Pitt is already ahead of the game in that coach Paul Chryst is still with the team for spring drills.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A coach standing in front of reporters and talking about the need to "find consistency" is as much a spring football tradition as freshmen taking off redshirts and quarterback controversies.
What's different for Pitt this year is that the man standing there talking about it is the same one who was coaching the Panthers the previous fall.
While "consistency" is one of the foremost coaching buzzwords, Chryst's presence does more to provide the Panthers some stability than any number of returning starters could. It is Chryst's second season. His predecessor, Todd Graham, left for Arizona State after one season.
"It's a blessing," redshirt junior linebacker Todd Thomas said. "I'm happy. It's nothing new. A little kinks in there, but nothing new. I'm happy to come into spring with the same coach, not have to learn a new defense."
Pitt opened its spring practices Tuesday in their first step toward the 2013 season. The Panthers will have 15 practices between now and the April 12 spring game, and Chryst and his staff have plenty of questions to answer.
The most high-profile battle will take place at quarterback between fifth-year senior Tom Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik. Chryst said he had no timetable for naming a starter, but was looking forward to see what each player had to offer.
"I think the quarterback spot is no different [from any other,]" he said. "[You want] consistent play, and that takes time. You just want to see Tom and Chad grow."
Whoever wins the starting job will need some targets to throw to, and receiver is another position where the staff will look at some new options. Devin Street, who caught 73 passes for 975 yards as a junior last year, comes back as the No. 1 option, but there's much uncertainty behind him.
Ed Tinker and Ronald Jones will get their chance this spring, before they are joined by Clairton star Tyler Boyd in the fall.
"We're not real deep there for the spring," Chryst said. "I think there's some guys that need to step up, and we need to be able to see them truly perform at a winning level and do that consistently."
The Panthers have questions to answer on the defensive side, too, but of a different nature. Ten of the 11 starters from last season will return, although some will miss parts of spring practice due to injury.
The freshmen who redshirted last season will provide Pitt a wealth of talent at linebacker.
Shane Gordon, however, is out indefinitely with a neck injury and Dan Mason, too, because of off-field issues.
Chryst hopes that will allow the Panthers to develop some depth.
In fact, Pitt has so many options at linebacker that Eric Williams, who played in every game at linebacker last season, is moving to safety for the spring.
"I hope we're saying [we have depth at linebacker] at the end of spring ball," Chryst said. "I think we've got a chance. I think that'll be one of the good stories for us and for everyone to follow, to see can we build some depth there."
Chryst described spring practice as "phase two" of a four step process that began with winter conditioning.
There's still summer workouts and the season waiting for the 2013 team. But there's no better time to start building than now.
"I don't think we've got to have all the answers penned in," Chryst said.
"But you've got to have a pretty good idea of what the answers are going to be."
NOTE -- Gordon, defensive back Brandon Felder (foot), defensive back Jason Hendricks (foot) and wide receiver Brandon Ifill (knee) are out indefinitely. . ... Quarterback Trey Anderson (sick), quarterback Tra'von Chapman (groin), defensive lineman Devin Cook (foot) and long snapper Pat Quirin (sick) will miss or be limited the first week.