PITTSBURGH – No concerns about calming the nerves of a roster rattled by constant change.
No hand-wringing over a new conference.
For the first time in Paul Chryst’s three years at Pittsburgh, the coach can focus on “important stuff.”
Like finding a starting quarterback, for example.
And while all indications are redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik is the early favorite to be under center when the Panthers open the 2014 season Aug. 30 against Delaware, Chryst isn’t quite ready to name a winner in Voytik’s QB race with junior Trey Anderson.
“I think it’s unfair to put that on guys right now,” Chryst said Monday after Pitt’s opening practice of fall camp. “Right now, I think it’s more about Chad and Trey getting back into it.”
Maybe, but Voytik sounds like someone who expects to be in the huddle for that first series against the Blue Hens.
Asked if he feels like it’s “his” offense after spending two years watching Tino Sunseri, then Tom Savage take most of the snaps, Voytik nods his head.
“I feel like I’m evolving into that role,” he said.
Voytik provided what he hopes is a sneak preview last December, when Savage didn’t come out for the second half of the Pizza Bowl against Bowling Green. Thrust into the most extensive playing time of his brief career, Voytik ran for a touchdown and calmly guided the Panthers to the winning field goal with 1:17 to play in a 30-27 victory that pushed Pitt’s final record to a respectable, yet uninspiring 7-6.
It was more than enough to convince budding star receiver Tyler Boyd that Voytik is up to the job that comes with being at the top of the depth chart.
“It told us he was ready,” Boyd said. “He wasn’t afraid to step up and wasn’t running from it. … I felt like he was waiting for that time and when his time came, he showed out.”
Generously listed at 6-1 with quick feet and a strong arm, that can help him work his way out of tough situations, Voytik isn’t unlike another Chryst-coached quarterback who thrived despite his lack of size. Of course, Voytik knows he’s got quite a bit of work to do to emulate former Wisconsin quarterback turned Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson.
“Russell is a special player, you can’t take that away from him,” Voytik said. “He listened to everything that Coach was saying and applied it and he really balled out and you see him now. He carried over those same concepts and stuff and he’s rolling with it.”
It will take quite some time before Voytik can say the same. Not that he’s ready to compare himself with Wilson anyway, even if he happens to wear the same number (16) Wilson adorned during his one season at Wisconsin.
To be honest, Voytik is mostly looking to prove he can play. He remembers being ignored by other big-time programs because he’s not the most physically imposing player.
“A lot of schools passed me up because of my height,” he said. “I think it definitely gives me an edge and it provides a chip.”
The 6-foot Anderson can say the same. He played in four games as a freshman in 2011 but has thrown all of two passes in the last two years. He redshirted in 2013 and now finds himself in danger of being lapped by Voytik.
There were no outward signs of an early favorite Monday, though while a dozen reporters waited for Voytik, Anderson quietly made his way off the field largely unnoticed.
Voytik is comfortable if he’s considered the one to beat. What he lacks in size the dean’s list student feels he makes up for with intelligence and athleticism. Besides, he’s spent most of the last two seasons holding a clipboard, watching tape and trying to absorb as much of Chryst’s multi-dimensional offense as he can.
“I’ve learned under some good guys and got to see how they play the game,” he said. “I can put my own twist to it.”
Pressed on what his own twist will look like, and Voytik points to the lessons he learned from Sunseri and Savage.
“Don’t try to do too much,” he said. “Get the ball out of your hands and move the chains. Move the chains and eventually you’re going to score.”