Wide-open QB battle highlights Pitt's spring drills
Two days before the start of spring football drills at Pitt, Brooks Bollinger is energized by the unknown.
The second-year quarterbacks coach doesn't know the identity of his starter, and to him that's exciting.
“It's kind of starting fresh with everybody,” he said.
For the first time since 2008, Pitt has serious competition at the game's most important position. Tino Sunseri, a three-year starter whose job never was threatened even though he won only 20 games, exhausted his eligibility after last season.
The first of 15 spring drills is scheduled for Tuesday at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex, with the annual Blue-Gold game April 12 at Bethel Park High School.
Bollinger and coach Paul Chryst make no promises about finding a starter or naming a favorite — spring drills lay a foundation that is often altered over the summer — but Bollinger likes having a choice.
“What you really hope for, and I think we have,” Bollinger said, “is healthy competition, which means they are fighting for the same thing at the end of the day, and that's to make this team as good as possible.
“It won't come without some blood, sweat and tears.”
Pitt will begin practice with four quarterbacks, but senior Tom Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik are the leading contenders ahead of freshman Tra'Von Chapman, who enrolled in January, and junior Trey Anderson.
Savage, who has the strongest arm, has an edge in experience after starting 10 games at Rutgers as a freshman in 2009 before getting hurt, losing his job and transferring to Arizona in 2011.
“He's kind of experienced with an asterisk,” Bollinger said. “He played a lot early and then he has kind of been bouncing around. So he learned a couple different systems but hasn't played a ton in both.”
Savage was ranked eighth-best quarterback recruit in the nation in 2009 coming out of Cardinal O'Hara High School. At 6-5, 235, he is built for Chryst's pro-style offense.
“He is a little different in his skill set,” Bollinger said. “But he can throw the football.”
CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming likes Savage's chances.
“He fits perfectly into that offense,” Lemming said. “He has the experience and the maturity.”
The current coaching staff didn't start the recruitment of Voytik, but Bollinger likes what he has inherited.
“The first thing you say about Chad is physically he is there,” he said. “He is physically ready to walk onto a college football field.”
Voytik didn't play last season — Chryst was eager to preserve four years of eligibility for his young quarterback — but Bollinger said he could have handled it.
“I don't think the moment would have been too big for him,” Bollinger said. “Could he walk in and we could call plays like Tino was in there? No, you'd have to modify some things.
“But what you lose in complexity or what you put on the quarterback from an experience standpoint, you gain in (that) he'd run around and make some plays. He'd make some throws on the run. You'd move the pocket more. He did some great things in training camp.
“He has continued to, but he needs to grow more in the understanding of the offense and the intricacies of playing the position.”
Chapman can run and throw, but he also has some important intangibles, a Bollinger said.
“The ‘It,' the moxie, whatever you want your quarterback to have, I think he has that,” he said. “He carries himself in that way. The guys kind of want to follow him and are attracted to him.
“To me, if you don't have that huddle presence, the toughness, the competitiveness, you don't have the chance to have that other stuff, regardless of how well you throw it.”
All four bring enough athletic ability to compete. How they learn their lessons will determine how much they play this year and beyond.
“It hasn't heated up yet,” Bollinger said, “but that's when it gets fun.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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