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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 defense and the defensive players…

DLs – Both Clemmings and Murphy looked ready to go, played hard and according to some observers who are watching practice every day they think Clemmings should get the Ed Conway Award as most improved player from last season. He’s had “great” spring camp and should show up when the games start.  Murphy is fast as hell for someone his size and is aggressive in his play.  He made a nice strip that caused a fumble on Bennett.  KK Smith has put on weight, a bunch of weight, but was still moving well. Hard to tell about Lippert and Hale – there was so much going on it was hard for a non-football guy to follow everything.  The coaches said that Hale was doing well so far but I couldn’t really tell.

LBs – What everyone wants to know:  Dan Mason was in on every drill and scrimmage play with the 1st team.  He would start if the opener is tomorrow.  He looks a bit slower to me and not as explosive, but I’m no expert. It was weird to see a player run where there is no up and down movement of their foot. The “foot drop” brace he has on immobilizes the right foot so that it doesn’t drag when moving his leg forward and I think it affects his play.  There were some passes caught on crossing patterns where he was a step behind the receiver. But he also got into the back field on some plays so I think he’ll be somewhat different physically able when summer camp rolls around but his current ability is going to be a factor.  At least I think so.  Some others feel more optimistic.

The starting three LBs going into summer camp will probably be Mason in the middle with Todd Thomas and Shane Gordon on the outside.  Thomas is held out of practices for now and Ejuan Price isn’t getting the reps we thought he would.  Price’s publicly stating that he wants to play MLB rather than the other LB positions probably didn’t help his cause much with this new staff.

DBs – The Safeties were dropping down in run support on almost every play it seemed and still the CBs did a good job in coverage. Ray Vinopal, an unheralded transfer from Michigan, is a player and was knocking some WRs around today. He closes very fast and seems to take the right angles to trap the guy with the ball. I’m surprised at his level of play but he’s one of the stars of camp so far. Both Tags and Vinopal had INTs on poorly thrown balls by Sunseri (overthrown) and Myers respectively.

Because K’Wuan Williams was out of commission today we saw Cullen Christian, Lloyd Carrington and Layfaette Pitts taking the reps at DB and they did very well over all. Pitts is fast and played well also, he made a few great recoveries during the drills.  They were physical with the WRs and when they got beat they turned right to Coach House for direction it seemed.

Those coverage drills were conducted right in front of me and I’ll say that Matt House is a very hands on coach. I could hear every bit of teaching he was doing and it was so clearly stated that even I understood what he was trying to get the kids to do. The DBs would seek him out to ask something also which I didn’t see last season.

All in all I was pretty impressed by the way practice was conducted and by the general atmosphere of what was going on. There seemed to be an air of optimism both out on the field and on the sideline when discussing the season’s possibilities.  It’s early on in the camp process and as Paul Chryst says “Its spring practice for fall football” so things will morph and get different and better.

For a different POV here is another breakdown of today’s practice by Steve Flinn, a writer with the new PITT Football website “24/7” which I like very much.  It is new and just getting off the ground but there is some good PITT football discussion on there.

I’ll try to get up for a practice next week also, schedule permitting.  If I can’t find the time I’ll just make stuff up and write an article anyway.

Thanks for the update Reed. Like what I’m hearing about the coaching staff – too bad I can’t say that about the QB’s.

Comment by San Diego Panther 69 03.28.12 @ 12:23 am

Reed, great work.

I hope Myers uses the summer to improve his short game and mechanics. At least he will get his shot.

Although we will win a lot with Sunseri, his lack of a deep ball and his failure under stress limit his upside. He is still to lead a game winning come from behind drive. In any case let the best man win.

While QB play is of utmost importance, it should not be as critical as last year. I think Chryst will be much better at limiting the impact of individual players weakness’ and playing to their strengths. No more round pegs in square holes.

While you have to be impressed with Mason’s will, it is a little bit of a concern that he is better on one leg than the rest of them are on two. Let’s hope Price et al can be close back-ups.

We won’t know how good Chryst is as a game day coach for a while, but he can’t be worse than Wanny or fraud. From what Reed says and the coaching interviews it seems safe to say he knows how to run a practice.

You have to love the optimism of Spring. Hail to Pitt!

Comment by gc 03.28.12 @ 6:31 am

Good work Reed … again, lots of good info for us Pitt FB nerds

Comment by wbb 03.28.12 @ 6:39 am

Reed, good stuff, well done.

