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.