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March 27, 2012

I had a chance to watch the Panthers practice today.  This is a long report on what I saw and heard so I’m going to split it into two different articles.  In this one I’ll talk about the practice in general, the offense and the offensive players.

First off, let’s talk about the general atmosphere at the Southside facilities…

I got down there about 45 minutes earlier than scheduled and had a chance to stand around in the parking lot and watch the players file past on their way into the indoor practice field.  The OLs were first out of the gate and they are big guys, Lumpy Jacobson actually looks to be the smallest of all of them.  The players were joking around and looked ready to get it underway.  8:00 a.m. and they were bouncing around and grab-assing.  I did get a lot of strange looks as I was unfamiliar to the football staff but as soon as I whipped out my PITT Blather credentials everyone backed off in fear.

The practice atmosphere is really night and day from last year. We visitors had free rein of the sidelines to move as the drills and scrimmage plays progressed up and down the field.  Last year visitors had to stand in a blocked off corner way down by the entry doors and we couldn’t see down field at all. Chryst has thrown the visitation wide open and hasn’t put any restrictions on the SID regarding who or how many may visit.  E. J. Borghetti is pleased in many ways, big time.

In the past, Todd Graham had the media and any visitors stay for only the first 45 minutes of each practice then he closed it off.  Chryst does the exact opposite and allows people stay for the whole practice session so the media doesn’t have to sit around for two hours waiting until they can do interviews after the practice is over.  Today’s session was scheduled for 2 hours and 15 minutes and went to almost three hours, open all the time

Before the practice started I had a chance to talk about PITT and HS football with the HC from Norwin HS, Art Tragesser and he was very candid in his thoughts about PITT and WPA football.  He’s a great guy, very personable and gave me some insights into recruiting and HS coaching that I didn’t have before.  Let’s just say that he and the other HS coaches he was with are pretty happy about Paul Chryst being here.

Also, I met Aaron Felder, Brandon Felder’s father and watched about 90 minutes of practice with him.  He’s a proud dad, funny as hell and I’m very much looking forward to seeing his son out on the field this year.  Brandon Felder had a slight hamstring on Saturday so they kept him out of today’s practice, but he’ll be back on Tuesday.  He’s the talk of the camp with his good works at WR.

The players looked like they were having a blast and the coaches were way more active than I saw last year. There were a lot of detailed coaching moments, one on one teaching and lots of praise for kids when they did well.  These coaches are not screamers except when necessary.  I heard Chryst bust out only once when Sunseri held the ball too long on a play where the receiver was open.

So, that said, breaking down what I saw out on the field today…

Overall – the defense won the day against the offense.  The passing game, as detailed below, was inconsistent at best with the two principal QBs throwing an equal amount of treasure and trash.  The running game was held in check by the DL for the most part also but more positive in play than the passing game.

RBs – Bennett and Davis got the bulk of the carries during the scrimmage drills.  Bennett looked in control out there and drove forward with a good interior push. Davis ran with the 2nd string and did alright also but his yards were hard to get.  Crockett didn’t get much time at all with the 1s & 2s and he looks to be dropping down the depth chart but it is still early. Davis is very fast and made some nice runs for positive yardage.  The best running playoff the day was when Des Brown broke an end around where he used his speed and went for a TD. Ray Graham followed him downfield yelling encouragement which was nice to see.

OL – The line looked OK to me as the QBs had some time to throw on some plays and not so much on others. There were some nice inside runs that got 5+ yards. Turnley looks to have very good command calling the defenses as they shift pre-snap. It is hard to tell but I think we’ll see a set five guys, Hollins, King, Turnley, Jacobson or Schlieper, and Rotheram come out of the spring as starters and the staff will concentrate on that lineup during summer camp.

FBs – Mark Giubalito has been having a good spring and did well today also.  He’s not as big all around as The Hyno was but he’s quick and can stand people up when he hits them.   Giubalito is 6’2”, 230 and can move.  He’s a converted QB who played at the heralded Milford Academy and is a rsSO going into this year.  Expect him to be around for some time and doing good things. He ran the bulk of the 1st team reps today with Chris Burns getting the rest.  We’ll see the FB playing a much bigger role than we did last season.