It’s a weak schedule this year and Pitt could pull off 8 or 9 wins. Remember that Reed isn’t seeing the Fall team with Schell, Graham, Voytik, others missing. Pitt could also win the BE which may be weaker than usual too.

But for me, the real issue is the quality of coaching, and whether Chryst can create a disciplined team and can adjust his game strategy as necessary. Next year will be a truer test, when Pitt moves to the ACC. And hopefully, the recruiting will bring in quality kids.

Comment by velvil 03.28.12 @ 7:26 am

vevil & gc – you guys are entirely correct, it is still very early in the process and it is evident that Chryst was serious when he said that there will be competition at all positions.

Myers is getting a great shot at the starting job, I’m just not seeing him grabbing it outright with his current play. Again, he isn’t stinking up the joint or anything – not at all. He’s been pretty inconsistent in his passing and not hitting all the passes a QB is expected to so that has limited him in terms of taking over the majority on 1st string snaps. But that is to be expected also when you have a returning two year starter opposite you.

I will say that I watched Myers a few times under Graham last spring and what I saw yesterday was a ton different than back then. He’s lost weight and looks much more engaged in the offense and his role on the team. Funny how true competition does that isn’t it?

I have to be honest about my thoughts on Dan Mason. I have never looked at his as being the superstar LB that many PITT fans do so I’m not sure what his ‘norm’ is when it comes to playing MLB. I am amazed that he’s even out there and playing as well as he is, which is a lot better than ‘on one leg’ – I didn’t mean to sound as though he’s dragging his leg around like Quasimodo.

He’s a good and smart kid who knows the position better after sitting out the last two years. He didn’t sit on his thumb and pout but used that time to really learn how to play the position. I though he had good

He’ll get better as he plays in more drills and practices also. It must feel very different for him as compared to the way he played before his injury. But there are six months before football actually starts.

Here is another thing and maybe it is just me. I find it hard as hell to see what is happening in the line play when I’m at field level and I’m a tall guy. To me it looks like a rugby scrum, where instead of the ball popping out it is a RB, with the exception of the TE and DE closest to me. It would be great if the practice fields had a small set of bleachers to watch from.

Funny story, I’ve been pretty critical (and complimentary also) of Tino Sunseri over the past two years. During a 7 on 7 drill he was flushed and had to get rid of the ball. He spun around, looked at me and launched a bullet right at my head like he knew who I was. No kidding, it was the most accurate pass I have ever seen him throw. Well, not really, he’s pretty accurate in the short game but that ball was coming fast and had a perfect spiral. Luckily I used my cat-like reflexes to move and almost make the first catch of my college career.

Comment by Reed 03.28.12 @ 7:52 am

I think Mason showed the flashes of excellence that had a lot of us intrigued, but he often balanced those moments with assignment breakdowns and typical mistakes a true freshman (and then sophomore) would make. I always felt with another half-to-full season of experience, he would have been tremendous. Unfortunately, I think the best anyone should realistically hope for now is him being a “rotation” guy, partial contributor.

Comment by JW 03.28.12 @ 7:56 am

JW – he’ll almost surely be the starter this fall. How well he does at game speed is a question mark for me but others who watch every practice are pretty excited about him being out there.

It is just strange to me that anyone can move like he does with one foot basically immobilized.

Comment by Reed 03.28.12 @ 8:00 am

@REED, wow, really enjoyed both articles. Lots of great info, thanks for your time, really.

Hey, you said, “if you can get up next week”, where you coming from?? No, I’m not buying you a beer, just curious!!!

P.S. “I’d buy you many beers any time”!!!

Comment by Dan 03.28.12 @ 8:38 am

Reed, he saw your Pitt Blather press badge, and decided you needed to take one for the entire ABT team….

Comment by velvil 03.28.12 @ 8:44 am

Thanks for the updates Reed. It is good to hear the coaches are concentrating on coaching the basics as well as installing their system. Mason’s pass coverage ability may be a weakness that spread teams may exploit. The Cincinnati game will be a good indicator on this issue.

Comment by John In South Carolina 03.28.12 @ 10:05 am

Reed, great coverage – thank you.

So Myers throws the deep ball well, not the short ball. Ok, if the receivers go deep, the defense can’t keep 8 or 9 in the box. Really opens up the running game. Works for me.

