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.