Pitt Football: 5 Best, 5 Worst Offseason Developments

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2011

Pitt Football: 5 Best, 5 Worst Offseason Developments

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    PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 11:  The new University of Pittsburgh head football coach, Todd Graham (center), poses for a photograph with members of his family and University of Pittsburgh athletic director, Steve Pederson (far left), during a press conference on
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    In 2010, the Pittsburgh Panthers finished with a disappointing 8-5 record.

    Heading into 2011, the Panthers have a different look with a new face patrolling the sidelines.

    With Dave Wannstedt no longer in as head coach, and a few key players no longer on the team, Pitt will look to improve on their win mark this season.

    Deciding whether the Panthers can improve or will just tread water depends on many factors.

    Here are the five best and five worst developments of the Pittsburgh Panthers' offseason.

Best: Signing of Todd Graham as Head Coach

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    PITTSBURGH, PA  - JANUARY 11:  The new University of Pittsburgh head football coach Todd Graham speaks to the media during a press conference at the University of Pittsburgh Panthers South Side training facility on January 11, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylv
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Todd Graham will run a far different offense than Dave Wannstedt did in 2010.

    Graham runs a frenetic style and wants to snap the ball as many times as possible. This is a major contrast from Wannstedt's very deliberate offensive approach.

    This style should help the Panthers.

    In the Big East, the spread offense will be a change of pace and will utilize the under the radar talent Graham has left in the cupboard.

    Graham will rely on speed and mismatches in order to gain the advantage he needs on offense.

    On defense, Graham has the luxury of returning several key players, although he did lose a few ball hawks as well.

    All in all, the offensive difference should be apparent early as Pitt cuts down on the huddles and ramps up the snaps.

Best: Buddy Jackson Is Healthy as of Now

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    PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 16: Buddy Jackson #21, Aundre Wright #10, and Joe Capp #37 of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers celebrate after their win against the Rutgers University Scarlett Knights on October 16, 2009 at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, Ne
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    For Pittsburgh Panthers fans, Buddy Jackson is the ultimate tease.

    Every year in the spring he turns heads, then he winds up with an injury.

    In 2010, Jackson managed to stay healthy and wound up being one of the Panthers' best cornerbacks and return men.

    In 2011, Jackson needs to continue to stay out of the training room, and stay on the field.

    His 4.4 speed could prove to be a huge weapon, and along with Jared Holley, could give the Panthers a formidable secondary.

    He could prove to be a very valuable return man as the offense adjusts to its new repertoire.

Best: Dave Wannstedt Has Left the Building

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    PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 23:  Head coach Dave Wannstedt of the Pittsburgh Panthers watches his team play against the Miami Hurricanes on September 23, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Dave Wannstedt and his mustache will no longer be patrolling the Panthers sidelines.

    Year after year, Wannstedt managed to draw high-caliber talent to Pittsburgh, PA, only to be squandered with poor in-game coaching.

    Wannstedt constantly frustrated fans with poor personnel decisions, poor clock management and bad coaching in general.

    Bottom line: His time was up. Wannstedt tried to help his alma mater as best as he could, but the Panthers decided to head in another direction.

    I believe this new direction is the right direction.

    Wannstedt did leave the cupboard very full for new coach Todd Graham, and that may be the best thing Wannstedt managed to do for his Panthers.

Best: Chris Jacobson Moving to Center

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 26:  The Pittsburgh Panthers celebrate a 19-17 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels after their game on December 26, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Former left guard Chris Jacobson's move to center is underrated.

    With the demands of new head coach Todd Graham's offense, an experienced player will be needed to snap the ball.

    Jacobson may not be a experienced a center, but he is a senior and experienced on the offensive line.

    It will be important for the Panthers to have chemistry up front if their new offense wants to succeed early, and putting a veteran like Jacobson at center should help that tremendously.

Best: Bill Stewart out in West Virginia

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Head coach Bill Stewart of the West Virginia Mountaineers talks with his team during a timeout against the  Louisiana State University Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The Tigers de
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Yes, Dana Holgorsen is probably a better coach than Bill Stewart.