TEs – Not much to say here as Hubie Graham, Brendan Carozzoni and Drew Carswell rotated in at that spot(s).  What was interesting is that they ran a lot of two TE sets with Graham and Carswell on the same side and then Carswell would then break out as a WR.  There was lots of motion with the TEs also.

WRs – They are a question mark past Shanahan and Street as starters but Ed Tinker and Salath Williams made some great plays, when they weren’t dropping balls that is. Justin Jackson rounded out the WRs getting reps. Which leads us to Cam Saddler,  he was taking a lot of reps with the 1st team and had some nice receptions that he turned into positive yardage.  It looks like he’ll play a big part in the offense this season also as Ronald Jones wasn’t in the mix much as I could see.

THE QBs!!!!!

Granted I only watched them out there for about three hours but what I saw, and others have seen, is that both Myers and Sunseri have “opposites” in strengths and weaknesses. Sunseri took the lion’s share of QB1 snaps and looked OK on the short & intermediate passes.  His decision making is much quicker than Myers is. Myers takes a long time to pull the trigger and his motion is surprisingly slow which gives the coverage time to tighten up. Myers’ has some problems with shorter route passing game in so far as accuracy and timing.

But can Myers throw the deep ball! I’m not kidding… he is strong and accurate as hell with those long throws and the ball just kind of floats down to the WR’s hands when they are hauling ass down field. He threw one deep corner pass where he dropped back to the 50 yard line and hit Ed Tinker at the five. A 45 yarder in the air; easily and perfectly thrown. I’d say he hit 3/4s of his deep throws today and looked good doing it.

Sunseri showed the opposite and as before his deep ball is a problem.  He did hit one nice pass for about 40 yards total but he’s inconsistent with them. I have to say though that Sunseri looked OK out there in general. He’ll be the starter IMO; I don’t think there will be any doubt about that. He’s better at the regular, short and intermediate, passing game than Myers is, it seemed that his passes had more snap to them than in the past and he has a better command of the offense.

  But Trey Anderson, taking 3rd string snaps, had some of the prettiest throws out there. He can pass the ball and threw as well as either of the two principals today.  He’ll be a solid 3rd string QB for us this year.  Gonzalez was almost non-existent and I only saw three plays run by him and nothing stood out.  I think he’s the odd man out with the QB competition and should be moved again.  His passing just isn’t D1 caliber.

Next up: Defense

 





So basically offense is same old same old. But it’s nice to see the coaching staff is exactly what we all thought it would be.

Comment by Lou Gagliardi 03.28.12 @ 2:42 am

Glad to hear you had a good experience.
I’ll be attending a practice myself tomorrow morning. Very much looking forward to it.

Comment by sta7ic 03.28.12 @ 7:13 am

Reed I live in the south and I went to 4 away games during the Marino years, 3 were the only 3 they lost in those years. In the visitors section you are right on the field in the sun section. Oneof my friends was a professional athelete who played catcher in the mIlwakee system and was the starting catcher for the University of Florida and played in 4 world series games in college. So he was intimate with many of the Florida football players at that time.

As we sat behind the Pitt bench he was awe struck at the size of Pitts offensive and defensive line (Jimbo Corbett, Fralic, Grimm, May, defense – Boyarski, Neel, Jackson, Green, and other rest of the defense). Aside from Jackson and Green the other players were from our traditional recruiting area.

As he said rightfully at the time they were as big as any proline at that time and more skilled than most. Theses players are still out there. Now that we have a coach that can hopefully mine the gold in Ohio, N.Y., PA. instead of Fraud who wanted to play touch football(smoke and mirrors) Pitt can be back.

By default the administration may have fumbled the ball again numerous times when we were inside the opponents goal line but by luck we may have finally fell on the fumble. (The same scenario whith Dixon getting Adams/if we can get him in school).

Comment by drw 03.28.12 @ 9:22 am

Reading further into Reed comments about the openess of the practice compared to the incompotent Fraud last year reminded me of the hellcian days at Pitt shortly after my graduation in 1973.

Big headline in about the 1976 pregame Sugar Bowl was that the Georgia players were all business, secluded practices, and strict curfews before the game. Majors had complete open practices and no curfew before the game and there were many stories about Pitt players roaming the french quarter late at night while they were in N.O.

