I attended PITT’s first training camp scrimmage today and, while no one told me it would be actually chilly in PGH this morning, I came away with a lot of things to discuss and to share my sometimes strong opinions of what I saw. Here are some of my first, quick observations:
- I walked over to the practice field behind Chris Jacobson and Matt Rotheram. “Lumpy” Jacobson is listed this year at 6’2” and 295. Rotheram literally made him look small by comparison. He’s 6’6” and 330 and looks every bit of it. I made it a point to watch Rotheram carefully at his Right Tackle position and he moves very well for a mid-sized mountain range.
- Rushel Shell is surprising huge for a RB. Not overly tall and listed at 6’0” & 215 (more like 225 I think) he’s built like a fullback and he carries a lot of weight below the waist so his legs are like tree trunks. I was thinking I’d see a stereo-typical RB out there and I saw a tank. On the other hand Ray Graham, who lists at 5’10 and 190 lbs isn’t anywhere near that weight in my opinion. He is skin and lean muscle , bones and a hip goatee but don’t be fooled – he’s a small RB. I wonder if the NFL has any RBs built as slightly as he is especially in the legs.
- I stood next to Dorian Johnson for part of the scrimmage. He’s a tall guy but nowhere near the bulk size of the existing PITT lineman. He did stay for the whole three hour scrimmage and seemed to be having a good time talking with people. At one point I ended up standing next to him and after a play where a DE knocked down a pass I said “We’ll there’s an open offensive line spot for next season“.
As to the offensive play on the field I felt the kids played well and were engaged in what they were asked to do. It was a busy day with getting 183 plays done, in part thanks to the cool football weather, and there was no down time from 9:15 until 12:00 but I didn’t see any confusion out there. The 1st and 2nd string kids got a lot of action while the 3rd team played sparingly today but did get a few series under their belts.
Everyone wants to know which side ‘won’ the scrimmage and usually, at this point in training camp, the defense is ahead of the offense. It appeared that would be the case after the first few series. However, the offense more than held their own this morning IMO.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Tino Sunseri was accurate on his passes in hitting his receivers on both short and deep throws. Now, he’s been good in practice before so take it with a grain of salt. I’ll say this though, he and the rest of the offense looked very comfortable out there running a normal huddle-up offense without the confusing bells and whistles we saw last season. It is going to be a much better paced and more level offense fielded by PITT this season.
The passing game, from both the starter Sunseri and QB2 Trey Anderson was effective and went to a lot of different receivers. Chad Voytik got very little time out there today. I’ll say this about Voytik and sit back and wait for the arguments.
Anderson is the 2nd string QB because, at this point, he’s a better QB than Chad Voytik. He isn’t out there because “the staff is thinking about redshirting Voytik” or because Voytik is a true freshman just learning the playbook. From what I saw today and from discussions with some people who have watched every practice, Anderson just has better physical talent and knowledge than Voytik does at this point. The best thing for Voytik would be a redshirt and not just to learn the offensive system but to get better in his required QB skills. I was a bit surprised at his passing yesterday and remarked on it which is how the above discussions took place. While I understand he’s new to college ball his pure passing skills just aren’t at the level they need to be for him to run an offense, played at the higher level of speed and intensity then he’s experienced in the past, for this 2012 season.
For the PITT fans that are penciling him in as a possible starter this year or are of the mind that we should play Voytik just to get experience for 2013 I’ll say this: Sunseri and Anderson will be taking the QB1 and QB2 reps this year with Voytik running the scout team; Savage will be our starting QB in 2013 and rsSO Voytik will be in honest competition for the starting slot with rsFR Tra’von Chapman and FR Chandler Kincaid for 2014. There is no ‘he’s a lock’ situation for Voytik being a starter at PITT, he’ll have to scramble to win the starting job. I feel that this is a case of the fan’s expectations of a player far outweighing the staff’s… it’s happened before.
On the WR front, Shanahan sat out this scrimmage but today, as in the spring practices, Cam Saddler was a primary target. Saddler can work free and is making hard catches and if he stays healthy I think he’ll be a top receiver for us. At one point late yesterday the offense was sloppy in lining up for the huddle and Saddler yelled “Get the damn huddle right!” He doesn’t hesitate to show leadership out there.
Devin Street was in-synch with Sunseri also and had some nice plays with good yards after the catch. Remember that Street had 28 catches for 409 yards in the final five regular season games last season – he’ll pick up right where he left off.
