Scrimmage #2 is in the books and because PITT won’t have any more formal scrimmages today was the last chance some players had to ‘audition’ under game conditions for a spot on the two deep. It was evident the kids had this in mind because it was a spirited and intense day.
As opposed to the 183 play run through last week in cloudy and cool conditions, the staff had the team run a split session, 129 play workout today. The weather got pretty warm after 10:30 and it was the culmination of a solid week of two-a-day practices so prudence was used to avoid any more injuries.
Play began at around 9:15 and wrapped up at 11:30. It was well attended and actually it looked like there were more people there yesterday than for the Spring Game. That may have been due to it being “Old Cranky It Was Better In My Day Players” day for football alumni. That and a lot of parents brought their kids.
Training camps have a rhythm to them and this week we saw the defense rebound from last week when the offense carried the day. There are a lot of different scrimmage reports that get into the observations and numbers, the new Post Gazette PITT beat writer, Sam Werner, has one out on his Redshirt Diaries Blog. Steve Finn, who covers PITT for the Panthers 24/7 website has a comprehensive report out also. Pat Bostick did a nice video piece on the Alumni Day and especially interesting is what Johnny Majors has to say about the new staff.
The common themes are that the defense won the day with stifling front four run work and our LBs and DBs provided run support as needed. Contrary to most of camp when the offense, particularly Isaac Bennett, has been moving the ball steadily and ripping off long gainers there was just no real offensive consistency out there today.
Rushel Shell was on the sidelines again today. Supposedly he has a back problem but no one is talking. Regardless of the reason, he’s not getting reps which isn’t helping his pre-scrimmage situation as standing behind Graham, Bennett and Crockett in the RB depth chart.
I don’t think the lack of big running plays today is a great area of worry though. It may be just the opposite. I’m not sure the PITT OL and RBs are going to face a defensive front four as quick and aggressive as who we have facing them in practice. Donald, Clemmings, Ezell and Lippert/Mosley-Smith are quality guys. We know what Donald brings out there; he has an excellent chance to grab All-American honors if he keeps on with his progression so far in his career.
Ezell has been a bit of a surprise in camp and had another good day today. He’s being rotated from DT to DE and back. He’s won himself a starting job no doubt. Clemmings is way more aggressive this year than he has been in the past and it’s hard to believe he’s only a rsSO since it seems like he’s been in the conversation for years. Suddenly you’re seeing him in the offensive backfield on passing plays and coming around the backside to drop the ball carrier on a regular basis.
If Clemmings’ regular season play actually matches his athleticism this season it should be a treat to watch.
The most interesting player of this group is rsJR Jack Lippert, our own journeyman lineman. He went from a redshirt year to the DL to Center and now back to the DL and with this camp he’s impressed the staff with his smart play and his non-stop motor enough to land a real job . His might be a case of finding one’s groove after a few years on the roster. As much as our fans want instant success with the PITT players, his path is more the norm of how players progress toward playing time.
Mosley-Smith has been slightly injured and Lippert made the most of his opportunities. Basically it has been a ‘you practice, you play’ situation there as it plays out at other positions during camps. Lippert’s rise gives us an effective five man DL rotation; Mosley-Smith will be in the interior but we are seeing both Ezell and Lippert swapping places from interior to end.
Another strong point for this year’s defense is going to be the safeties. Yesterday we saw a lot of the Taglianetti and Vinopal combo and they were all over the field. Tags went out with a shoulder injury, not serious apparently, from a hit he made while bringing down a running back later in the day. We have four solid Safeties with these two and Holley and Hendricks. There will be a mix and match period before the first game but Vinopal will be hard to keep of the field. However, Tags is the defensive player everyone is talking about with his consistently good play in camp. He may go out with a bang his SR year.
As was said about the running backs, neither QB did anything that makes one sit back and say “Thank God we have him on our team” but they didn’t suck out there either. Trey Anderson sat out of practice again and because he has not been able to practice this week has effectively watched his chances of being QB2 float down the Mon on its way to the Ohio and the magnificent Mississippi River.
Voytik took all of the 2nd string snaps today, fourth day in a row, and played better ball than he did last week – which is exactly what you want for a freshman. Rough stats on him would be 11-20 for 130 and one TD. Not too bad on paper but he missed a lot of open receivers, fluttered a few passes and, not surprisingly for a new guy, showed a tendency to take off and run instead of keeping his head up and eyes down field. He’s got an arm and a head on his shoulders though and that always helps.
That said, I still advise not getting your hopes up that we’ll have a contender for the starting job for 2012. That is Sunseri’s role; he’s cementing that with his play in camp and let’s hope nothing happens out on the field like an injury to change that. Voytik is working hard at his job, knows the playbook, etc… but he’s so obviously a FR and new to this level that you just hope he can get a year of a redshirt to really get acclimated and ready for a full four years. Part of that is also hoping we don’t have to throw a freshman QB into the fire before he’s ready. No better way to tank a season than that.
