Paul Chryst has his work cut out for him this year having to choose between struggling senior Tino Sunseri, and true freshman Chad Voytik, who will only have three weeks of college practice before the season starts.
Luckily for Chryst the future looks better. Much travelled transfer Tom Savage will be eligible for the 2013 season and he will have one year of eligibility left. It's his last chance to live up to his potential, not to mention get drafted into the NFL. And Savage does have that kind of potential. At 6'5" and 235 pounds he has great size, and his arm is a cannon. He was also a Freshman All-American so you know the potential is there. As a sophomore at Rutgers he hurt his hand which cost him his job. He then went to Arizona where he sat out the required year, before then transferring to Pitt, which will cost him yet another season this year. Bottom line, after his promising freshman season he didn't fail as much as he didn't play. Sensing his last chance, combined with Chryst's expertise, could mean Savage's day may finally come.
Beyond that, Voytik is athletic, and also has a cannon for arm, plus he also has a lighting quick release. Adding to his attributes, he is also a great leader. He's exactly the kind of quarterback that Chryst could develop into a highly productive college player.
But right now that's just two players at the position, and one hasn't even enrolled yet. Yes, I purposely discounted Trey Anderson and Mark Myers because it's unlikely either will be in the mix again after this season.
One more quarterback is needed for this class. Blackhawk's Chandler Kincade has already given a verbal commitment for 2014, and yes I think he will eventually sign with the Panthers, but it will be years before he is in the mix at Pitt, and how good he could be is still undetermined.
Pitt missed on their top quarterback target, Malik Zaire, who chose Notre Dame, but TraVon Chapman would be an excellent addition to the staff, and is close to Zaire in talent. He's also very similar to Voytik. Voytik has a stronger arm and a better release, but Chapman is well above average in both, and Voytik is further along at the same stage as Chapman. Both are athletic, but Chapman is a quicker, better runner. As for size, both are listed at 6'1", but both are probably a little shorter. Chapman is raw, and his size and athleticism have made many top programs look at him at a position other than quarterback. Voytik, being a year older, will probably be a step ahead of him in 2014, but if the Panthers land Chapman it will give them two talented and young quarterbacks at the position.
Position status: Incomplete. The word out of Pitt is that Chapman will choose the Panthers in two weeks but he hasn't yet. When he does, this position will be complete because one more talented quarterback is definitely needed.
If Chryst can develop a quarterback and offensive line, two of his specialties, the offense can eventually be great because the running back position is starting to look scary good in the future.
Sophomore Isaac Bennett has been a pleasant surprise and he's good enough to give the Panthers a very good running game this season, even if Ray Graham is not 100%. The fact that he will be in the program two years after this season is giant plus for the program.
If that wasn't enough, Rushel Shell is entering the program this season and he has the size, speed, and toughness to be a star in a Chryst offense. It's also no secret that he has two young daughters now, too, and the newfound maturity and desire to have an NFL future could be the extra push he needs to become a great college player.
With those two in the program, it wasn't imperative to land another elite running back, but that's exactly what Chryst did. The staff courted big time backs like Derrick Green and David Williams, but when the dust settled, they added strong, tough, 5'11" 205 pound New Jersey back Corey Clement.
At fullback, former high school quarterback Mark Giubilato is now a super strong 6'2" and 230 pound sophomore, and he should get most snaps at the position. For the future, Ohio State transfer David Durham will have two years of eligibility starting in 2013 and at 6'1" and 245 pounds, he will be the perfect battering ram in the new run heavy offense. Having two quality fullbacks sounds good, especially when both have two years of eligibility after this season, but then Chryst got a commitment from 6'1" 235 pound Gateway fullback Jaymar Parrish, who also has the hands and athleticism to be a factor in the passing game down the road.
Position status: Complete. This one is obvious. The Panthers should have an excellent running game for the foreseeable future, and the position is loaded with a lot of talent and depth.
This is a position that needs an upgrade and so far Chryst has not added what he needs to help his young quarterbacks. The good news, though, is that there is still a legitimate chance to change that.
Devin Street, 6'4", will have one more season after this year, and Salath Williams, 6'2", will have two. They are the only two experienced wideouts on the roster that have any size at all. Brandon Ifill and Brandon Felder will also have two seasons after this year, and could be sleepers at the position. Ronald Jones played a lot as a freshman last season and showed talent, but at 5'8" it will be interesting if Chryst can find a way to use him. Chryst will get practice this season with Cameron Saddler. Incoming freshman Demitrious Davis is only 5'10" but he also has excellent potential.