Keep an eye on Josh Brinson this year also. He got a lot of work in the spring and has been very productive so far in this camp also. He’ll be the sleeper of the WR corps along with Brandon Felder and Ronald Jones I think.
I was really impressed with the Tight End work today. Hubie Graham was his normal reliable self and caught a few balls, Drew Carswell ran in more of an H-Back role today and did well so I’m looking at him as not being a true 6th OL blocking and receiving TE this year.
Who really jumped out was J. P. Holtz. We’ve read media reports about how he’s a ‘man-child’ out there because of his build (6’4” & 245) and such but what he really is is just a damned good TE. He makes catches look effortless with his soft hands and his drive blocking is very effective. On one play he caught the ball about five yards deep, turned down field and put a juke on a LB that was worthy of a much smaller TB. He’s a real football player, much in the same mold as Nate Byham but with hopefully a lot more passes thrown his way, and he’ll probably see the most playing time of all the true freshman on the roster.
Our running game is playing out like this. Chas put up a nice article about Ray Graham coming back from injury the other day and we got 137 comments on that post. It’s obviously a huge issue for PITT’s offense and for us fans this season.
I hate to rain on the parade but I advise forgetting about Ray Graham being anywhere near his 2011 self for a long while. He was in for the first few pre-scrimmage practice series and while he went at it hard it was pretty obvious that he’s not going to be physically ready to play at full opponent speed. At least it looked that way to me and others on the sidelines. If he plays regularly it will be at least a few games into the season I think. That isn’t to say he won’t contribute and end up being very productive this year but I think the realistic timetable for that to happen isn’t in line with our wishful thinking.
But not to fear PITT fans. Paul Zeise hit the nail on the head when he said that Isaac Bennett is “the best tailback” we have right now. Brace yourself but that means of ALL the tailbacks. Bennett showed us the ‘wow!’ factor in the spring with his ability to find gaps and break to the outside, but watching him in a full speed scrimmage situation he is even more impressive. He’s strong through the line and then dips a shoulder and goes. On sweeps he doesn’t hesitate and gets the corner before the defense almost every time. Before you know and either way there is a good chance on each play he’s down the sideline for a big gain. I don’t think there was one play yesterday that he didn’t gain positive yardage. It’s going a bit out on a limb to compare Bennett to Ray Graham because Graham has a great track record behind him, but don’t be surprised if Bennett is the next star RB PITT has. Don’t be fooled by his 2011 58 carries for 237 yards with a 4.1 ypc. He’ll be worlds better than that this season.
Malcolm Crockett is working for that 3rd RB slot (or maybe 2nd depending on Graham’s knee) had a nice few runs, one a long TD, today also as is Rushel Shell. I wrote above about Shell’s physical make up and his running style follows that.
He ain’t a scat back by any means and the yards he’ll get will be by physically winning the first battle then getting extra yardage into the secondary. He’s not your ‘shake and bake’ back like Graham is. Shell seems to have an heightened awareness of the developing pressure that all good RBs have and today he made positive yardage on about every carry. He had one run down the sideline where he put his head down went and after the closing LB. He pretty much got the snot knocked out of him but it showed he means business out there. He had an early short field series where he carried the ball on every play and then went in from five yards out. His running style may lean more towards Ironhead Hayward’s then Tony Dorsett’s if you get what I mean.
All this is well and good but none of it happens without the guys in the OL being able to do their job. I felt that if you were to ask which aspect of offense play the OL was best at yesterday I’d say the run game. They were quick off the ball and aggressive and it showed by the number of big runs our backs had. Yesterday they played in the meat and potatoes of a physical offense that PITT had pre-Graham and that the PITT lineman love to play.
As far as pass blocking? I thought they held their own there also but you have to factor in that we may have the quickest defensive front four this season than we’ve had in a long time. Heuber rotated players in and out of the 1st and 2nd teams all morning because, as in any training camp, he’s trying to get the ‘best five’ out there. Honestly, at this point and with so many different combination of OL out there it was hard to gauge how good they will be. The future scrimmages will be much better weather gauges for how the OL is going to pan out.
One last note. This coaching staff is true to its word when Chryst said that he’d run an open football program. Every spring practice was open for the media and guests and all the training camp practices will be also, save a couple for the staff and players to work on special plays. That is 180 degrees different than last year’s training camp where the media and guests weren’t allowed at the practices. It makes this fun as hell actually – the atmosphere yesterday was all around fun and up beat (except when the staff was reaming out players) and didn’t have that feeling like if you said anything you’d be told to keep quiet.
Next post up: Scrimmage 1 – Defense: