, and Voytik.  I think it's obvious that, assuming Sunseri is even there, that the staff will probably not go with Sunseri again.  There's just too much going against him.  That leaves Gonzalez and Voytik, with Gonzalez being the preferred option so that Voytik can be eased in.  But until there's a better option, Voytik is the man.


  1. Just an FYI, its Deon Anthony, not Jackson. He looks to have a little better arm strength than Sunseri and he's definitely a better runner. At the very least he can run a little more. I would like to see what Gonzalez can do but he is really raw as a passer. Not too many great options.

  2. Yeah, I would like Anthony as a reserve. They need depth that doesn't include Myers and Anderson.

  3. Doke,

    Couple things:

    1. Agree that AG is really the only option outside of Tino currently on the team. It's my opinion that he should start the Bowl game. This game means nothing and 1 month of practice should be enough to get him ready to start. We need to take advantage of this extra practice time and figure out if AG is an option at QB or should be moved to S or HB. Sooner we figure that out the better for everyone. Plus, any game experience he can gain is a plus going into next year. Perhaps if things go extremely well they do not bother bringing in a 2nd QB?

    2. Speaking of bringing in a 2nd QB... Seems to me that your conclusion is Karam is our best option. That's pretty much my conclusion to. He would be the equivalent of a JuCo transfer in terms of eligibility and I like that he would be a positive addition off the field as well. Additionally, it is nice that he was coveted by multiple D1 schools out of high school. I trust Leach's evaluations of QBs so if he thought Karam could run his Air Raid then I have to think he can run Coach Graham's offense.

  4. Karam was apparently a 4 star on and ESPN for whatever thats worth. Plus, as you said, he had some really nice offers out of high school. His film looks pretty good. That would be a nice pick up.

  5. Thanks for this update on the QB situation. This makes me agree with the previous comment that Graham should go with Gonzalez for the Bowl game...I'm in the "anyone but Tino" crowd for sure, and I have to believe the Pitt players are too....these guys worked to hard to have to go out and play with someone who realistically should have gone to a D-II school as their quarterback. Gonzalez plays hard, and can overcome his limitations with his athleticism. Also, I really hope that Graham can give Voytick a year to grow and mature with a redshirt...hate to throw the kid to the wolves right away, very few freshman are ready that early.

    Chris: Any idea of Voytick will enroll at Pitt in the Spring instead of waiting for the Fall? That could be very helpful to his progression...

  6. I don't think mobility is the foremost concern with whomever is brought in. It would be nice to have a real dual-threat, but really Sunseri's run ability proved sufficient. It was all the other issues which were horrendous: decision-making, panicking, mastery of reads, accuracy on the move/on deep throws.
    If anything, I think the Pitt run game under Graham can be effective without a true "running" QB. It's the passing component worrying me more. I'd take any of the above options that can at least match Tino's "athleticism" but improve in those other areas. That's why I'm not crazy about AG or any of the JUCOs being mentioned.

    I'm not well-versed on TG's offense, though. Those are just my impressions. What types of QBs ran his system at Tulsa?

  7. To set the scene for this comment, picture me as a 40++ y/o grown man on his knees in the snow, begging and crying, ala George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" (please God, I want to live again...):

    "Please God. Anybody but Tino Sunseri. I can't stand the thought of seeing him take one more snap in a Pitt uniform. Please God."

    I feel a little better. But whatever patience I had for this hopeless knucklehead was used up somewhere between the inital kickoff of Rutgers and the final kneel-down vs. Utah. Or certainly in the 4th Qtr of the WVU game.

    Oops, here we go again:

    "Please God, anybody but Tino Sunseri! I want to live again."

  8. Chris, great blog and thanks for all the hard work.

    I like the idea posted above regarding giving Gonzalez playing time in the bowl game. It makes sense to me to get AG some game experience and see how he responds. As far as AG's skill set, however, I can't help but think of the Spring Game. Man, he was bad as a passer. I know a lot could change since then and the weather that day was awful but he made Sunseri look like Tom Brady. Also, in running the Wildcat against Syracuse, AG looked slow to me. He was effective, I know, but he did not seem to have the speed and quickness said of him coming out of high school. Could this be due to the added weight to play HBack?

  9. "Myers is a horrible fit for the offense."

    I thought Myers was a great recruit. So if he is a pro-style quarterback and you have no one to run the spread, how about a pro-style approach? It seems to be the better style for success considering Alabama, LSU and USC take that approach.

  10. JW, I don't think the staff would worry about a QB being a huge running threat for one year and believe it or not Sunseri gained over 400 yards rushing this year before the sacks took away his totals. But what I'm saying is that some of these QBs aren't going to want to come into a very specific offense that will require some mobility because they want to go with what makes them comfortable.

    JAM, I think that has a lot to do with Gonzalez not knowing what he's doing yet. He's not a speed demon or an elite athlete, but he's got more than enough in both to run for a lot of yards should he be a starter.

  11. Pitt isn't Alabama, LSU, or USC and they will never win big by going pro style unless they cheat and get better players. There only chance to win big is to try to not go head to head with those elite programs and instead find perfect kids for a unique system.

  12. I understand that Graham inherited Tino but I think that Graham is taking a big risk if he only brings in Voytik next year.
    First of all, what happens if Voytik gets hurt? Any qb running the read option is going to take more hits and Voytik is not that big. Even worse, what happens if Voytik struggles or worse fails to develop? The later is not so much a failure for next year, but Pitt will be in deep trouble for 2013.
    I also find the use of Gonzalez this year to be confounding. If Myers was such a poor fit for this system, then why move Gonzalez to tight end? Did Dodge and Graham really think that Anderson was going to be a capable backup for Pitt?
    Pitt failed to find a solution for our qb woes this year and it seems to me that Graham is betting everything on Voytik. I hope that Voytik shines but if he does not that Graham could be in deep trouble.

