The next time Pitt coach Paul Chryst calls me for an opinion will be the first. But if he did, I’d tell him this:
Freshman quarterback Chad Voytik looked like a different player Monday night, compared to the first days of training camp.
Now before Pitt fans start jumping to conclusions and looking for Voytik in the starting lineup Sept. 1 against Youngstown State, I’ll say this: Relax.
Voytik isn’t ready to take over for fifth-year senior Tino Sunseri. He missed spring practice because he was still in high school, and he is not accustomed to playing under center, a fundamental element of Chryst’s offense, although he does use the shotgun at times.
But Voytik looked supremely poised and comfortable in the pocket when Pitt wrapped up the last of its two-a-day practices in the indoor facility on the South Side. That came only hours after a ragged morning session that caused Voytik to tweet, “Bad practice this morning. Only good thing is we have another one later to make up for it.”
Voytik did just that with several strong throws that caught the eye of many players, some of whom were shaking their heads out of respect after practice.
Voytik hit wide receiver Cam Saddler with a perfectly placed pass in the near corner of the end zone and later found freshman tight end J.P. Holtz for a score. A few plays previous, Holtz made a nice catch across the middle when he tipped a Voytik pass to himself while falling to the turf.
To be fair, Sunseri was on the money with touchdown passes to tight end Drew Carswell and wide receiver Ronald Jones, also recovering nicely from his morning shortcomings.
But Sunseri was picked off by linebacker Dan Mason on a red-zone pass and linebacker Shane Gordon dropped another sure pick.
What does all this mean?
The enthusiasm for the successful throws needs to be tempered by the fact that quarterbacks wear green jerseys in practice and are largely off-limits to the pass rush. It’s much easier to make accurate throws under such ideal circumstances.
Remember, folks: It’s practice. Who knows what Sunseri will do or Voytik would do with the lights on at Heinz Field and Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium in a crucial Saturday-to-Thursday stretch to start the season?
But the Pitt passing game, which has gone through what Chryst calls “peaks and valleys,” is rounding into shape.
Senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan (hamstring) is starting to practice lightly and should be ready for the opener. Redshirt junior Devin Street is slightly behind Shanahan’s recovery pace, but he is on the field and on his feet at every practice, so the presumed knee injury may not be especially serious.
I say “presumed” because Street wears a knee brace, but Chryst is short on specifics when talking about many aspects of his team.
Bottom line: Voytik looks like someone who can help the Panthers, even if fans have to wait to see him in action.
– Redshirt freshman center Artie Rowell, who drew praise from demanding offensive line coach Jim Hueber on Saturday, is getting some reps with the first team while coaches try to give senior workhorse Ryan Turnley a break.
– After returning to practice Monday night, freshman running back Rushel Shell followed up that effort with good work at night.
– I liked redshirt junior defensive lineman Ty Ezell at end, but putting him next to tackle Aaron Donald places a lot of beef (nearly 600 pounds) in the middle of the line. And K.K. Mosley-Smith (305) is another big body in reserve.
At end, T.J. Clemmings is showing a bit of wear and tear, but he has been playing well. Bryan Murphy and Shayne Hale offer solid depth. Don’t forget 280-pound Jack Lippert, working with the first team at the other end.
For the second consecutive season, Pitt looks to have a solid defensive line, but this one looks much deeper than what we saw a year ago.
– Outside linebacker Todd Thomas (knee) doesn’t look close to being ready to practice, which would be OK if Eric Williams wasn’t hurt. That leaves redshirt freshman Jason Frimpong, Emanuel Rackard, who came to Pitt as a walkon three years ago, and freshman Bam Bradley to fill the void. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Bradley is the biggest, but the least experienced.
– Nothing is definite yet, but academic wheels at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio, are in motion to possibly bring 2013 quarterback recruit Tra’von Chapman to Pitt in January. If that happens, it should be an interesting spring with Voytik, Trey Anderson, Chapman and Tom Savage at quarterback.