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Wednesday February 8 2023
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Spring Football Report

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Pitt finally returns to the football field after a tumultuous offseason that saw four coaches lead the program over a period of six weeks; Penn State tried to rebound from a disappointing season and bad blow loss; and West Virginia ushers in a new era... at least partly. PSR breaks down what to expect from spring football in Oakland, Happy Valley and Morgantown.

The Panthers, reeling from an 8-5 season that cost Dave Wannstedt his job, a number of player run-ins with the law and the embarrassing hiring and then firing of Mike Haywood, look to start a new era under head coach Todd Graham. Pitt lost plenty of offensive fire power with wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and running back Dion Lewis pursuing NFL paychecks, but Graham’s no-huddle offense produces points like few others.

During his four seasons at Tulsa, Graham’s Golden Hurricanes led the nation in total offense twice. The man tasked with creating order out of Graham’s fast-paced attack is Tino Sunseri, who completed 65 percent of his passes last season. If Sunseri struggles to make quick reads, redshirt freshmen Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers could push for playing time. Gonzalez is more athletic and ran a spread offense in high school, while Myers’ size and arm strength seem better suited for a pro-style scheme.

Pitt’s backfield looks thin, as Ray Graham is one of only two scholarship RBs currently on the roster (Derrick Burns is the other). Graham is plenty talented, though, and averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2010. Four players will compete to replace Henry Hynoski, with Chris Mike the favorite. Baldwin’s talent won’t be replaced at wideout, but the Panthers hope that Mike Shanahan and Devin Street will step up.

Defensively, Pitt shifts to a 3-4 under Graham’s turnover-oriented scheme. Ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard are gone. But Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein are strong in the middle, and Justin Hargrove, Shayne Hale and T.J. Clemmings aren’t slouches.

All-Big East performer Brandon Lindsey will play the “Panther,” a hybrid linebacker position, once he’s healed from off-season shoulder surgery. The 6-2, 250 pound Linsdsey will essentially be a stand-up end in a 3-3-5 format designed to maximize Pitt’s speed.

Penn State
There’s no shortage of drama in Happy Valley this spring. How will the Nittany Lions replace their all-time leading rusher? Who will start at quarterback? And, for that matter, who will open up holes for those running backs and protect that QB?

Evan Royster rumbled for a school-record 3,932 yards at PSU. He's irreplaceable. But thankfully, the Nittany Lions have a stable of productive backs still on the roster. Silas Redd, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a freshman, possesses speed to bounce outside and enough strength to avoid getting pushed around inside the hashes. Seniors Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum add depth at the position. Beachum missed 2010 with a torn ACL, but the 6-foot, 230 pounder will add some inside power in the running game and punch as a blocker.

Joe Paterno will evaluate four potential starting QBs this spring – Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome. A four-star recruit with size and speed, Bolden became the first freshman QB to start a season opener for PSU in a century, but former walk-on McGloin took over after Bolden suffered a concussion and kept the starting job thereafter. Bolden sought to transfer over the offseason, but Paterno denied the request. Sto-Rox High’s Jones could put himself in the conversation due to his NFL-caliber arm strength.

PSU will also have to replace All-American guard/center Stefen Wisniewski, who will take his blend of smarts and strength to the NFL, as well as Doug Klopacz. The big battle could be at center between junior Matt Stankiewitch and sophomore Miles Dieffenbach. Stankiewitch has the experience advantage, but Fox Chapel's Dieffenbach was a starter in the 2010 US Army All-American Bowl for a reason -- he's nimble and powerful, and he has added some bulk to his 6-3 frame since he arrived as a freshman.

The defense is led by linemen Devon Still and Jack Crawford, linebackers Nate Stupar and Michael Mauti, and d-backs Drew Astorino, Nick Sukay and D'Anton Lynn.

West Virginia
The Mountaineers have a myriad of on-field issues to resolve. WVU must replace playmakers Noel Devine and Jock Sanders on offense and in the return game. Starting quarterback Geno Smith is recovering from his second foot surgery in as many years. And seven starters graduated from a defense that ranked third nationally in 2010. But the most pressing question for WVU entering the spring is, who's the man in charge in Morgantown?

Bill Stewart is still the head coach -- but not for long. Athletic director Oliver Luck brought in Dana Holgorsen to be WVU's offensive coordinator in 2011 and then take Stewart's job in 2012. Before getting the WVU gig, Holgorsen amped up offenses at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State. His wide-open attack has produced top ten marks in total offense every year since he became a coordinator in 2005. Holgorsen is the future. But will he and Stewart but heads in the present? This awkward arrangement could turn tense.

Shawne Alston is the favorite to carry the load at running back, with 250 pound Ryan Clarke bowling people over at the goal line. Tavon Austin, the Mountaineers' leading receiver last season, will take on an even great role with Sanders gone.

Smith, who had a 24/7 TD/INT ratio last year, must be salivating at the prospect of leading Holgorsen's offense. But his spring status is uncertain after another procedure to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. Early freshman enrollees Brian Athey and Paul Millard get a head start on learning Holgorsen's scheme.

Jeff Casteel's defense will miss the likes of J.T. Thomas, Scooter Berry, Chris Neild, Brandon Hogan and Robert Sands. Linebacker Najee Goode, as well as DBs Keith Tandy and Terence Garvin, will be under pressure to perform. Julian Miller moves from defense end to tackle in 2011, allowing Bruce Irvin to be a full-time starter. The Juco transfer had 14 sacks last year. Speaking of Jucos, linebacker Josh Francis and defensive lineman Shaq Rowell could make an impact for the Mountaineers.

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