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August 14, 2012

Finding Enough for the Two-Deep

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 11:42 am

When I end up taking several days away, the hardest thing is figuring out where to begin on all that was missed. Let’s start with trying to fill out a depth chart

Man, Tom Ricketts going down for the year on the first day of practices with a shoulder injury is a blow. I have no idea how good he really is. But he’s an offensive lineman, and Pitt cannot afford to be even thinner at the position. The O-line has been the eternal concern for Pitt every year to start camp. This year is no different. The lack of depth over the years has manifested in another way.

A big problem is that the backup offensive linemen have played almost no snaps from scrimmage. When right tackle Matt Rotheram hurt his leg Thursday, he was replaced by Zenel Demhasaj, a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year at Pitt. When guard Chris Jacobson took plays off to rest his knee, redshirt sophomores Shane Johnson and Arthur Doakes worked with the first team. “It’s time for them to step up,” Hueber said.

These are all kids who at best were on the second-team in practices now being needed to go up against the first team defense. The only positive is that the D-line looks strong, so they are getting good tests right away.

The depth issue on the O-line also plagues the D-line. At least as far as being able to rotate the players enough.

A week into training camp, Pitt’s lack of depth on the defensive line is a difficult issue that Huxtable must address on a daily basis.

“Do you see these eyes right here, drooping?” he said. “Yeah, it’s keeping me (awake) a little bit.”

Huxtable and line coach Inoke Breckterfield must find at least eight capable players — starters and backups — to man the line, an area of even greater importance this season with the Panthers switching from a 3-4 to 4-3 alignment.

“Depth is a concern,” Huxtable said. “That’s why we might have to ask a couple guys to learn a couple different positions.”

Huxtable likes the effort from his players, but he said, “What discourages me is we are not practicing smarter, with our assignments, starting with our alignments before the ball is snapped. And then after the ball is snapped, being where we’re supposed to be. We are too inconsistent with that right now.”

LaQuentin Smith is out with an injury, so that hurts the depth. Tyrone Ezell finally seems to have a home at DE, and is thriving.

But as defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield explains, it isn’t just that Ezell can help a position of need, it is that he is one of the team’s best defensive linemen.

“It is working good. He is embracing it, he is a smart football player,” Breckterfield said of moving Ezell to defensive end.

“No matter where you put him, he will do a great job for us. It is a little different for him to switch positions, but this only his fourth day at it and so he is a work in progress.

“He has a big body at the defensive end and he can set that edge and take on those tight ends. We are just trying to get our best four on the field … together.”

T.J. Clemmings is getting praise from the coaches for the way he’s come in to the camp. That is encouraging. At the same time, part of me wonders if some of that is a bit of smoke, to keep encouraging Clemmings who has all the talent but has been questioned for his desire. If it works, I won’t complain.

Jake Lippert — another player who has seemingly bounced around the lines looking for a home — is taking advantage of K.K. Smith’s injury (and trying to bring down his weight) to try and earn a starting spot at nose tackle. As has been oft-stated, it is now or never for Shayne Hale to come close to living up to his billing and potential.





Chas,

I’m on the record as saying that the Defense is going to be Pitt’s major strength in 2012.

Huxtable knows a good thing when he sees and the players he has, while raw in some cases… are looking more and more like a very good thing.

The rest of the strengths in descending order go 2) Running Game 3) Kicking Game (Harper) 4) Passing Game

Seems pretty obvious. How do you see it?

Comment by PittofDreams 08.14.12 @ 11:57 am

PittofDreams – but I fully concur with your point on the D.

I’m thinking the D will be counted on to win games for us and that the O will have to build up leads in the 1st half to make that possible. Tino will have to connect on passes early in games and we will have to avoid 3rd and longs. I will be surprised if we have any 4th qtr come from behind victories. We will need halftime leads.

Comment by JLawrence 08.14.12 @ 1:21 pm

Not that anyone cares any more but looks like the BE has a new commish:

link to sportsillustrated.cnn.com

The Big East has hired CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco to be commissioner of a conference now in rebuilding mode.