Sunseri play well yesterday. He still overthrows the receiver at times and is up and down on his consistency but that’s not going to get any better IMO, it is just how he is. He had some real nice longer passes, as he’s been doing this camp, and threw two crisp deeper out passes for completions also. He was 19-30 for 200 and a TD. Just about what he does in a regular game at completing around 65%. He did nothing that would endanger his starting position; indeed he just cemented it more with his play.
When you talk about QBs you also have to talk about the fact that to be successful they have to have WRs who can make plays to throw to. With Shanahan and Street sitting out training camp it makes one wonder just who else is going to be in that WR rotation.
Cam Saddler has been catching everything thrown his way and the play calling has included him at a much higher level than in the past so far this camp. He’s been running crisp routes, has been where he was supposed to be for the QBs and has been getting good yardage after he makes the catch. The staff knows what they have in him so they used yesterday’s scrimmage to get a close look at some other.
So, aside from those three returning players, three other guys made a big move with their play yesterday to be in the discussion. Ronald Jones has really started to pick things up this year and was a star of the scrimmage yesterday with six catches for 74 yards. This kid not only can catch the ball but after he does he turns on the afterburners. He’s like his own Run, Pass and Catch competition out there. His versatility is such, he of the 462.8 QB rating and two more TD passes than Anderson and Myers combined, that it’ll be hard not to have him out there.
We’ve heard the name Josh Brinson a lot this camp also. Brinson is a SR JUCO transfer who played very sparingly last season (one catch) but he played well in the spring practices and is really making his move for PT this year. He has good size at 6’2” and doesn’t lack for speed. Brinson also had six catches for 72 yards and a TD. His TD was on a perfectly placed Sunseri pass to the end zone from 30 yards out, (deep ball! yeah!!), after he beat Christian on the route.
A third name and one that could be a great story as the season unfolds is Chris Wuestner. He is a walk-on WR out of Carlisle, PA where his father is stationed as a full Colonel in the U.S. Army. He was unheralded, a not ranked kid by all the recruiting sites and completely under the radar. He’s good size also at 6’2” and 205 lbs and has Gorilla Glue hands. He catches passes and then runs with the ball. It’s just this; he makes plays.
He and Voytik had a good thing going yesterday as they combined for numerous passes and the play of the day when Wuestner caught a pass on a crossing pattern and outran the DBs for a 30 yard TD. There is a good chance he’ll redshirt due to the experience we have at WR but man, he’s fun to watch. Jerry DiPaola of the Trib-Review wrote a nice background piece on Wuestner yesterday.
On the flip side to that story there is Drew Carswell. I’m not sure what is going on with him but in my opinion if he wasn’t a returning starter his play in camp so far might have him working his way out of playing time. He’s been dropping passes at about a 50% rate out there and it wasn’t any different yesterday. I counted at least two passes that clanged off his hands and a third he should have caught. He ended up with one catch for 10 yards.
If you’ll remember, during the spring practices I was saying that Carswell was doing well enough and was versatile enough that he’d be split out more than used as a traditional TE. I said that because he was doing what he was asked to do and making plays. That “H-Back” position is perfect for him if he can play up to it. Yesterday Sunseri threw a perfect sideline pass to him and… nothing. He’s been listed as ahead of J. P. Holtz on the two-deep so far but that may change as Holtz can also get down the field and catch footballs. I don’t know exactly what is going on with Carswell, maybe the arrival of a future TE star in Holtz or maybe just a bad run of practices. Whichever it is, he’s got to get better and do it quickly out there.
Brandon Felder broke off a long kickoff return also – you can see why he’s the fastest guy on the team. If our deep passes somehow starts to work look for him on fly patterns.
As you can see I spent the bulk of the morning concentrating on watching the passing game in detail. I’m not worried about the run offense as stated above, they will get the job done this year, but we have to complement that with at least a decent passing attack and I think we will.
All in all I’m rather content with what I saw over these two scrimmages. It is hard to compare one year to the next so I won’t do that. I will say that the returning starters seem very comfortable with going back to a more normal offense and the 4-3 defense though. There hasn’t been the wandering around and frustrations I saw pop up at times during last year’s practices. I’m looking forward to some actual football though.
Notes: In practice the other day Chryst stopped the proceedings and went at Tino Sunseri with both barrels. Apparently Sunseri came back with an explanation and Chryst unleashed the verbal dogs of war on him in full view of the world. I wasn’t there but as it was explained to me; “You could hear a pin drop for some time afterward”. Criticism before seasonal play starts as opposed to in the middle of the season – what a concept!
It has been great that every spring practice and every camp practice, save two closed ones to work on super-secret plays, have been open to the media and guests this year. This is a big change from the last HC and thanks to Paul Chryst and E. J. Borghetti for making that happen.
PITT has a second ‘closed Sunday practice’ today and will follow that with six more session over the next four days.