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Spring Practice Primer: Pittsburgh Panthers

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the PittsburghlPanthers and what they'll be working on this spring.

Rushel Shell leads the Pittsburgh Panthers into their first year of ACC play. (USATSI)
Rushel Shell leads the Pittsburg Panthers into ACC play. (USATSI)

Spring practice begins: March 5

Spring game: April 12

2012 record: 6-7 overall, 3-4 Big East

Returning starters: 15 (six offense, nine defense)

The Least You Should Know about Pittsburgh This Spring

-- Tino Sunseri is gone. The Panthers will start 2013 with a new starting quarterback for the time in three years. Tino Sunseri made every start for the the Panthers from 2010-12, leaving a four-player competition with no clear front-runner. Junior Trey Anderson has seen the most action in a Panthers' uniform, but he will likely be pushed by the urgent Tom Savage. Savage was a Freshman All-American at Rutgers in 2009, but transfers to Arizona and then back to Pittsburgh leave him with one year of eligibility left. Redshirt freshman Chad Voytik, the top quarterback in Pitt's 2012 class is expected to push for the starting job as well. Finally, the one quarterback from the 2013 class, Tra'Von Chapman, enrolled early and will participate in spring practice.

-- Rushel Shell and J.P. Holtz are looking to build on strong freshman campaigns. Given Paul Chryst's reputation as an offensive coordinator, there was an expectation that his arrival may instantly ignite an offense that struggled to find consistency. Chryst himself admitted that maybe the staff tried to change too much too quickly, but two players immediately jumped out as a perfect fit. Rushel Shell exhibited that physical brand of running fans were accustomed to seeing at Wisconsin, totaling 641 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. With leading rusher Ray Graham now graduated, Shell will take on a starter's workload and could become the next great Pittsburgh running back. Tight end J.P. Holtz worked his way into a co-starter role with senior Hubie Graham and quickly became a threat in the Panthers offense. The 6-foot-4, 245 pound freshman was an effective blocker and managed to total 13 receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns.

-- There is plenty of shuffling along the offensive line. The Panthers' offensive line lost All-Big East center Ryan Turnley, but return plenty of players with game experience. The issue this spring will be figuring out which players fit and each position along the line. After starting at tackle in 2012, both senior Cory King and junior Matt Rotheram will move to the interior line. Ryan Schlieper, who missed eight games in 2012 with a foot injury, will look to regain his starting position at guard or could end up playing center. Sophomore Artie Rowell and redshirt freshman Gabe Roberts are also in the competition to replace Turnley in the middle. Redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty impressed coaches and teammates alike during his time as a scout team tackle, and T.J. Clemmings is making a move from defensive end to right tackle. The Pitt offense under Chryst will need a strong offensive line to compete in the ACC Coastal Division, so hopefully the coaches will feel good about their lineup by the end of spring drills.

-- Panthers are looking for consistency at linebacker. Pittsburgh returns three of four starters in both the secondary and along the defensive line, but linebacker is an area of serious concern for the Panthers. Injuries have decimated the linebacking corps over the last two seasons, and now the staff must establish a rotation with their newfound depth. Six players have started at least one game at linebacker, but senior middle linebacker Shane Gordon and junior Will linebacker Todd Thomas should be favorites to regain their spots in the starting lineup. Dan Mason is back for one more year after dealing with injuries for two seasons, while sophomore Nicholas Grigsby and junior Anthony Gonzalez could compete for time at outside linebacker.

For more college football news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCFB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed, college football newsletter, and get the Eye On College Football Podcast from iTunes. You can follow Chip Patterson on Twitter here: @Chip_Patterson.

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