DiPaola: Pitt football team turns page, ready for fresh start
When the practice horn shatters the morning silence along the Monongahela River on Tuesday, Pitt hopes to leave behind a period of instability, defeat and — worst of all — irrelevancy.
Finally, Pitt football matters again, thanks to its far-thinking administrators who discovered a new home in the ACC and had the good fortune to find Paul Chryst still available after botching two previous coaching hires.
The page is turning on a sorry chapter, and it's about time. Call it the cleansing of a program that isn't dirty but needed to throw out some litter.
There were 22 players who entered last season with more than one year of eligibility who are no longer with the team.
Some of the missing are part of the normal attrition inherent to college football — players who weren't good enough and should never have been recruited by previous coaches.
Others were forced out by injury, or acted like fools in public and wasted a valuable opportunity.
Chryst could have kept some of the departed but not at the expense of his principles. He knew they could have helped, but he said no anyway. Good for him.
Pitt needs more than talented players. It needs athletes who can push beyond the limits of their abilities on the field and act like adults off it. There were some of those on the past two teams — just not enough. That's how you finish 6-7.
Meanwhile, the football product may suffer while Chryst continues rebuilding. Gone from the 2012 team are the two most productive running backs, five of the top seven pass catchers and three starting offensive linemen. When some left before exhausting their eligibility, no coach lost any sleep.
Chryst signed 27 freshmen this year for a reason: He wants to change the culture.
Here is analysis of at least one player from each position who didn't play last year but could contribute in 2013:
Chryst will choose either senior Tom Savage or redshirt freshman Chad Voytik as his starter. Savage hasn't thrown a pass in a college game since 2010; Voytik's next pass will be his first.
Freshman James Conner was stout enough to be ranked the nation's 26th-best weakside defensive end by Rivals.com and fast enough to be a Class AAAA all-state runner at Erie McDowell last season.
No pressure, but freshman Tyler Boyd may need to grow up fast and take some pressure off senior Devin Street — unless someone emerges from a group of little-used veterans.
No one will be surprised if freshman right tackle Dorian Johnson unseats redshirt junior T.J. Clemmings, who played defensive end his first three years at Pitt.
Manasseh Garner, a Brashear graduate and transfer from Wisconsin, has the speed to stretch a defense on a solid 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame.
Freshmen Shakir Soto and Tyrique Jarrett, who enrolled in January, will provide depth at end and tackle.
Woodland Hills graduate Mike Caprara redshirted as a freshman and won't start, but he showed toughness and good instincts in the middle during spring drills. Wolverines coach George Novak taught him well.
A nice group of veteran starters must stay healthy, but redshirt freshman cornerback Trenton Coles has some interesting athletic talents.
Freshman Chris Blewitt, an all-state selection from Virginia, could win the job.