Comment by 66Goat 03.28.12 @ 10:16 am

Thanks for the coverage, Reed.

I am rooting for Mason just like everyone else. He seems to be a remarkable person and a true leader. At this point of Spring Ball is he performing better, despite his injury, than Price, Grigsby & Smith? Is that why he is with the 1st team? Or is it to get him back into the flow of the game as quickly as possible?

Comment by JAM 05 Pitt 03.28.12 @ 11:00 am

Dan – I drive up from Columbia, MD and 4.5 hour drive. Usually I spend the night at my buddy’s house but if you guys chip in to get me a suite at the Omni William Penn, an open bar ticket and a 22 year old MBA girl… I’ll drive up way more often, promise!

Mason is outplaying those you mentioned JAM which is disappointing to me that Price etc haven’t made more of a push. Still early days though and a LB lineup of Thomas, Mason and Gordon could be awesome this season.

Remember guys that most of what I wrote is my impressions and observations – but I tried to include things stated by guys who attend every practice also.

Comment by Reed 03.28.12 @ 11:44 am

I love these reads, good stuff

Comment by Timmeh 03.28.12 @ 12:21 pm

Cool that Murphy is back in the mix and didn’t leave/get booted — I think he was a big time recruit. Sounds like are D-line and DBs could be pretty tough, which is exciting, but am concerned about the backers…Thomas didn’t wow me too much last year, but then none of them really did. Maybe they’re putting Price behind one-legged Mason just to piss him off and make him play harder?

Comment by Matt N. 03.28.12 @ 1:09 pm

Matt – I think Thomas was playing dinged up almost all year. When he gets his head completely around the LB position and can let his athleticism take over I think he’ll be very good.

I know that DW and staff were salivating over Murphy during the 2010 pre-season as he was just eating up blockers on his way to the ball. He looked very good yesterday also.

Comment by Reed 03.28.12 @ 3:06 pm

Outstanding — we could have a nasty defense this year…very pleased to hear about our DB depth.

Comment by Matt N. 03.28.12 @ 5:02 pm

Matt – another possible DB if needed is Brandon Ifill. Graham had him at DB last year and he played in all 13 games. He requested a position change to WR where he is doing well, but has stated in interviews that he’d be willing to go back to DB if needed.

I like him at WR though because everyone at that position needs pushing.

I also like the fact that Chryst allowed anyone who wanted to switch positions to go into Spring camp where they want to be.

Comment by Reed 03.28.12 @ 7:17 pm

Ray Vinopal sounds like a quarter back’s name. They should try him out there, too. Yeah. Or have they already? haha

Comment by Digdug 03.28.12 @ 9:26 pm

Digdug – five different QBs have taken snaps this Spring so far. I don’t see another one on the horizon unless Ronald Jones gets a turn at the Wildcat.

Speaking of which, up to this point in Spring ball the Wildcat has been non-existent. I don’t know if that means it won’t happen, I thought that running Banks as QB would set that up nicely, or that they will wait until training camp to institute it in private.

Banks is turning out to be a Dickerson-type situation. The staff apparently likes his talent and are casting around trying to find a spot for him to get onto the field but nothing firm has happened so far. He was working out at RB last practice and showed quickness but that position is loaded.

Comment by Reed 03.29.12 @ 6:14 am

It is never a good thing to assess the weakest position on the team as QB. I’m not a Tino hater but he is the key to the team’s success or failure unfortunately. And up to this point in his career he has never risen to the occasion to bring home a win from behind.

I would love to see this coaching staff be able to manipulate the offensive schemes to the benefit of Sunseri’s strenghts and give us the best chance to win. Of course that remains to be seen since this whole process is a work in progress for both the players and the coaching staff.

Well, This will be Sunseri’s “swan song” so hopefully he will blossum into the QB that we need him to be to bring this offense up to it’s potential. I personally just don’t see it happening though, I sincerely hope that I’m wrong however. Come on Tino, prove me wrong,,,,please.

Comment by Dr. Tom 03.29.12 @ 9:11 am

OL & Defense key to next season. Gut feeling Tino will have a solid season. Hail to PITT

Comment by DC33 03.29.12 @ 11:09 am

Let’s combine Tino and Myers. Human centipede third sequence anyone?

Comment by Timmeh 03.29.12 @ 12:10 pm

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