Poll Question: How many wins do you think Pitt will win this season? Answer #1: Answer #2: 6 (0%) Answer #3: 7 (13%) Answer #4: 8 (40%) Answer #5: 9 (27%) Answer #6: 10+ (20%)
Chris: Sam, how different, if at all, will the defensive scheme be under year 2 of House as DC? Do you think it will be more aggressive, with the DB's manning up the wideouts a little bit more tightly?
Sam Werner: The biggest difference maker when it comes to defensive scheme will be new secondary coach Troy Douglas. He has preached an aggressive, ball-attacking style since he arrived in the spring and is a strong personality in the defensive meeting rooms, as well. I do think he was brought in to correct what was a problem on Pitt's defense last year when it came to soft coverage over the middle. I do expect to see more man-to-man coverages and the cornerbacks being more physical with receivers.
Now, this is good, because it would hopefully lead to more interceptions, but could also lead to more big plays if the receiver gets behind the secondary.
Nick: When exactly will Grigsby come into the games? And who would he be replacing?
Sam Werner: As the "Freeze" linebacker, Grigsby's primary responsibility will be to come on in passing situations and rush the quarterback. He'll come on as a part of Pitt's "joker" package, and will likely replace one of the defensive tackles, to get as many pure pass-rushers on the field as possible. This fall, we've seen Grigsby line up with his hand down and standing up, so I think you'll see him in a couple of different spots this year.
Jimmy: I feel Jamal Davis II would be a great addition to the Pitt Defense because of his playingstyle. When do you think he will be there?
Sam Werner: Davis still wasn't at practice as of Tuesday, and at this point (with classes already started) I would be surprised to see him enroll this semester. He would certainly redshirt this year, and now, if he waits until January, he can get five spring practices by counting as a true freshman next season. Hopefully we'll get some clarification from Chryst this week.
The Mount: How will this offense fair without Tom "The Savage" Savage?
Sam Werner: "The Savage," I like it.
The offense should be fine, with such a plethora of young playmakers like Boyd, Conner, etc. But I do think it will look different. Last year, Pitt relied a lot on downfield passing, almost to a fault. There were a lot of times last year when Savage held onto the ball too long looking for something downfield rather than just dumping off to a running back.
Chad Voytik's strength is not downfield passing. His strengths are moving around both in and out of the pocket and finding guys in the flat. In the scrimmages this fall (admittedly without Tyler Boyd), the leading receivers were primarily running backs, so I would expect a lot of shorter passes this year than last.
The Mount: Sam, what are the three most important keys to this season (in 140 characters or less)?
Sam Werner: Offensive line improves, Tyler Boyd is good, defense holds up without AD. (I think that fits)
Eric: Which is more of a concern: depth on the defensive line or secondary?
Sam Werner: I would still say defensive line depth (specifically, the ends) is more of a concern. The secondary's not great, but Pitt at least has a few guys there who have played or demonstrated that they can be contributors this year. Lafayette Pitts is a more proven commodity at corner than anyone Pitt has at end, and Ray Vinopal and Terrish Webb are solid options at safety. Plus, Reggie Mitchell even gives some flexibility.
End is still a concern. Shakir Soto has potential, but only started one game last year. David Durham is a returning starter, but didn't exactly light the world on fire in his first season as a Panther last year. To sum it up, the secondary has proven guys, but the defensive line will need someone (likely Soto) to take a big leap forward this year.
Will: What coaches will be on the sideline this year versus in the press/coaches-box?
Sam Werner: In terms of full-time coaches, defensive coordinator Matt House will be the only one in the coaches box this year, per Pitt's game week release. He'll be joined up there by GAs Jon Budmayr, Hank Poteat and Ryan Turnley. The rest of the staff will be on the field.
Bruce: James Connor makes all ACC team you think?
Sam Werner: I'm going to say no for a couple of reasons. First, there are just a lot of talented running backs in the ACC. Miami's Duke Johnson, Florida State's Karlos Williams, Virginia's Kevin Parks, etc. The competition is going to be tough.
Second, I'm not sure Conner will get enough carries to put up the numbers he'd need to compete with those guys. This isn't a knock on Conner by any means, but he's going to be sharing carries with Isaac Bennett, Rachid Ibrahim and Chris James, and that's before we even start talking about limiting his offensive touches so he can play more defensive end (which is an admittedly unlikely scenario, but could happen if the other RBs emerge). Also, let's not forget that Conner did have some brutal games last year. The bowl performance was great, but he was really boom or bust last season. In every game he played, he was either under 40 yards rushing (seven times) or over 100 (four times). Needs more consistency if he's going to make All-ACC.
Joe: I haven't heard anything about Dorian Johnson this year. Will he live up to his 5 star billing?
Sam Werner: I mean, he's going to be the starting left guard, which is pretty good for a true sophomore. I think in a perfect world, he would've redshirted last year and, while the playing experience will help him, the coaches would have preferred giving him a year in the weight room to bulk up and learn the playbook a little bit better before he gets on the field.
Tim: Most of the guys Chryst has brought in on offense have been low rated (2-3 star) recruits that turned out to be solid "football" players (exceptions of course of Boyd, Johnson, etc.). A good example of this on the offensive side is James Connor. Many people criticize the recruiting on defense, but it seems the defensive recruiting has been very similar (2-3 stars) to the offensive side. Sure, 4 & 5 "stars" aren't prevalent, but it seems Chryst has brought Connor-esque recruits that are solid "football" players. For this reason I think our defense will be fine. Thoughts?
Sam Werner: I get what you're saying and don't totally disagree, but I think when you're rebuilding a program the way Chryst has sort of had to do, you're going to need some guys with the pure talent to step in and play right away. This year, for example, given how thin Pitt is in the secondary, it would've been real nice if they had a Dravon Henry or Montae Nicholson to plug in there.
The Mount: Huge fan Mr. Werner.
Sam Werner: Why thank you.
Sam: How many more years until this program is where Coach Chryst envisioned it would be when he first came on?
Sam Werner: No that question is not from me. Great name though!
Chryst has always said he doesn't really have expectations or visions, per se, of what he wants to program to be, choosing to approach it on a day-by-day basis. What I would say, though, is that 2015 is probably the season that Pitt should, theoretically, be ready to make the leap into top-25 conversation. Boyd and Conner will be juniors, and they'll have a returning quarterback for the first time in Chryst's tenure. Pitt only loses 11 seniors off this team, so most of the key players will be coming back in 2015.
Sam Werner: All right, folks. That's all the time we've got for today. I'll be heading over to Pitt's practice this afternoon and will have a blog post up later today. Thanks for participating!