After three years as a starter, Tino Sunsieri departs Pittsburgh for a career in the CFL. Sunsieri left with a bang though as his final season proved to be his most efficient (65.1%, 3,288 yards, 21 TD, 3 INT). Behind Sunsieri, the Panthers have Tom Savage, a transfer from Arizona State and Rutgers before that, and Chad Voytik, a redshirt freshman. Chryst will most likely name Savage the starter because of his experience in the offense, but don’t count out Voytik. If Chryst intends to start the program from square one, he will choose Voytik so he can develop the young quarterback and build the team around him. But that may over stretch the patience of Pitt fans and the university.
The running game suffered a tremendous loss with the transfer of Rushel Shell who seemed to be the heir apparent to Ray Graham (3,277 yards and 32 TDs in his career). In his freshman campaign Shell rushed for four touchdowns and 600 yards on a team that averaged only 133 yards per game. The starting role will fall to junior RB Isaac Bennett who had only 29 carries last season. If Bennett goes down the Panthers have just two scholarship running backs on the roster, and one is a JUCO transfer.
At the receiver position, Pittsburgh has a slight depth problem. The Panthers lost three of their top four receivers including big-bodied TE Mike Shanahan (938 yards receiving in 2012). They do return Devin Street who led the team with 73 catches last season and TE JP Holtz who had 3 catches for 54 yards and TD against Notre Dame last season. Chryst also convinced local product and 4-star receiver Tyler Boyd to stay at home and play for the Panthers. If Boyd develops enough to earn playing time, his speed could play well with the reliable hands of Street. But outside of Street and Holtz the Panthers lack an experienced receiving threat.
On the offensive line Chryst and his staff need to address last season’s pass protection issues. The Panthers allowed 38 sacks and 81 tackles-for-loss in 2012 which makes Sunsieri’s performance even more impressive. Moreover, the offensive line competed against teams in the Big East which are not known for their athleticism in the defensive front seven. The ACC will provide a rude wakeup call when they play the likes of Florida State, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (not to mention Notre Dame). Reports from spring camp indicate that the Panther’s starting tackles will move to the guard positions while fifth year senior Ryan Shlieper shifts from guard to center to replace Ryan Turnley, an All-Big East player. If everything shakes out, Pitt may have two freshmen starting at their tackle positions.