Aresco has been a vice president in charge of programming for CBS since 1996. He’s handled the network’s contract negotiations with the NCAA for the rights to the men’s basketball tournament. He also negotiated CBS’s 15-year deal with the Southeastern Conference.

He has no previous experience working for a conference or university.

Comment by Coach Ditka 08.14.12 @ 2:12 pm

ive been saying that the defense will be exceptional. btw, it appears that freshman terrell jackson and darryl render are physically ready, theyre just not technically sound yet. as the season goes on, dont be surprised to see them get some minutes. if the d line stays healthy, theyll be very good this year and in the future as shayne hale is the only senior in this group. this group is going to just physically dominate most of the o lines they face this year. the line will also get help from the linebackers in rushing the passer. the secondary is going to lock recievers down and that will allow coach huxtable to dial up some linebacker blitzes. the thing i like about all of pitts linebackers is thier size on the outside (thomas and williams are both 6’3″ 225, nick grigsby is 6’1″ 230, devon porchia is 6’2″ 225) and their speed which allows them to both cover recievers and come up and lower the boom on running backs. this is a very dynamic group that can do different things

Comment by pk 08.14.12 @ 2:12 pm

Yes – We finally have some athletes to make plays from the linebacker position. It’s been a long time coming, but will make for some very exciting defense this year.

Comment by rayhpgh 08.14.12 @ 3:20 pm

The one thing that bothers me about hiring a CBS exec vp is that this is college sports, that needs someone who understand the need for academic and athletic balance.

Someone who has had no experience in the academic athletic atmosphere has NO qualification to lead a conference.

Comment by Benzene 08.14.12 @ 3:30 pm

But the BIG question about Aresco is . . . . Did you gradute from Providence???If so, then he is the perfect choice for BE Commish!

Comment by DobieGillis 08.14.12 @ 3:37 pm

Tufts grad. Got his JD from UConn. So he is perfect for a new Big East era. Wishing the BE the very best in all sincerity.

Comment by TX Panther 08.14.12 @ 3:46 pm

Great offenses sell football tickets, great defenses win football games. We can only hope!

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.14.12 @ 5:07 pm

Great hire by the BE for Commish. The job has changed. The most important thing any Commish will do is their TV deal. I would love to see the BE get 13 to 15M per team when they get their new TV deal. I would live to see the BE thrive. Go Navy, beat Army!

Comment by HbgFrank 08.14.12 @ 6:20 pm

Penn State received a warning from the Middle States Commissioner on Higher Education with respect to its accreditation. Although I think psu will get its act together by 9/30 (date of next review), you just never know.

Back to the latest point, the BE will survive.The networks need them for content and of course, the tv sets in the northeast. Do not think that New York City would allow the BE to fold. Too much cash. Basketball will remain its focus however.

Comment by dhuffdaddy 08.14.12 @ 6:50 pm

pk and PittofDreams – Love your enthusiasm. But honestly, how hard was it for you to put the words “Tino” and “connect on passes” in the same sentence. Hasn’t happened consistently when it counts yet, and probably never will. Ugh.
We’re in Pittsburgh, we love our D, so maybe this team will be made to order for us ‘burghers. Huxtable has a big job on his hands trying to get his defensive charges to put this team on its back and carry it through the season.
The only hope I have is that the OL stops getting injured, plays up to its potential, and the RBs carry the ball 40-50 times a game and Tino only drops back to run draw plays or pitch 5 yarders to Hubie and Holtz. He may be able to “connect on those passes”. . . 50% of the time.

Comment by Taxing Matters 08.14.12 @ 7:13 pm

Off Topic:
Has anyone received their season tickets/parking pass in the mail yet? I know some people picked them up form the office, just curious if anyone’s tickets arrived. (Supposedly mailed out on Thursday of last week.)

Comment by ClarkLotTgate 08.14.12 @ 7:25 pm

The Trib just reported that James Conner a defensive end from Erie McDoeel just committed to Pitt. He’s a senior and according the report is arated a 3 star player and has very good speed off the corner.

Comment by Justinian 08.14.12 @ 7:45 pm

Forgive the typo, That’s Erie McDowell.