    However, anytime there is turnover at West Virginia, it makes Pittsburgh Panther fans very happy.

    Bill Stewart was never able to make his mark after taking over for former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. This led to Dana Holgorsen being brought in from his post as Oklahoma State offensive coordinator to right the ship.

    Holgorsen does have talent to work with, led by quarterback Geno Smith, and they might beat Pitt in this year's edition of the Backyard Brawl.

    But that does not mean Pitt fans and players do not like to see the Mountaineers squirm.

Worst: Loss of Dion Lewis

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    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Dion Lewis #28 of the Pittsburgh Panthers runs with the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Pittsburgh won 28-10.  (Photo by A
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Dion Lewis was Dave Wannstedt's most successful offensive weapon.

    The 2009 Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Lewis was a constant presence in the Panthers backfield.

    Now Lewis has taken his talents to the NFL, leaving junior Ray Graham as the ball carrier for the Panthers in 2011.

    Not that Graham is bad. At times last season, Graham was actually the more successful running back. However, when a team is adjusting to a new offense, they need as many running weapons as they can get.

    As Pitt adjusts to the fast-paced offense, Lewis would have been a great safety net for quarterback Tino Sunseri.

    Now, Sunseri needs to hope Graham can be the guy to lean on.

Worst: Loss of Jon Baldwin

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    PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 23:  Jon Baldwin #82 of the Pittsburgh Panthers is tackled by Brandon McGee #21 of the Miami Hurricanes on September 23, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Another loss on the offensive side is wide receiver Jon Baldwin.

    Some could argue that his loss is a good thing, that Baldwin was a showboat and lacked maturity.

    However, based on talent Baldwin was easily the Panthers' best target.

    Baldwin has NFL size and speed and could be a weapon for the Kansas City Chiefs in the future.

    The Panthers do return Mike Shanahan, Devin Street and speedy Ray Sadler, but the loss of Baldwin will be felt.

    Tino Sunseri will have to find a new downfield target quickly.

Worst: Loss of Jabaal Sheard

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    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Jabaal Sheard #97 of the Pittsburgh Panthers tackles Zach Collaros #12 of the Cincinnati Bearcats during the Big East Conference game against at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Pittsburgh won 28-10.
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Anytime a team loses the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, it is going to hurt.

    Heading into 2011, the Pittsburgh Panthers will have to remedy that situation with the loss of Jabaal Sheard.

    Sheard managed to terrorize quarterbacks almost on his own. He did not have Greg Romeus to help him on the other end, and Dave Wannstedt did not dial up blitz packages all that often.

    Brandon Lindsay is expected to step in and play very well, but the loss of Sheard will surely be felt.

    With the Panthers great secondary returning, an aggressive pass rush could give the Panthers a very interesting defense in 2011.

Worst: Loss of Recruits

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 26:  Head coach Dave Wannstedt of the Pittsburgh Panthers waves to the fans after a 19-17 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels on December 26, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Whenever a team loses its head coach, it will hurt their recruiting.

    Pitt found this out the hard way over the offseason.

    The forced resignation of Dave Wannstedt caused many players to renege on their commitments and choose other programs instead.

    This may not directly affect the Panthers in 2011, but down the road it will definitely affect them.

    Todd Graham will have to adapt to a bigger recruiting area and will have to make connections early in the Pittsburgh pipelines in order to haul in talented recruits.

    Luckily, he has a lot of talent to work with in 2011, regardless of whatever fresh faces appear in the fall.

Worst: The Mike Haywood Circus

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 16:  The new University of Pittsburgh head football coach, Mike Haywood, speaks during a press conference on December 16, 2010 at the University of Pittsburgh Panthers South Side training facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Mike Haywood was the original choice to succeed Dave Wannstedt as Pitt's head football coach.

    However, within a few days Haywood would be brought up on domestic violence charges and fired the very next morning.

    The choice to fire Haywood was an easy one for campus administration, but it still stings.

    No one wants to get a delicate coaching search wrong and especially not within a week. Drama is also to be avoided, and the media made sure this issue was all over the airwaves.

    The Pittsburgh football program will not feel any residual effects from the Haywood hoopla, but it certainly could have been avoided.