Pitt coach Paul Chryst has said repeatedly that this spring isn’t about who will start next season, but rather is about each player improving individually.
Still, it’s impossible to go through spring without at least one eye on the depth chart.
As Pitt tries to fill the void left at receiver by Devin Street, the program’s career receptions leader, two redshirt freshmen are trying to work their way into the mix. Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah provide intriguing options for Pitt receivers coach Greg Lewis, though for different reasons.
Challingsworth has been receiving some buzz from teammates and coaches since the Panthers’ bowl preparation last season, when fellow receiver Tyler Boyd singled him out as one of the highlights of those practices. It continued this spring when cornerback Lafayette Pitts was asked if any receivers have stood out to him.
“Challingsworth,” Pitts said. “He’s stepped up a lot, but I’ve already seen that from last year, so that’s not a surprise.”
For his part, Challingsworth — who caught 58 passes for 1,190 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at South Fayette High School in 2012 — is trying to block out the noise around him.
“I’m always trying to get better,” he said. “It’s humbling that people are talking to me and whatnot, but that stuff kind of just goes right over my head. People can talk about it, but until I do something, then that’s really what it is, just talk.”
Challingsworth cited his route-running as his best attribute. He also has a great sounding board in Boyd, a fellow 2013 WPIAL product.
“Me and [Tyler] are real good friends,” Challingsworth said. “We always mess around and whatnot, but, if I have a question, I can ask him. He’ll ask me for stuff. We can kind of just feed off each other.”
At practice this spring, Challingsworth usually has been paired opposite Weah, a Madison, Wis., native who provides a tantalizing — and untapped — skill set.
Weah’s football career did not start until his sophomore year in high school, but the former track star didn’t hesitate in proclaiming himself the fastest player on Pitt’s roster (a statement backed up by 100- and 200-meter outdoor state track championships as a senior in high school).
“Just being fast,” Weah said of his best attribute. “Just trying to contribute wherever I need to be.”
That speed could give Weah a niche on Pitt’s offense, even though he admitted the rest of the game is still coming to him.
“[I need to improve on] just reading the defense, getting in and out of my routes,” Weah said.
Weah and Challingsworth’s contributions to the 2014 Panthers remain to be seen — Aug. 30 is a long way away — but even as the mantra of improvement is preached this spring, the ultimate goal is still in sight.
“I want to be that guy,” Challingsworth said. “Whether it’s next year or a couple of years after, that’s what I want to do.”
Two RBs hurt
Running backs James Conner and Isaac Bennett each were injured in practice Friday and will be kept out for the rest of spring. Bennett (left shoulder sprain) and Conner (left knee sprain) are expected to be healthy enough to return when the team begins summer conditioning in May, according to Pitt’s Twitter account.
Conner was hurt in a full-contact drill midway through the session when he was forced out of bounds on a tackle. He left practice early on a golf cart with an ice pack on his left knee. Bennett was hurt a few plays later when he landed awkwardly after a run up the middle.
The duo combined for 1,596 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground in 2013. In their absence, sophomore Rachid Ibrahim will be Pitt’s only primary running back for the rest of spring practice.
Wide receiver Ronald Jones also spent time at the position Friday late in practice.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.