Comment by Justinian 08.14.12 @ 7:47 pm

Clarklottgate:
Tickets arrived. Parking pass also.
Big improvement by Panera. Last year, the two for the price of one “pick two” promo had expiration dates shortly after the game. This year, they all last till 12/31.
Good news for my son and me. A big treat after swimming practice is for us to eat at Panera courtesy of Pitt.
Also use these in Oakland for early season hoops.
As for “our” team, the reality us that depth on any mid level squad like ours is the key. Stay healthy or have new guys step up, then expect a good year. Injuries occur and if they are in areas of weakness…QB, OLINE…then big problems happen.
My biggest concern remains QB. Concussions in football and the requisite follow up care are real concerns. I won’t predict anyone’s performance at that position but hope that injuries are kept to diaper rash stuff.

Comment by SFPitt 08.14.12 @ 8:33 pm

Got my tix yesterday too.

Comment by Panther Pride 08.14.12 @ 9:20 pm

Glad to hear the DL is coming along, I’m more concerned about the LB’s obviously. Since only Todd Thomas has played alot out of the expected starters and backups sans Ejuan, who Chas suggests a medical redshirt is not out of the question.

Wish we didn’t have to play Cincy so soon, two cupcakes for the first two games, would behoove the LB’s more time for cohesive play. If one remembers last year’s Defense was very strong in two very key games, both at home. Those being ND & Utah, the defense played well enough in those games to win, of course we know the offense was bad against ND and downright pathetic against Utah. Had we won those two game, which were certainly winnable, the whole season changes.

On offense, Sir Tino need ONLY keep the opposing defense HONEST. He could not do this the majority of last season. You can’t keep an opposing offense honest by completing 5-10 yd passes, which he did at a high percentage clip(probably like 80%). Don’t know the stats, but his % for over 15 yd passes must have been more in the 30-40% range or less, which equates to his overall high percentage of 65%. The lack of TD passes or many passes completed over 20 yds compressed the opposing defenses, which made it tougher to run the ball as the season progressed and of course we lost the sheer brilliance of Ray Graham.

As is also shown in the team rushing totals receding as the season progressed and was almost not any factor at all in the dreadful bowl game.

Chryst is going to have to find a way to stretch the field to some extent for the running game to work well. As there is no trickery in this offense and all our opponents are well aware of Sunseri’s limitations by now. And there really isn’t anyone on the bench now either to warrant any DC losing sleep over thinking of ways to stop Pitt’s O. Last year it was stack the box and make Sunseri beat you. I would imagine it will be even more of the same this year. And we won’t have the dynamics of Ray Graham running for 200 yards a game and catching passes out of the backfield, if Reed’s reports are accurate. That he won’t be up to full speed for quite awhile if ever. (I really hope Ray is a quick healer, because Bennett is nowhere close to him for shear talent)(not a shot at Bennett because Graham is a phenomenal talent)

With a QB that doesn’t throw many TD passes and a team geared to the run, we’re going to need a big year from Senior PK Kevin Harper. As I don’t see us putting up huge point totals on the board, but I do see the Defense keeping us in games. Perhaps we have some players on D now that can make some huge game changing plays. I sure hope so !

Veritas et Virtus
HTP !

Comment by Emel 08.14.12 @ 11:05 pm

The advantage to running against 8-9 guys in the box is that if you get past them you are pretty much going to bust off a long run. The challenge of course, is getting them all blocked. I’m cautiously optimistic. Even if Tino “only” does what he did his sophomore year I’d think we should be able to win 7-8 games, but the tight ends will surprise us, so who knows…

Agree that the D will be good.

Comment by Atlanta Panther 08.15.12 @ 12:28 am

Reed and others keep saying Tino still has the same problems he’s had his whole career — namely, he’s a below average QB — but yet he’s way ahead of Anderson and the others. If anyone is way behind Tino, do they truly deserve a roster spot on a D1 program trying to assert itself beyond mediocrity? If they are truly “way behind Tino”, they should turn in their uniforms and apologize to their teammates for wasting their time, and Pitt should fling open walk-on status for any and all potential QBs on campus now.