  13. I agree that Graham did not do a good job with the QB situation this year but I'm guessing that he just thought Sunseri would come around. Of course he never did. But now Graham really better get it right this time because he can't claim he was left with nothing anymore. Now it's his job to find an alternative.

  14. Jacob Karam seems to be the only alternative outside of the current recruits or roster players. If he wants to be a lawyer, Pitt should be a good destination.

    Deon Anthony is rumored to have had academic issues at Grambling. I do not know if it was due to lack of effort or something else, but if he could not hack it there he will not make it at Pitt academically.

    As for the bowl game, Tino is probably our only choice as the main quarterback (I know, I cannot believe I typed that either!). Gonzalez could never learn enough of the playbook in such a short time run an effective base offense. The best we can hope for is to see a 50% Tino and 50% Gonzalez wildcat offense in the bowl.

  15. I also like the idea of starting Gonzalez in the bowl game, but I don't see it happening for two reasons.

    1) Pitt wants to win this game at all costs in order to salvage a winning record this year and keep a short string of bowl wins going, and they still think Sunseri is the best option. They don't care right now about next year....that's what spring ball is for.

    2) The coaching staff isn't ready to admit they've been wrong all year and then start recruiting.

  16. I agree that they will start Sunseri because they need to win this game very much, and for this year anyway he's probably the best option (which is sad).

    But I don't think Graham would fear that he would be exposed that he had the wrong QB all year. One, we all thought Sunseri would be better than he was so hindsight is 20/20 on that one. If he's merely competent, Pitt wins two more games. Two, Graham would not risk losing the bowl game just to prove he was right all season. If he thought he had a better chance with Gonzalez then he would go with him.

    Let's not forget that sometimes Sunseri is not so bad. At least he has proven more than Gonzalez. So Sunseri is the way to go for this one game. Now, next year it's a different story and I say give Gonzalez every opportunity to start. And if he doesn't and it's between Voytik and Sunseri, you go with Sunseri. Assuming Voytik isn't a total disaster at that time, of course.

  17. Chris - good article, thanks.

    Regarding the bowl game. Graham will have to have his head examined if he sits Sunseri down for that game because it cements the possibility that Sunseri may either transfer to another school or quit playing before 2012.

    PITT fans have to be very careful what they wish for here. As much as the fans may not like it and it is an emotional issue right now, the starter is going to be Tino Sunseri until someone unseats him. This is how it should be IMO. Regardless of how Sunseri played over the last two seasons the staff will not go into 2012 without any real gameday experience on the QB roster. That would be a risk not worth taking when you have two years experience here already.

    As you say above Sunseri did some good things also and I'll venture that even with Sunseri's level of average to poor play staying the same, had we a healthy Ray Graham and a healthy Jacobson & Nix for the whole season we'd be 8-4 at least. Sunseri was not the only reason we lost football games.

    To drop Sunseri without a viable replacement is taking a risk that is not only unnecessary but could be a complete disaster. Think about 2007 then take McCoy's production out of that season and that is what could happen in 2012 should Ray Graham not come back and we have no experienced QB.

    I am pretty sure that Todd Graham and staff still want Sunseri on roster for 2012, regardless of how rocky 2011 has been.

  18. Chris -

    A question from a few years ago: How similar is the offense that Wake Forrest runs to Brian Kelley's offense?

    Ben Mauk (who had transferred from Wake Forrest, not sure if he was a 5th year transfer or not) had a lot to do with why Brian Kelley won 10 games in his first season as the Cincy coach.

    Unless the Wake Forrest offense is closer to Brian Kelley's offense than I thought, I'm thinking Mauk initially didn't sound like a great fit for Kelley's offense either.

  19. Gonzalez is going to be an interesting issue come spring practices. As Chris said he may be the only viable alternative for Graham if Sunseri gets demoted or leaves.

    That move to H-Back for Gonzalez was done for two reasons I think. One was that he really is a great athlete and the staff wanted to get him on the field somehow... and this was put into place after Anderson was brought in and the staff felt they had two QBs at least who could run the offense.

    But I also wonder if Todd Graham saw the need to not have Gonzalez in the leadership position that QB entails. His arrest for possession happened right after spring camp and Graham acted swiftly in issuing Gonzalez the punishment of a two game suspension.

    Graham is a stickler for trust and accountability by his players and having a player in that QB position who broke that trust would have seemed hypocritical to Graham IMO.

    That said, after a full year of keeping his nose clean and doing everything that has been asked of him, perhaps Gonzalez may be forgiven and given a clean slate for a 2012 leadership role.

    I'm speculating here of course but that was the first thing I thought of when that permanent move of Gonzalez to H-Back was announced.

    It's all a moot point if Gonzalez's passing doesn't improve though. At this point his game isn't well rounded enough for a full time starting role as QB - as Chris said above. He has done well in the Wildcat though and is fun to watch when he gets behind center in that formation.

  20. Doke,

    Any word on whether Pitt is losing any recruits due to the defection of so many assistants to work with Rodriguez again?

    Thanks for all of your hard work on this GREAT blog.

  21. They haven't lost anybody yet but I don't think they will have a chance now with LB Ken Ekamen because the Panthers were on his final list because of Tony Dewes. Pitt was not the favorite anyway, though.