Coaches will always tell you that players decide who eventually starts and that jobs can be won and lost in training camp. While some of that might be true, coaches have a pretty good idea who the starters will be going into the season.
From everything I understand, there are six spots that are legitimately up for grabs when Pat Narduzzi opens training camp tomorrow, three on offense and three on defense.
- Star Linebacker – Senior Bam Bradley will enter camp as the starter after making 5 starts in 2015. Bradley played in all 13 games and collected 33 tackles, 5 TFLs and one sack. Bradley’s main competition for the starting job will come from converted wide receiver Elijah Zeise, who possesses the athleticism needed to play that spot.
- Cornerback – Avonte Maddox will be the starter at one spot but who’ll play opposite him is up for grabs. The battle will come down to senior Ryan Lewis vs. freshman Damar Hamlin. Considering his talent level, barring injury, I would be surprised if Hamlin doesn’t start the majority of games. Keep in mind, Jordan Whitehead wasn’t in the starting lineup for the opening game last year.
- Free Safety – Reggie Mitchell vs. Terrish Webb. After starting all 13 games in 2014, Mitchell made just 2 starts last year due to a foot injury. Two years ago, Mitchell collected 62 tackles for the Panthers but that was under former DC Matt House. Webb, is also a senior and made 9 starts for Narduzzi last year. Webb totaled 28 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. The starter for this spot could come down to who stays healthy.
- Right Tackle – Brian O’Neil vs. Jaryd Jones-Smith. O’Neil took advantage of an opportunity last season. Jones-Smith injured his knee during spring practice and missed the entire season. O’Neil made the conversion from tight to offensive tackle and ended up making 12 starts.
- Wide Receiver – Senior Dontez Ford will be one starter for Matt Canada, but who will take the spot of former Pitt great and current Cincinnati Bengal Tyler Boyd? The battle will likely come down to Zach Challingsworth vs. Quadree Henderson. Considering the different things that he can do, Henderson might have the slight advantage.
- Running Back – This will obviously be the #1 story of Pitt’s camp. Will James Conner be physically able to regain his starting job? As everyone knows, Conner is trying to overcome a knee injury and a battle with cancer. While most fans just assume he’ll be able to, nothing is guaranteed. If Conner isn’t able to, Pitt is fortune to be able to turn to Quadree Ollison, the reigning ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. It should be fun to follow this battle.