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Pitt forecast: Where the Panthers stand after spring

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 11:52 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage during spring practice on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at UPMC indoor practice facilaty.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt's Aaron Donald plays against Louisville on October 2012 at Heinz Field.
Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz looks to block for Ray Graham against Rutgers at Heinz Field Nov. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara during spring practice on the South Side March, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt linebacker Eric Williams puts a hit on Virginia Tech's Legan Thomas in the first quarter at Heinz Field Sept. 15, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt punter Matt Yoklic during practice on the South Side Aug. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt receiver Devon Street during the spring game on Friday, April 12, 2013 at Bethel Park High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty looks to throw a block during the spring game on Friday, April 12, 2013 at Bethel Park High School.

A position-by-position breakdown of how the Pitt football team looks after spring practices:

QUARTERBACK

Fifth-year senior transfer Tom Savage has a clear edge over redshirt freshman Chad Voytik. But Savage isn't always accurate, and he admits that becoming a leader in his one and only season at Pitt will take time. With Savage, coach Paul Chryst trades Voytik's quick feet for age, experience, size and arm strength. The velocity on Savage's throws tops anything seen at a Pitt practice since Joe Flacco in 2004.

RUNNING BACK

Rushel Shell's decision to leave school is a significant loss, but Chryst showed his team he will treat a potential star like any other player. It set the right tone. Pitt will miss Shell's power, but Isaac Bennett has the patience to pick the right hole, the determination to keep his legs churning and a team-first attitude. But the lack of depth is a big problem.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Starters include two redshirt freshmen (left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and center Gabe Roberts), a former defensive end playing right tackle (T.J. Clemmings), and guards (Cory King and Matt Rotheram) who were out of position as tackles last season. Good thing line coach Jim Hueber knows the right buttons to push. This looks like a unit with room for prize recruit Dorian Johnson, who arrives this summer.

WIDE RECEIVER

Unless at least two of the inexperienced pass catchers fighting for a starting job emerge as reasonably legitimate threats, Devin Street will face double teams weekly. Summer — and Tyler Boyd — can't get here fast enough for an offense that needs playmakers. Street (151 career receptions, nine TDs) has the look of a star. Just as important, he seems to enjoy stepping into a leadership role.

TIGHT END

Perhaps the signature play of J.P. Holtz's freshman season was when he lowered his shoulder into Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas, a projected high NFL Draft choice. The helmet flew wildly from Thomas' head, and he lay motionless on the Carrier Dome carpet for several minutes before slowly getting to his feet. Holtz can catch and deliver a blow, but Drew Carswell, Manasseh Garner and Scott Orndoff will challenge him for playing time.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Pitt's offensive linemen spent much of the spring trying to figure out how to block tackle Aaron Donald, who has the strength to stand out from the crowd, the willingness to do whatever it takes and a love for the game. But there's more: Pitt coaches seldom rave about anything, but more than one has mentioned the developing depth on the line. When Ty Ezell lines up next to Donald, that's a lot of beef.

LINEBACKER

Todd Thomas brings good speed and enough upper-body strength to impact the run defense. Anthony Gonzalez is a gifted athlete who was miscast as a quarterback, but he has the instincts that all good defensive players need. Shane Gordon's return to the middle from a neck injury will make this unit better, but no one complained about his replacement, redshirt freshman Mike Caprara.

DEFENSIVE BACK

Cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts can run and jump with most pass catchers, but here is their best trait: They play physical and nasty. Getting beat – and they will – won't bother them because they can't wait for the next play. Free safety Jason Hendricks' six interceptions last season represented the most at Pitt in 12 years, and his spring toe injury allowed Eric Williams to learn the position and build depth.

KICKING

When freshman Chris Blewitt arrives with his scholarship and strong leg, he will compete for the No. 1 job with walk-on junior Drake Greer. But replacing Kevin Harper, who hit 14 of his final 16 field-goal attempts and 72 of 73 career extra points, won't be easy. Chryst needs to develop a level of trust with his new kicker, and that will take time. No worries at punter: Senior Matt Yoklic returns for his third season.

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