The press even in Pittsburgh thought this was a menu for disaster. It was halftime Pitt 21 Georgia 3. Final Pitt 24 to 3.

I like the approach to openness taht Reed described that the coach is displaying

Comment by drw 03.28.12 @ 9:36 am

Awesome update – much appreciated!!

I take it Jacobson is still limited at this point but do the coaches expect him to be back to full strength by summer?

Does Chryst run any of the wildcat?

Comment by JAM 05 Pitt 03.28.12 @ 9:47 am

DRW – Remember 76 like it was yesterday. A relaxed atmosphere is always better.

Reed – thank you for the update…great job.

Have we picked a bar for the Spring Game!

Comment by Dan 72 03.28.12 @ 9:57 am

DRW – I have to say that as the Offensive Lineman paraded past me I was struck by how (relatively) small they were. Jacobson is the smallest of all it appears. Of course I’m very tall but I stood next to Lucas Nix a few times and he was bigger than any of the kids I saw yesterday.

I remember that Sugar Bowl story very well… the heathen Panthers open a can of whoop ass even if they did get in after midnight.

Sta7ic – I did, much more than the times I attended under DW and Graham, but part of that maybe that I know more people around the program and some beat writers so I have a lot of people to talk PITT football with there.

Maybe you can give us a report on how you think the line play went – it was hard for me to decipher.

Comment by Reed 03.28.12 @ 11:37 am

JAM 05, most of the talented, proven players with injuries will not participate or be very limited … Jacobsen, Graham, Holley, Shanahan, Thomas

Comment by wbb 03.28.12 @ 11:37 am

That’s the problem with Sunseri – he’s a practice player. He looks good in practice which translates to PT but struggles in “live” situations. Frustrated already.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 03.28.12 @ 12:08 pm

Good reporting — sounds like a fun time had by all. Concerning the QB battle, nice to hear Tino looks better, but I recall Zeise saying four years ago that he was the best looking QB in camp, by a good bit…either Tino is the ultimate practice player or Stull, Bostick, Myers et al were hungover/drunk during practices.

Sad to quote Allen Iverson, but “practice…” I played QB briefly in high school and have watched, like many of the rest of you, good and bad QB play at several levels. IMHO, timing and sharpness on short and intermediate routes is crucial, but can be learned and improved upon — throwing and timing of deep balls is another matter and is largely something you have or have not…therefore, IMHO, time is better spent teaching the teachable stuff and not trying to create what isn’t there. Timing and sharpness also improve with increased playing time, especially under live fire, so my feeling is put the guy in who scares defenses off your line and then patiently let him improve his short game.

Great to hear our FBs and TEs might be relevant again, especially if we have some talent and size there.

Comment by Matt N. 03.28.12 @ 12:10 pm

NO TINO!!! PLEASE?????

Comment by CJK 03.28.12 @ 1:02 pm

Matt I did not play football, certainly not QB but I did play high school basketball. There are more similarities among different sports and the athelethes playing them then there are differences.

Your point that should place Tino on his rightful position, the bench, cannot be underemphasized. Do we really want to stay at defenses 9 in the box with 4 yard passes from Tino and Tiny as we have the last 2 years. The coaches can not create arm strentgh for Tino and Tiny they physically are not capable of doing it just as Taylor at 6’9″ is physically not capable of being a force at center at D1 basketball.

Natt maybe the only person among us who played QB at a competive level. His observation reinforces my guess that in high school if you have a guy you with a strong arm a high school coach, whose only interest is in winning, is going to have the kid throw long. He has no interest or probably ability to teach him the intracies of the short passing game.

In contrast to Tino, Tiny, and Gonzales becuase neither of them as Natt pointed out did not and do not have the arm strength to throw long. So in H.S. the coach had them working on short quick passes with the hope the reciver broke free and running the ball when they had an opening.

Frankly I am tired of a passing game limited only to screens, quick outs, and 6 yard slants. It is hard to beat an opponent with 9 in the box with a running game (Dorsett could not run with Tino or Tiny at QB). I agree totally with Matt not for reasons of promoting Myers but from my own understanding of being an athelete at a competive level. At 6’1″ despite my ball handling skills and shoting ability I would not be an effective center or forward as I was a guard even in 1969.

