- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Pitt opened spring practice Thursday morning. Here is a little primer on what to expect.
Spring changes: Another spring means more change for the Panthers, who have gone through more than their share of upheaval over the past 15 months. New coach Paul Chryst has brought in an entirely new staff and new scheme, going back to more of a pro-style set on offense and the 4-3 on defense. Eight starters return to an offense that should benefit from a return to a more traditional system. But only four starters return on defense, with some major holes to fill in the front seven.
In addition, 11 players have changed positions.
Position battles to watch
Quarterback. Though incumbent Tino Sunseri goes into the spring as the favorite to win the starting job, Chryst has said the competition is open. Five players are going to be getting reps this spring -- Sunseri, Mark Myers and Trey Anderson, along with Anthony Gonzalez and E.J. Banks. Gonzalez began his Pitt career at quarterback before moving to H-back; Banks has played cornerback. The big player missing is incoming freshman Chad Voytik, one of the stars of the 2012 recruiting class. He arrives this summer.
Defensive end. With the news that Aaron Donald has moved inside full-time in the 4-3, the Panthers are in search of some quality defensive ends as they transition back to starting four down linemen. Brandon Lindsey, who played end/linebacker, is gone so there are some gaps to fill. Shayne Hale is the only upperclassman at the position this spring. Sophomores T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy are coming off redshirt seasons, LaQuentin Smith moves to end after playing linebacker last season, and Devin Cook enters the mix after redshirting last season.
Linebacker. Leading tackler Max Gruder is gone, along with Greg Williams and Tristan Roberts. Todd Thomas, expected to return on the strong side, is out for the spring with a knee injury. Players to watch this spring include Ejuan Price, Manny Williams, Carl Fleming, Shane Gordon and Eric Williams. But perhaps the biggest story could be Dan Mason, who is healthy and vying for playing time at middle linebacker after sitting out a year and a half with a serious knee injury sustained in 2010.
Offensive tackle. Lucas Nix, Greg Gaskins and Jordan Gibbs are all gone, leaving both tackle positions up for grabs. Juantez Hollins and Matt Rotheram saw some playing time last season, but neither one was very effective. They go into the spring with competition from Justin Virbitsky, who moves over from tight end, along with Penn State transfer Tom Ricketts and 2011 junior college transfer Zenel Demhasaj.