His stunning lack of QB talent is by far Wannstedt’s most painful legacy to Pitt — including kids throwing people thru plate glass windows and beating up their girlfriends. Harris had third team QBs better than our first teamers (in their turns, Turman, Priestly, Rutherford, Palko, Getsy, etc.) Wow.

Comment by Matt N. 08.15.12 @ 12:47 am

Ray Graham had 956 yards and 5.8 ypc in the first half of the season when Sunseri was QB in 2011.

Dion Lewis, while battling injury all year, had 1061 yards and 4.8 ypc; Graham had 922 yards and 6.2 ypc in 2010 with Sunseri as QB. That’s a total of 1983 yards and 5.4 ypc combined.

Keep in mind that McCoy had a 4.8 yards per carry over his PITT career with a different QB.

I keep reading PITT fans saying that Sunseri’s poor passing cripples our running game when that just isn’t the case.

Comment by Reed 08.15.12 @ 5:58 am

Well, there is a definite differing opinion than mine on Chad Voytik’s progress. After the four practices since Saturday Voytik is getting more 2nd string reps than he did during the scrimmage.

He tossed three INTs yesterday but apparently seemed ‘more comfortable’ out there. Again, if that’s the progress he makes in two weeks I really wish he could have been here in the spring.

This would be good news if I missed the mark on him being able to competently back-up Sunseri this season. I’m not sure I did but we need the best talent out the taking practice reps between games so if that is Voytik than that’s good. He has 13 more practices to try to grab that 2nd QB spot.

I can’t see him taking over from Sunseri this season though, of that I’m more sure. But I sure like the idea of a QB on deck that can play well, whether it’s Anderson or Voytik. Right now I’m praying for a healthy Sunseri all year.

Comment by Reed 08.15.12 @ 8:33 am

I forgot to add that Anderson was injured yesterday and that accounted in part, on Voytik’s getting more reps..

From the Red-Shirt Diaries:

“We want to keep getting him work, and he’s done a good job of being able to make sense of the playbook,” Paul Chryst said. “Trey (Anderson) is a little bit dinged up.”

Voytik looked OK at times, and definitely like a freshman at others. He mostly looks good during 7-on-7 drills, but tends to struggle a bit when faced with live pressure, which can be expected of a freshman.”

This is the time to get Voytik that work IMO because he’s also an Anderson injury away from being the #2 QB. If you remember Anderson has had chronic problems with his right wrist and that has to be a bit of a concern to the staff also.

The bottom line is, regardless of my or anyone’s opinion, no one really knows how well a player can produce until he’s actually playing in a game at the college level. True FR have waltzed in before and done well, others have faltered.

The ideal situation would be to NOT have Voytik play this year and get that redshirt, get comfortable with the playbook, being under center (he was in the shotgun all HS) and running the scout team for a year – then be ready to get in the mix next season.

Comment by Reed 08.15.12 @ 8:46 am

FYI Reed.

Chryst said part of the reason for Voytik getting work was that Anderson was dinged up.

It’s obvious that Voytik is athletic.

But apparently that’s not helping when it comes to dealing with the rush according to PG Beatwriter Sam Werner.

“He (Voytik) mostly looks good during 7-on-7 drills, but tends to struggle a bit when faced with live pressure, which can be expected of a freshman.”

Trouble is, this was also the major weakness Voytik showed in the ESPN game. In that game his team got blanked and he went 11 for 21 and 73 yards and just 24 yards rushing before being replaced.

It’s puzzling because being the athlete he is you would think at the high school level he would show the ability even in a bad game to either step up into the rush or scramble away from it in order to buy himself time to throw. It never happened.

Dealing with the rush tends to be instictive for a quarterback. But, maybe in Voytik’s case he can learn to do that.

He certainly has the best teachr he could have to learn it from in Paul Chryst.

By the way, for anyone looking for some reinforcement as to how great of a hire Chryst was for Pitt… check out the Kirk Kirkstreit interview on WTAE.

