Tom Savage, QB- This is the most obvious, needless to say. The rest of your team has to be amazingly talented to be able to win with a mediocre quarterback, and an excellent quarterback can make an otherwise ordinary team successful. A lot has been said about Savage's vagabond college career, and there is a lot of apprehension because people fear he will be rusty after not playing for years.
But on the bright side, Savage is a full blown adult at 23-years old, and his body and mind should be further along than most college quarterbacks. And while it's true that he hasn't played a meaningful game in years, it's also true that he's at least been practicing the entire time.
His strong arm and big body, along with his maturity and Paul Chryst's great offensive mind, could mean that Savage may have a big year. If he plays well and leads Pitt to a nice season he will have the added bonus of becoming a genuine NFL prospect. Bottom line, while his career has been spotty, he can end it on a very high note.
James Conner, RB- Just a true freshman, and not a highly recruited one at that, but the Erie native has tantalized with his straight line speed and 6'2" 230 pound frame. He also has soft hands which helps in the passing game.
After Rushel Shell left, and tried to come back before being told no, the job became veteran Isaac Bennett's job to lose. Bennett is solid, but it remains to be seen if he can be the main man. The fact that Bennett is also injury prone doesn't help much.
Big, between the tackle backs like Conner can do damage once they get past the line of scrimmage but if they can't make defenders miss then they are going to need a hole. It remains to be seen whether or not Conner will need a lot of room to run, and with an offensive line that isn't expected to reach a high level yet that could prove to be a problem.
Bottom line, Conner has the highest upside of any back in the program so his development this season and beyond could go a long way in predicting Pitt's fortunes.
Tyler Boyd, WR- I don't have to spend too much time on Boyd since every Pitt fan, especially those in the Pittsburgh area, knows all about one of the best WPIAL players to ever play.
There were reasons why some would think Boyd would start slowly in his college career. He didn't play much receiver at Clairton, he played against little competition in high school, and he's a skinny 6'2" 180 pounds. But none of that has mattered.
Boyd will probably start at some point this season, maybe from the first game, and he could easily be a high impact player in the passing game, on sweeps, and in the return game.
Manasseh Garner, TE- Sophomore J.P. Holtz will be the starter, but the redshirt junior who transferred back home after two seasons at Wisconsin may end up with more catches at the position. Fast and built like a bull at 6'2" and 230 pounds, Garner can stretch the field like a receiver, but runs like a bruising running back. Expect to see him catch a lot of passes and be on the field early and often.
Adam Bisnowaty, OT- The program has clearly been desperate for talented offensive linemen for a few years now so the redshirt freshman from Fox Chapel HS couldn't arrive soon enough. He came to the program a little underweight and even more raw, but a year in the program has now done wonders. He's now a rock solid 6'6" 300 pounds and will utilize his good feet and agility at the crucial left tackle position.
The offensive line talent keeps getting better every year now that Chryst has arrived so he will have to perform well in the future to keep that left tackle spot, but he has the ability to play inside also in the future. Nobody how you look at it, he has the makings of a future all-conference performer.
David Durham, DE- The high school defensive end was moved to fullback when he went to Ohio State, but after new coach Urban Meyer brought a new system in Durham decided to transfer to the Panthers. After sitting out a year the redshirt junior has now moved back to where he fits best and he has quickly brought stability to the position.
Last year the end position was not playing at a high level and while it remains to be seen if the 6'1" 255 pound Durham can be a force, he has at least shown that he is solid, smart, and dependable. His presence already has made a difference.
Ejuan Price, DE- After playing all 13 games as a true freshman, the 6'0" 230 pound redshirt sophomore missed all of last season because of an injury. The Woodland Hills alum hasn't been able to find a position at the college level. He's generally too small for end and his skills haven't been able to translate to linebacker.
Enter new defensive assistant John Palermo who brought his massive experience to the South Side this season. Palermo has moved Price back to end where he can use his pass rushing skills, something the defense needs with neither Durham or the other defensive end starter Bryan Murphy showing elite pass rushing skills yet.
Tweeners like Price can go either way. If he ends up overcoming his lack of size for the position and uses his speed and natural pass rushing skills to become an elite pass rusher, the defense will be significantly better.
Mike Caprara, LB- Another Woodland Hills alum, the redshirt freshman was only wanted by the Panthers when he came out of high school, despite being an excellent high school player. Size was the issue as Caprara was only 6'0" and just shy of 200 pounds. But after one season he is now up to 220 pounds. While he probably can't get too much bigger than that, middle linebackers in a 4-3 can play at that size in college. With his good speed, athleticism, toughness, and natural football skills he has already become a fan favorite before even taking a snap. Time will tell if he deserves that love.
Bam Bradley, LB- A big star in Ohio as a safety, but he never really had the speed or athleticism for the position in college. That's not a bad thing, though, because the 6'0" 230 pound Bradley added some weight and now has the chance to be a major contributor at linebacker, a position that the Panthers are desperate to upgrade and where his speed and athleticism fits much better.
It was rumored that Bradley would transfer prior to this season, but if he can continue to improve he would make for a great comeback story.
Trenton Coles, CB- A devastating leg injury ended his high school career, and combining with his rawness and lack of size, it was believed that it may take a few years of college before he could contribute at all. He's still only 175 pounds at the most, but he has great 6'3" length for the position and blazing speed. Now the redshirt freshman is the top cornerback reserve behind Lafayette Pitts and K'Waun Williams. Expect him to see the field a lot this season and the defense will be helped greatly if he can contribute.
Chris Blewitt, PK- Because of the high pressure of the position, you wouldn't expect a true freshman kicker to do well, but the truth is, there are a long line of excellent freshmen kickers in college football history. That bodes well for the Panthers since Blewitt will get the call this season. He has the ability to be a good one and for a team that probably won't be blowing people out, his ability to be successful is extremely crucial.