Pitt fans, you're probably not going to recognize your offense this season (note: this is a good thing). This is part six of the eight part BECB post-spring football series (South Florida was part one, Syracuse was part two, Louisville was part three, Cincinnati was part four, and Connecticut was part five).
Team Strength: Is it a total cop-out to say first-year head coach Todd Graham is the strength of the team? Probably. However, I’m going that route. Graham’s "high octane" offensive philosophy is going to be like culture shock to Panthers fans who got used to the Pro Style (read: plodding, boring, championship deferring) offense that Dave Wannstedt employed. I will say this for the former coach. He recruited guys who made the NFL. Pitt leads the Big East in NFL Draft picks from 2000-present because Wannstedt’s players continued to get drafted (five total in the 2011 NFL Draft) no matter what happened on the field. Graham is the kind of coach Pitt needs now that West Virginia stepped up the Big East arms race by getting Dana Holgorsen. What about the problems in the secondary? Pitt poached two players from Michigan. Graham got Lafayette Pitts to recommit to the Panthers after flirting with Rutgers. Brendon Felder is also transferring from UNC. In short, Graham has been working non-stop to build depth. In the meantime, when you score more points, you can afford to give up more points (not that Graham is ok with that kind of thinking).
More after the jump...
Team Weakness: Special teams could be an issue as Pitt has to replace the kicker, punter and long snapper from last year. As kicker/punter Dan Hutchins has graduated, the Panthers are in a serious need to fill these positions. In any Wannstedt season, an untested field goal kicker would have been a serious setback--this season, not so much. Kevin Harper will handle kicking duties. In his two years at Pitt, he missed a 51 yard field goal against Syracuse in 2009. A good sign for Harper is that de did make all eight attempts in the Spring game which was not played in the best of conditions. Three walk-ons are competing to win the punter spot.
Emerging: With Todd Graham’s reliance on inside-zone plays, tailback Ray Graham will have a sizeable load to carry this season now that Dion Lewis has gone to the NFL. Graham is the number one running back with no clear-cut backup. He rushed for 922 yards and caught 24 passes last season behind Lewis. As Lewis was winding down his career at Pitt, I felt he was outplayed by Graham anyway so I’m excited to see Graham be the number one guy.
Opportunities for Impact Freshmen: With three-receiver sets being used, two Redshirt Freshmen wide receivers Salath Williams and Drew Carswell are expected to compete for playing time at the Y position. Carswell will also have a chance to earn time at the X position.
Injuries: A total of twelve players missed the Spring game due to injuries. Linebacker Dan Mason sustained a very severe knee against Miami last season and is still unavailable. He might not even be able to play in the Fall. Kolby Gray and Antwuan Reed did not participate due to concussions.
Post-Spring Expectations: In 2011, the Panthers have to replace five guys who went to the NFL. Pitt is completely overhauling their offensive scheme with the same quarterback recruited to play the old scheme. Starting quarterback Tino Sunseri is still learning the system but completed 63% of his 55 passes and threw for 416 yards and 2 TDs in the Spring game. I expect Pitt to surprise some people this season and finish in the top three in the Big East.