Shaping young roster Chryst's main concern as Pitt practice begins

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, 10:57 p.m.

When a reporter asked Paul Chryst on Monday how he sleeps at night with so many questions surrounding his team, the Pitt coach didn't answer. He didn't protest, either.

“You can't change it,” he said.

Pitt practice begins Tuesday when Chryst and his staff start molding a group that is young and inexperienced in several key areas. New, potentially productive players dot the roster, but Chryst said that doesn't necessarily ease his anxiety.

“Not until those options are really good,” he said. “(The team) will still be evolving. Because you may think you got it right, but when the lights come on, some of these guys are young. That's OK, I think.”

Much of the heavy lifting will occur on the offensive line, where no starter returns to the position he held a year ago. Tackle Adam Bisnowaty and center Gabe Roberts are redshirt freshmen; tackle T.J. Clemmings played defense last year. Chryst said he likes the line better than he did last season, but he admits there are more questions.

How can that be?

“We truly have some competition,” he said. “There was no competition last year.”

The starters appear to be Bisnowaty and Clemmings, guards Matt Rotheram and Cory King and Roberts. But freshman tackle Dorian Johnson, senior tackle Juantez Hollins, senior guard Ryan Schlieper and redshirt sophomore Artie Rowell will push for playing time.

Coaches have high hopes for Johnson, with one reservation.

“None of us feel comfortable (with starting a freshman),” he said.

Chryst pointed out that Joe Thomas didn't start as a freshman at Wisconsin, but he became an NFL first-round draft choice.

“On all true freshmen, you have to make sure that they're ready, that it won't hurt them and hurt their development.”

Another unsettled spot is the wide receiver position opposite Devin Street. The top candidates are senior Ed Tinker, junior Kevin Weatherspoon and freshman Tyler Boyd. Total collegiate receptions: five — all by Tinker.

“Tyler, he's going to get put in right away,” Chryst said.

Chryst won't lean exclusively on wide receivers to take the heat off Street. Coaches will attempt to find defensive mismatches with tight end Manasseh Garner (6-foot-2, 230 pounds).

“I think we need him to be who he was (in the spring) and get better,” Chryst said. “If we are going to be any good (in the passing game), he's got to.”

Running back is another big question. Ray Graham exhausted his eligibility, and Rushel Shell transferred.

“Obviously, we've got to answer that,” Chryst said. “Isaac (Bennett) can handle all three downs and the protections, but we'll see where he's at.”

Chryst is eager to watch the quarterback competition between favorite Tom Savage and No. 1 contender Chad Voytik.

“Even if it's a perceived competition, how do they handle it?” he said.

Chryst admitted speculation about the eventual winner is “almost starting to take on a life of its own, which you have to nip in the bud.” But he's in no hurry to resolve it, wanting to be fair to both players.

Notes: Junior nose tackle K.K. Mosley-Smith and junior wide receiver Ronald Jones have been suspended for the season but will be permitted to practice. Mosley-Smith initially was suspended in April after an arrest on a drug charge. Jones violated team rules, Chryst said. … Tight end Drew Carswell and safety Eric Williams, dismissed after they were arrested with Mosley-Smith, transferred to Indiana (Pa.).

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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