PITT’s first training camp practice, three hours with no pads, commences at 2:45 this afternoon so hopefully we’ll get some actual PITT football news to talk about on here beginning this evening. This will be an interesting training camp and an interesting season given that we have, again, a new Head Coach and a new offensive style of play.
Chas wrote a nice piece this morning about Paul Chryst’s peer’s opinions of who is is and what his strong points are. Obviously we have a completely different type of HC this season than we did last season and I think we PITT fans can all agree that we’re ready for something different than we had in 2011. We’ll begin to see that difference in earnest starting today.
So – here are some off the top of the head questions about what we may see in training camp this August…
1. What will be the overall tenor of the practices and of the post-practice interviews? We already know that Paul Chryst is pretty much going to stick to talking about things he’s already talked about as far as this year’s team’s prospects for a winning season so that won’t change.
But how will he sound when talking about individual players, especially the injured ones, and the incoming freshman who may get playing time? In the spring the big difference I noted in practices between this staff and last year’s was that Chryst’s staff was much more quiet and in the teaching mode whereas Graham’s staff were screamers and cheerleaders. I think we need the former way more than we need the latter. If he starts showing some emotion when discussing the players themselves I think that bodes well for his projection of how the team can play this season.
2. Speaking of incoming freshman we’ll keep an eye on two in particular – Chad Voytik and Rushel Shell. Both are highly touted high school players who are coming onto a team which has glaringly open spots for their position. With the recent transfer of Mark Myers OC Joe Rudolph and QB Coach Brooks Bollinger are left with rsSR Tino Sunseri and SO Trey Anderson at the QB position. Not good for a variety of reasons the most notable being that neither of these QBs have shown they can play above the mediocre level.
Paul Chryst has to get some depth here and has few options. The fan’s favorite course would be to not redshirt Chad Voytik and get him ready to step in this season if needed either through poor play by the starter or by injuries. That’s a tough decision for Chryst as Voytik didn’t attend the spring practice sessions which would have at least given the staff a chance to see what he’s about. With Savage being eligible next year it could be possible to redshirt Voytik then but that is for the future – we need something done now.
The other option is to bring Gonzalez back into the QB fold which is a big step backward in my opinion as his skill set isn’t good enough to play D1 QB.
3. What is the linebacker depth and Dan Mason’s status? Everyone and his brother are pulling for rsJR Dan Mason to be able to get out on the field and contribute at that middle linebacker position. He was able to suit up for the first time in two year back in April and was out playing football again. That is the good news. The not so good news is that if PITT fans expect to see the old lightning quick Dan Mason they will be disappointed. His supporters, and they are many, have a rather romantic view of what this year could be like for Mason as far as contributing to the defense.
Sorry but I’ll be the voice of skepticism here and say that it is a long shot at best that he starts and plays MLB for any length or time this year. he just doesn’t have the mobility he did in being forced to wear that drop-foot brace. In his stead I think we’ll see either rsJR Shane Gordon or rsFR Nick Grigsby take over that spot. SO Ejuan Price is a candidate there I suppose but he showed flashes of being a very good pass rusher so I think he’ll stay outside.
4. Who will win the DE and Safety starting jobs? I think it is safe to say the Brian Murphy will be the starter at one DE position. He looked good in the spring and his reputation as an aggressive strong player is well known. He could be the next defensive star for PITT in my opinion. But there isn’t a starter set at the other DE spot. We’ll see three players competing for that one in T. J. Clemmings, Shane Hale and LaQuentin Smith. What everyone is hoping for is that Clemmings lives up to his recruiting hype as NJ’s #1 HS player and grabs that starting role but he hasn’t shown that he can do that so far. Hale is in much the same boat as he’s never lived up to his projections either.
That leaves us with the talented but relatively unknown LaQuentin Smith who has added 55 pounds of muscle since he was recruited back in 2010. That’s awesome in itself and is the reason he was moved from LB to DE in the spring. This kid is young and has talent and DC Dave Huxtable may just want to get him the experience he needs right off the bat.
At safety we’ll have returning starter rsSR Jared Holley and a battle for the other starting position. rsJR Jason Hendricks had some starts last season but didn’t play consistently enough to be the automatic starter so we’ll see rsSR Andrew Taglianetti and transfer rsSO Ray Vinopal getting 1st team work there also. Depending on how aggressive Huxtable wants his defense to be will determine who the starter is. If he wants hard hitting and aggressive play it may be hard to keep Vinopal off the field.
5. How well has Ray Graham rehabbed his knee and how well can he play? Everyone points to Tino Sunseri as being the critical component of our 2012 offense and his play will certainly effect our production. However a great case can be made that if JR Ray Graham can’t return to form this year it would be as crippling as anything could be. His 5.8 ypc average will be very hard to make up if he’s sidelined. SO Isaac Bennett tore up spring practices with his speed and surprisingly good open field moves and he could be a top notch runner in his own right. The fact is though that he hasn’t had that same success on the field of play in actual competition.
Behind him we have rsFR Malcolm Crockett and everyone’s favorite HS superstar FR Rushel Shell. Malcolm Crockett was highly thought of by the Todd Graham camp and was specifically redshirted for the future – back when Graham actually believed he had a future at PITT that is. They were singing his praises. However, the bald truth is that neither Crockett nor Shell have taken a snap in a college game and thus are complete blank slates. Our RB position can be one of two extremes – either be a real strength for us if there are no injury problems or be a real concern if Graham can’t go and Bennett doesn’t live up to preseason expectations.
Obviously there are a ton of other question marks for this year’s training camp… who is going to step up on the OL; who will provide DL depth; who will be the starting WRs; which other true freshman will work their way onto the two-deep, etc… You can list your questions in your comments and we’ll try to address them as the three weeks until the Buffalo game unfold.
Note: I am trying to get up to a few practices and the Aug 25th scrimmage if possible. Still enmeshed in the pre-Sept 14th Daughter’s Wedding work-list though and taking the time for that much travel may be sketchy.