Thanks Natt an insight based on practical experience not conjecture or emotion that I have often found myself couching my opinions.

For Pitt’s sake I hope the coaching staff is willing to pull the trigger for the future and unlike the Pitt tradition in basketball and football in the last several years minimize the present in sacrifice for potential greater rewards in the future.

This is the model of Majors and Sherrill that DW, Fraud, and even Jamie have not had the courage to risk.

Comment by drw 03.28.12 @ 1:15 pm

One thing that was discussed on the sidelines – not by the coaching staff mind you – was having both QBs platoon playing time. I can’t see it hurting.

But I’m not sold on Mark Myers just being the starter because he’s not Tino Sunseri. He did the same things yesterday that I saw last spring and one was to throw INTs directly to the defensive backs.

That said, I have only watched practice this one time so far so I’m getting just a peek at both Sunseri and Myers as they are this Spring.

If anyone is interested in this QB battle – and it may be the most important competition that we have had for years, then I suggest we get off our butts and attend the Spring Game where we will see both QBs get playing time. Myers was injured last year so almost none of us message board and blog fans had actually seen him in any kind of action at all. This way we’ll have a basis to discuss.

That was what frustrated me so much last season when discussing Myers with other commenters on here. It was hard to tell people what Myers was like when they have a vision of a recruit in their head and nothing of substance to compare it to.

For instance Myers’ wind up and delivery is slow and it was driving Coach Bollinger crazy during the practice. You could see him making ‘wrist-snapping’ motions at Myers after almost every pass. That may be hard to believe if all you know is that he has a strong arm.

The hardest punch I have ever seen thrown was by a circus orangutan – you could see the punch coming for five minutes but when it hit the guy it knocked the snot out of him. But that can’t be what you get when your QB is getting pressure from the DL.

So let’s get to the Spring Game, see them side by side and make our own decisions abut the two. I do think it is too easy to just say “ABT – Anyone But Tino” when the facts are that he actually may be the best chance for PITT at QB this season.

Again – it is early and things could change but I think we are seeing the coaching staff starting to round out the two deep even if they are not admitting to it.

wbb – not only aren’t those good players you mentioned not practicing because of injury but we have some freshman coming in that could contribute right away. I don’t know what Chryst’s policy on red shirting is but at a quick glance I could see Shell, Holtz, Rippy, Voytik, Bradley, Bisnowaty and Jackson getting playing time if needed this season.

This year’s summer training camp may be the most interesting one we have seen in a long time.

Comment by Reed 03.28.12 @ 2:53 pm

Thanks DRW, but my views are just my views like anyone else’s.

If there is no clear winner after summer camp, a platoon system at QB may not be a bad approach — some guys are better versus different teams…like starting pitchers sort of. Don’t forget about Anderson though…he might be right up there going into the season and should be given every chance just like the other two.

Comment by Matt N. 03.28.12 @ 4:55 pm

Reply to: “I heard Chryst bust out only once when Sunseri held the ball too long on a play where the receiver was open.”

What a shocker. Seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Please, Dear God, I’m begging you: anybody but Tino. ANYBODY!!

Comment by Imma Man! Im 40! 03.28.12 @ 7:27 pm

Chryst better be careful & get off on the right foot & forget about Tino / Myers is obviously not the answer if he can’t shake tino! Voytik STARTED in the army AA game & I’m telling you he is faster & has stronger arm than both of them plus he’s a fiery player. With Shell,Graham & Bennett (in that order)he’ ll be just fine. With Stinko we’ll lose games, then fan interest, then recruits & eventually your job as head coach !

Comment by Rocky20 03.28.12 @ 7:53 pm

Reed, thanks for the coverage.

Here’s the ultimate question (at least for now): From what you saw, does it look like Tino can throw the deep ball well enough (and/or the receivers catch it) so that Pitt at least looks like it can hurt a team with a deep pass (like 2010)?

Comment by OriginalEther 03.28.12 @ 11:08 pm

Original – no.

Let me expound on that. I asked Tony Greco, the beat writer for Scout.com whether he could remember if Tino Sunseri completed any deep passes last season. Both he and I couldn’t come up with any.