Bottom line, this receiving corps needs an influx of talent and depth, and I think three receivers should be added. One already added is 6'2" 180 pound South Fayette wideout Zach Challingsworth. He has better speed than he gets credit for and is quite frankly underrated. It seems to me that he has been infected with "White Receiver Disease" in that because he's white, people can't see his speed and athleticism, and instead look at him as a possession receiver. He has great hands and is tough as nails, a real football player, but he is more than just a slow possession receiver.
The two big gems of course, are Central Valley's Robert Foster and Clairtion's Tyler Boyd. I said form the beginning that Foster will end up at Pitt, and I've seen nothing yet that changes my mind, but of course it's not even close to a sure thing. He's the kind of talent that would likely start, and star, immediately, exactly what Savage or Voytik would need to help them out. Boyd is more of a question mark as he's been keeping things close to the vest recently. If I had to guess right now, I'd say Pitt has less than a 50% chance of landing him but things change quickly.
Beyond them, things get even more iffy. Bishop McDevitt's Brian Lemelle, and Philadelphia wideout Daryl Worley, are a step down from Foster and Boyd, but both are good prospects that want to visit Pitt in the future. But the Panthers have not put the full court press on either yet, instead focusing on Foster and Boyd.
For 2014, the WPIAL has some intriguing prospects led by two potential stars in 6'1" 200 pound Ricky Rogers of Keystone Oaks, and 6'6" Brandon Mitchell of Fox Chapel. With those two, plus Foster, Boyd, and Challingsworth, it seems pretty obvious that at least temporarily the dearth of elite WPIAL receivers has changed.
Position status: Incomplete. Foster alone would make this group complete but obviously that will be a dogfight. If they don't land him, Chryst may have trouble changing this status to completed since losing the top three receivers in the WPIAL- Foster, Boyd, and West Virginia commit Chavas Rawlins- would be considered a big failure.
Chryst and right hand man Joe Rudolph love to use tight ends and to say they have had success utilizing them in the past is an understatement. Luckily for them, and for Pitt fans, he has quickly loaded the position for the Panthers.
Starter Hubie Graham will be gone after this season but Brendan Carozzoni and Drew Carswell both have two years left after this season and both are talented. That alone is good news. But then Chryst added talented incoming freshman J.P. Holtz, and 2013 recruits Scott Orndoff and Tony Harper. I admit that I'm not sure about the Harper pickup yet but Orndoff is the ideal fit for what Chryst likes at the position.
Position status: Complete. A lot of young tight ends and all are the pass receiving type that Chryst excels with.
If the Panthers get their desired receivers, the skill positions for the future look very promising. But none of it will work without a talented offensive line. It's probably the most important position in Chryst's initial recruiting.
Cory King and Ryan Schlieper will be back next season, Matt Rotheram and Tom Ricketts will be back for two seasons, and Adam Bisnowaty will be an incoming freshman this season. But after that, things get a lot more suspect. Aaron Reese is a 2013 prospect, and he's better than a project, but like most linemen he won't be in the mix for a few years yet. This is another area where Chryst's and Rudolph's expertise will come in handy and because of that no player at the position can totally be discounted for the future, but an influx of talent and depth is clearly needed.
The obvious big fish here is 6'6" Belle Vernon star Dorian Johnson. I've always considered him Pitt's to lose and now more than ever I think he'll eventually be a Panther. That would be the big time left tackle that Chryst needs for the future.
At least four, if not five, linemen are needed, and if the staff can land Johnson to go with Reese that would be a great start to this offensive line class. Indiana guard Dan Samuelson, North Allegheny's Patrick Kugler, and big Ohio tackle Kyle Meadows would have made an unreal line class but Samuelson de-committed from the Panthers and chose Nebraska instead, Kugler committed to Michigan without ever looking at the Panthers, and Meadows is looking elsewhere.
To fill out the class now, Chryst will have to look at other, lesser known linemen, who have the raw potential that he has often refined in the past. Among that group are 6'7" Philadelphia tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith, 6'6" Virginia product Eric Tetlow, and Rochester NY guard Alexander Officer, who at 6'4" and 300 pounds is smaller than Chryst prefers, believe it or not. After that, the level drops again with two big, lesser recruited Ohio kids, Xzavier McAllister and Carson Baker.
Position status: Incomplete.