MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 25: Isaac Bennett #34 of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers celebrates after running in for a touchdown in the first half against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the 2011 Backyard Brawl on November 25, 2011 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Pitt's spring practices concluded with the Blue-Gold game being this past weekend, so it's time to take a quick look back at the biggest developments from this spring.
5. Shayne Hale improving: Hale was named as the defensive winner of Pitt's Ed Conway Award, given to the players who have improved the most. That's good news for Pitt fans who have been waiting for him to bust out. The highly-recruited star from nearby Gateway High School has played sparingly in three seasons but has been mentioned as a candidate to start at defensive end in the fall.
4. Tino Sunseri retains starting spot at quarterback: Widely criticized last season, Sunseri returning as the starting quarterback wasn't a given, despite his two years of experience in that role. But a demotion was a long shot since the team has few quality options there. Sunseri has increased his grip on the position. He had a decent spring, and barring a major development, will be the team's starter in the fall.
3. New offense and defense: Things have changed significantly in the Paul Chryst regime. Gone are Todd Graham's quirky offense and 3-4 defense as Chryst has brought back the pro-style offense and 4-3 defense under the Dave Wannstedt era. Both should be welcome additions as most of the current players were recruited for those styles of play. The biggest benefactor on offense will probably be Tino Sunseri, who had more success and made fewer mistakes in the pro style offense as a sophomore in 2010.
2. Emergence of Isaac Bennett: Bennett, widely-regarded as Pitt's third running back by the time fall camp rolls around, had a big spring, to say the least. He had three touchdown runs of at least 50 yards during the spring and added a 51-yard run in the Blue-Gold game. He also rushed for 124 yards in that game and opened a lot of eyes. It's unclear what his role will be, since Pitt already has star Ray Graham and five-star recruit Rushel Shell in the backfield, but Bennett has made it clear he wants to compete for time.
1. Return of Dan Mason: Mason's return from the horrific knee injury he sustained in the Miami game in 2010 has been nothing short of remarkable. The possibility existed that he may never even play again and he underwent several surgeries since then. Yet Mason is not only back, but looks like Pitt's starter at middle linebacker. The linebacker position is not a strong one for Pitt this year, making his return even more significant.
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