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August 25, 2009

I’m hesitant about this. Apparently the practice yesterday afternoon excited Kevin Gorman, the Trib’s beat writer.

The Panthers conducted perhaps their most entertaining and exciting offensive practice of training camp this afternoon.

Sorry I can’t tell you about it.

There are certain things we are privy to watching in practice but are not permitted to report, and offensive formations and gimmick plays are primary among them. So, I can’t share what I saw. Please forgive the tease.

What I can say is that Pitt has some playmakers and, when used in certain formations, its offense has the potential to be explosive. And we’re not just talking about receivers Jonathan Baldwin and Oderick Turner as deep threats or tailbacks Dion Lewis and Ray Graham and their make-you-miss moves in the open field.

The fun resulted in big plays that broke up the monotony of training camp, energized the team and proved contagious.

Sounds very exciting and promising, but this is training camp. Even within the gushing about the action there was a bit of caution.

If Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt allows offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. some creativity in his play-calling, especially when the Panthers face an opponent that is considerably slower, like Pitt’s 2005-06 teams.

That’s the “if.” Coach Wannstedt is not known for being particularly adventurous on offense, and has come off as deploring innovations on offense as gadgets and gimmick plays — the Wildcat formation comes to mind as does the oft-cited ignoring of Greg Cross last season.

It’s one thing to shake-up a training camp practice by running some of these plays and getting the players juiced. It’s something far different to pull the trigger on calling the play in a game. Especially a game that might be tight or against a non-patsy opponent.

I’m not trying to be so negative about some offensive creativity, but Coach Wannstedt is still the head guy, and as much as strong defense is his hallmark so too is a highly conservative offense. One of the defenses of former OC Matt Cavanaugh’s questionable play-calling was that it was the offense his head coach wanted.

We will find out a lot this year about that defense.

I think blaming Cavanaugh’s questionable play-calling on Wanny is laughable. Was Wanny the head coach for the Baltimore Ravens? I have friends in Baltimore who cringe when they hear the name Cavanugh.

Ravens 2004: Offense yards per game 31st overall
Ravens 2003: Offense yards per game 21st overall
Ravens 2002: Offense yards per game 26th overall
etc. etc. Also during these years the Ravens offense routinely fell in the bottom third of points scored.

I’m pretty sure Cavanaugh just isn’t that good of an offensive coordinate regardless of Wanny “forcing” him make certain calls. I think Cavanaugh does a good job of making bad play calling all on his own.

And I admit that Wanny does love to run the football. But when you have RBs like Ricky Williams and Shady, and QBs like Stull and Fielder, you have to run the ball a lot.

Let’s see what Wanny does with Cignetti, before we get all gloomy about the offense. If the offense still is super conservative, then I’ll be ready to blame Wanny.

Comment by wardapalooza 08.25.09 @ 8:51 am

IMO, all Gorman is reporting is that now the offense is adding plays so as not to continue running nothing but plain vanilla stuff. It makes sense to me–the first part of camp you work on basics then as you get closer to the first game you start adding the complexity, the wrinkles, if you will.

Could it be that the reason the offense has looked so bad up until now is that it has been running plain vanilla stuff against a top 10 defense that knows what’s coming on nearly every play? That would certainly be a formula to make any offense look bad! Lets hope that is the case and that the regular season offensive performance will get some of our chicken little “the sky is falling” types at least slightly over the angst and paranoia they have been nurturing since the Sun Bowl.

Comment by pitt1972 08.25.09 @ 8:56 am

I do agree that Cavanaugh’s play-calling was far too conservative to get this team to the next level. In fairness, though, I will say that on more than a few occassions, Pitt’s conservative ball-control style of play allowed them to wear defenses down and made them a very good second-half team last year.

That style – combined with some very timely defensive plays – was a big reason why they were able to overtake Iowa in the 4th quarter, put away Syracuse in the second half of that game, come back against Notre Dame and put away WVU late.

I think my biggest criticism of Cavanaugh came from the notion that he never seemed to make much creative use of the playmakers he had at his disposal here. I think the Sun Bowl was final confirmation of that (I’ve heard rumblings that his departure from the school wasn’t quite as mutual as Pitt made it sound…let’s just say Pitt didn’t push him out the door, but they also didn’t exactly try to stop him.).

Cignetti has had more experience at this level with those types of playmakers, and he’s run creative schemes in the past at Cal. It’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with.

Comment by Stoosh 08.25.09 @ 12:36 pm

[…] offense is a bit more mysterious. Pitt fans appear to be jubilant over the departure of offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, and they hope for a more creative […]

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