He completed a 66 yarder to Street in the Iowa game but that was a short sideways pass that Street took in for a TD. He also completed a 59 yarder to Street in the Louisville game – that one might have gone some distance in the air but I can’t really remember. So let’s say he completed one deep ball all season.

Nothing I saw on Tuesday made me feel that this was going to get a whole lot better in 2012. Now, given that he didn’t have a whole lot of time back in the pocket last year (63 sacks, right?) and that this season’s version of the OL may be able to better pass protect maybe Sunseri can hit on a few more of those.

With Baldwin as his receiver in 2010 Sunseri had at least seven passes over 40 yards. That was with Baldwin. I suppose, if a receiver who can really go up and get the ball emerges this season, that Sunseri could complete more deep passes. We really need that to happen and I think we’ll see Rudolph and Chryst call a bunch in the first few games to gauge how well that is being done.

IMO it isn’t his arm strength that is the problem with this, it is his deep accuracy that doesn’t give the receiver a fighting chance to catch the ball.

But we won’t be hearing any grand proclamations from Chryst like Graham’s “We are going deep ten times a game!

Comment by Reed 03.29.12 @ 8:32 am

With RBs like a healthy Graham (fingers crossed), Shell, Bennett/Davis/?, I think that can be your short game…and with a 6’5″ Shanahan & 6’3″ Hubie Graham — both with excellent hands — those guys can make up for less than perfect short pass accuracy…which Tino didn’t have either by the way. You have to have a credible deep pass threat to keep defenses from cheating, even if you only try it a handful of times a game — it was embarrassing how little respect defenses gave us last season on that by absolutely crowding the line with zero fear…its a true wonder Graham got as many yards as he did. Just imagine what he could have done with safeties who had to back off the line and play honest? (that also helps OLs hugely, when DLs can’t just tee off without hesitation)

I truly believe we have to play either Meyers or Anderson (not personal) and if they stink, why not give Voytik a chance if we’re limping along at 1-3 or 0-4?

Does anybody really have any stomach left for watching Tino run directly into oncoming rushers or argue with his WRs about their route running any more? If I have to see that over and over again this season, I will seriously lose my sh$t.

Comment by Matt N. 03.29.12 @ 12:12 pm

Matt – if we are at 1-3 or 04 then I’ll endorse playing for the future of the position. But we can’t afford to toss a season.

I wrote this on another blog this morning but here’s how I feel about that situation…

“I said at this time last year that Graham may sacrifice winning some games to make sure his offensive system was in place and the players ready for the 2012 season (thus we never saw Myers) and the howls of protest could be heard 240 miles away.

But that was with a unique and (way too) complex offense under Graham, a coach who was obsessed with doing it that way.

I truly don’t think that the PITT administration nor Coach Chryst have any intention of doing anything close to that or to do anything but try to win as many games as possible this season.

Given what PITT has gone through over the past two season, with all the coaching changes, accompanying drama and negative media reports, PITT needs to right the ship and show stability as soon as possible. That means concentrating on getting the best results this season and forget about what may happen next year or two years down the road.

I think PITT fans may be too close to the situation to see the forest from the trees when it comes to PITT football sometimes. Die hard fans do this with their teams all the time, but the PITT football program has become an afterthought nationally and even locally over the past 24 months and one more mediocre or losing season would set the back on it’s heels entering into the ACC.

We need a decent season now to make our entry into the ACC newsworthy and exciting, we don’t need to limp in on a losing record just because good thing MAY happen down the line.”

Comment by Reed 03.29.12 @ 1:01 pm

Reed – thanks for the info, even though it was exactly what I didn’t want to hear.

FWIW, to my knowldege the only pass Tino completed that he threw further than 25 yards was a jump ball to Devin Street in the Syracuse game.

I didn’t get to see the Louisville game so I can’t vouch for that one.

Comment by OriginalEther 03.29.12 @ 4:15 pm

Yes yes yes! Of course, win as many games as possible! No tree issues here, win win win!! Simply sayin if we are NOT winning with older QBs, play the kid and see what he can do…if Joe Namath has eligibility left, stick him in there if it gets us the W.

Comment by Matt N. 03.30.12 @ 1:07 am

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