I mentioned in an earlier post that I was offered a chance to sit in on a few practices and the Spring Game by the PITT SID department, so I took advantage of that today. It was pretty eye opening, especially compared to what we had seen from the PITT team in the last few years.
The practice started at 9:30 am and we were allowed to watch just about the whole practice (1st half of the session) and the scrimmage (2nd half). We were asked to move out of the facility at around 11:15 or so. They did things a little differently as the kickers and punters were out before the actual practice session started, which is normal, and then the rest of the players came out and ran through units drills for about 10 minutes… at half speed, which looked damn fast to me anyway. Then they went into their stretching exercises and then onto full speed units drills. I concentrated on watching the offense run through some ‘special plays’, mostly double reverses, and was pretty impressed. They had some miscues but, with no doubt, Cam Saddler is a rocket when he gets the ball in his hands.
After that they ran kickoff coverage and kickoff returns for about 15 minutes and that was very informative. One thing I’ll say – if Buddy Jackson wins the return job we may see good things. He took a kick on the bounce, made one move and out ran the coverage for a 90 yard TD return. He is extremely quick and very fluid when he’s sprinting. Harper’s kicks were done well, high and deep.
After some situational drills, short yardage and red zone plays, which the O executed well the team went into a full scrimmage. Basically the offense scored a lot of points and ‘won’ the day again. I’ll be honest here, when you are on the sideline it’s hard to see the details of the plays if they aren’t run right in front of you so I won’t give a play-by-play on the scrimmage.
Now; my impressions on the day:
After watching all three QBs play I have no doubt that at this point in time, Tino Sunseri is in the lead at QB and should be. He executes the new offense better than the other two QBs and he can pass and run better as a package than Myers or Gonzalez can. However, Myers has a better pure arm, that also stands out, and while he can put one foot in front of the other he is by no means a ‘running QB’ or even, IMO, a QB who will be able to rush well on called plays. Gonzalez, although he completed most of his scrimmage passes, doesn’t reach their level of passing as yet IMO and we didn’t get to see him run much today. He threw one looping sideline pass to Ed Tinker that everyone held their breath on because you just knew he was going to get wracked by the defender. Both Myers and Gonzalez split 2nd team reps this morning.
Sunseri ran with confidence today and he did very well on a busted play scramble where he picked up 15 yards. As stated above, Sunseri has a firm grasp of this offense, which was another concern of mine, and it shows when he’s out there with the 1st team. He was very proactive in getting the rest of the offense back to the ball’s spot and ready to go also. For me, unless Graham wants to drastically modify the offense for one of the other two QBs, then Sunseri will be the QB running it.
So, one thing I was very concerned about was how the offensive players would adapt to the No-Huddle Offense and from what I saw today I don’t think that will be a problem. They were consistent in getting the ball snapped at between 15-18 seconds (by my count) from the Ref’s placement and there didn’t seem to be much confusion out on the field (BTW the target is 15 seconds, not five as I said in an earlier post). There were some mishaps from the sideline in signaling in the plays though – they use a colored metal ‘flip board’ (like a down marker) in addition to hand signals and the guy working the board was lagging a bit on some plays, but if the HC says they are at “60 mph” now then I think they will be fine in September.
I paid close attention to how the coaches coached and how the players responded. This staff is very active, all the time, and they are constantly teaching the details of what they want to implement. On the scrimmage KOs Todd Graham ran down the field with the coverage team, every time, and once turned to the coverage team right before the kick and said “I better not beat your asses down the field”. I watched one player turn his head after he was about 20 yards downfield to make sure he was in front of Graham… it was fun to watch. But that type of interaction was replicated by every position coach the whole practice.
After the 1st part of the scrimmage, Graham had all of the offense over on the sidelines and was giving it to them and not holding back, pointing out that even though they were scoring TDs there were problems with zone blocking and snaps. As he turned to walk away he took a step then spun around and asked them “Are you having fun now… scoring points is fun isn’t it, and winning is going to be fun, too” with a smile on his face. The kids ate it up.
I was impressed with Desmond Brown and Aaron Donald today also. Both are very quick and made effective plays. Our 3rd string TE Brendan Carozzoni played a lot today as Hubie Graham and DeCicco were held out. I couldn’t really see how well he blocked but he made a beautiful catch and run on a short crossing pattern from Sunseri where Carozzoni got to the sideline, turned and just flat outran our DBs. At first I thought it had to be a WR he was moving so quickly. I’ll say this now, that was a hell of a play and if this kid doesn’t get some playing time that means our others two guys must be doing very well.
As to the new guys in the kicking game and the punting; Harper was accurate and made all his kicks today. The punter Yolic can boom them, but I couldn’t tell if he was placing well or not from ground level view. Our 2nd string punter shagged a bad one and the long snapping was fine. We have speed on the KO coverage team with Brandon Ifill, Kevin Adams, Tristan Roberts, Tags and Kolby Gray to name a few. They were getting downfield very quickly.
As to the “fundamental changes” that are being asked of the kids. It looks to me that there is buy-in with them, at least as far as energy on the field and on the sidelines. There was a lot of woofing, joking around between coaches and the kids, high-fives between players and bitching about what either the offense or defense thought were bad calls by the practice refs. You can tell these two units take a lot of pride in what they do. One note: Sunseri was constantly talking with the OL between series and was very engaged. My impression is that his year of experience has given him a new level of confidence. But that’s just my opinion based on what I saw and heard 10 feet away from me.
Odds and Ends:
One thing I noticed was that the staff ran only one deep pass play, at least while I was watching. During the early passing drills they were running 15-25 yard routes and Both Sunseri and Myers were hitting those passes pretty consistently. Street and Shanahan don’t miss balls anywhere near them much.
Pat Bostick, JR is with the SID department now and we spent a good amount of time talking on the sideline about the team and the new offense… he’s very confident the offense will perform well this year. After I asked, he explained the difference in communicating the plays into the offense as it’s a completely different system than before. One salient point is that the whole team can turn to the sideline and see what play is being called instead of just having the QB receive the play from the sideline, consult the wristband and then relay it to the guys in the huddle as before. Same on defense also, the middleman of having the MLB callout the defenses has been eliminated.
Here is a good interview that Bostick had with Sunseri after the practice – pretty informative.
The SID mentioned to me that even with all the actual changes on the football side of things Todd Graham is instituting, he also is having the hallways of the second floor offices/training rooms re-done to highlight the history of PITT football, decade by decade. Attention to detail in all things from Graham I guess. It is a beautiful facility though and that indoor practice facility doesn’t even feel like you are inside it’s so big.
It was a great chance to see the team and new staff up close and I appreciate it – as you can tell I went in with some real questions and left feeling pretty good about what is happening. I had a chance to attend a couple of practices two years ago and it seemed to me to have a different feel out there today. I’m looking forward to the Spring Game.
Next practice: Tuesday, April 5th.