Explains in a nutshell why some key boosters were willing to step up and pressure Pederson into going with Chryst over Cristobal who reportedly was Pederson’s personal choice for head coach.

Comment by PittofDreams 08.15.12 @ 9:07 am

Sorry Reed.

Posted before seeing your update.

Comment by PittofDreams 08.15.12 @ 9:09 am

pittofdreams can you provide the link to the interview? Looks like this year is looking more and more like a year of transistion. The QB situation won’t get better until next year.

Comment by markp 08.15.12 @ 9:24 am

Ok Panther Fans who is / was the better QB? John Ryan or Tino?

Comment by Medium Panther 08.15.12 @ 9:27 am

Yeah, got my tickets and was impressed by the difference from last year’s style, remember? Only guy on the marque last year, Todd Graham. Only pictures on the tickets this year, PLAYERS!
Sums up the coach’s style pretty much right there.

@ Emel, I know that you have no ill will towards Bennett but I think you are discounting his potential. If you examine Bennett’s numbers as a true freshman, they are pretty impressive, especially when you consider the patched together O line that he was running behind by that time in the season. Then throw into the mix that Pitt’s offense was pretty predictable by season’s end as well, so Bennett found himself playing against defenses that were geared to stop the run. In light of those circumstances his production was fantastic for a true freshman.

He looks the part of the workhorse 1st string RB so far to me during this fall camp and I wouldn’t be surprised if Graham finds in the future that he continues to split time with Bennett for the entire season even after he assures Coach that he is 100% back. That is PC’s MO concerning the running game anyhow. You watch, Sir Isaac could surprise alot of people with his game, just like Graham, Lewis and McCoy all did before him. Just sayin, give the guy some luv, he is “the guy” for now, and may be long into Pitt’s future too.

One other thing that I never really get, when people diss on Tino regarding his lack of a long ball skill, is that it permits the defense to put up to nine in the box to stop the run. That just isn’t true if the Offensive Coordinator reacts effectively to this kind of defensive scheme. You can pick apart a defense like this with a variety of SHORT patterns run by backs coming out of the backfield, typical TE routes and/or crossing patterns and short outs run by the wide receivers and flankers. It is all about matchups AND being very accurate on these timing patterns both by the QB and the receiver. Tino IS capable of accomplishing that aspect of the game if everybody gets on the same page with disciplined play. That includes the O line and backs who have to pick up the extra guys rushing long enough to allow the mismatch in the secondary to become exposed and exploited.

Last year this type of dinking on timing patterns is what won the game for Iowa in the last quarteragainst Pitt. And Pitt wasn’t even stacking the box against the run at that point, they were just flat out getting picked apart by well executed timing patterns that the defense was simply a step behind. That was the difference in the final minutes. They could do it and we couldn’t.

This season could be different if Tino gets some confidence in that part of his game and the O line stays healthy and provides adequate protection so Tino doesn’t start doing the “Oh $hit Shuffle” that is so common for him when he feels pressure. We’ll see how Coach Chryst can coach them up. But this is one sure way as Coach says, “to play to your player’s strengths”.

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.15.12 @ 10:07 am

Reed,

Good stat reference but I think it needs some ‘splainin’. Regarding Graham, he is just a phenemonal back — have you ever seen a guy make more people miss to gain 4-5 yards than he did last year (only guy since Barry Sanders that I can think of)? My frequent thought was, imagine how many yards this guy would have if he didn’t have six guys waiting for him in the running lane each time…Lewis’ more humble ypc (which isn’t all that great for college — even though I thought he was a strong back) is more indicative of the defensive pressure he too faced…Graham was just that good.

Regarding Shady, he suffered not so much from a Tino type issue but from Wanny’s absurdly predictable and conservative game calling, which basically had the same effect as a QB with only short pass ability — Bostick was pretty close to Tino in effect, and though Stull had a better long and medium pass game than Tino, suffered from Wanny’s play calling.

Sad to hear you say ‘you never know what a QB will do until he gets in the game’ and then think about all the negative comments we heard about Myers and he only got 2-3 snaps in his entire Pitt career. One wonders.

Comment by Matt N. 08.15.12 @ 11:15 am

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