Well, yesterday was the last practice for training camp. It’s FanFest tonight. Then all practices are geared towards getting ready for games.
The big news is that right after reports surfaced that Ray Graham would be “unlikely” for the season opener, it was learned that he actually practiced for a series without the “do not touch” jersey.
He ran one series in the blue jersey, taking four carries. He then put his green, no-contact jersey back on, but said it felt good to take live hits.
“Just really fly around and actually be live, it kind of felt good to see where I was at,” he said. “I put a couple of moves on people. Even getting hit, just to see what was going on, it kind of felt good.”
Graham came to Chryst with the idea of going live, and Chryst was receptive to it. With just over a week to go until Pitt’s opener, Graham remained optimistic that he would be ready to go Sept. 1.
“It’s looking good,” he said. “We’ve got a week and some change before the game, and it’s feeling good. I’ve been taking it one day at a time and, as the days go on, I feel much better and that much more confident.”
Kind of hard to see that as a sign he will play against YSU. It’s another step, but it doesn’t seem like something that should be treated as meaning he is back. It is more like clearing another hurdle.
At best, it suggests that he might see the same kind of action next Saturday. One series might be the extent of Graham’s play versus Youngstown State, late in the game. If for no other reason than to give him a chance to run against an actual opposing team — but not against one that is 1-A — in a low pressure situation.
Ronald Jones has done really well in camp. Finding opportunities and making the most of them.
During this preseason, with senior starters Devin Street and Mike Shanahan slowed by injuries, Jones is fueling a healthy competition for playing time with seniors Cam Saddler and Josh Brinson.
“I love the way that Ronald’s competed and kind of attacked the camp,” coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s a guy who continues to grow. He’s got good football intelligence, and he likes playing the game. I think he’s put himself in a position where we’ve got to be able to count on him.”
Regarding his old position, Jones said, “I pretty much forgot about quarterback (last year) until we did the wildcat.”
There was that, too. During Todd Graham’s abbreviated tenure as coach, Jones occasionally lined up as a wildcat quarterback. Running from there as well as receiver, he had 14 carries for 67 yards, including a 19-yard run. As a passer, he threw just three times. He completed all three attempts — two from the wildcat — for 51 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was pretty amazing,” he said. “But I can’t dwell on that.”
Asked whether he is considering using Jones in the wildcat in his pro-style offense (as opposed to Graham’s spread attack), Chryst uttered a definitive “No.” He did not elaborate.
“You have only so many plays you can practice in a given week,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “You have only so many opportunities to get better at something. I think you stick to what you know.”
Coaches have been known to put a lid on anything strategic, and Rudolph, knowingly or not, did say the wildcat has not been considered “to this point.” Jones has enough to think about, including taking a shot at returning kicks.
Jones was also coached in high school by the dad of Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
Sticking with the receivers who have stepped up while players are injured, one of the good stories coming out of camp has been the performance of walk-on freshman Chris Wuestner.
While that may have been his first touchdown of training camp, Wuestner has made his presence felt over the past week. With Mike Shanahan and Devin Street, the Panthers’ top two receivers, battling injuries, Wuestner has seen extensive work with the first- and second-team offenses.
“For a young guy, he’s in the books, he’s working hard, he’s learning and he’s competitive,” receivers coach Bobby Engram said. “Especially in the one-on-one drills, the blocking drills. He’s fighting hard as all of these guys are, trying to earn some time.”
Wuestner admitted that, if you had told him even a few months ago that he would be playing this big a role in Pitt’s final preseason scrimmage, he wouldn’t have believed it.
Despite being a walk-on, Coach Chryst and the coaching staff went to see him as a group in Carlisle to offer him the opportunity. The odds are that Wuestner won’t see the field by next week, but the kid is okay with it.
Wuestner (pronounced Ween-ster) still may get redshirted and his opportunities might diminish as the season approaches. Shanahan, in fact, is expected to return next week from a hamstring injury.
But Wuestner said redshirting won’t bother him. There is also a chance (no promises) that he will be awarded a scholarship.
“It’s just an extra year to get my education, an extra year to learn and get bigger and stronger.”
I guess the proper way to describe Wuestner now, is “former walk-on.”
Speaking of injuries. Something to scare the hell out of us.
Several players missed practice, including safety Jarred Holley, who had a boot on his right leg. Cornerback K’Waun Williams had his left arm in a sling. “I don’t know anybody’s status,” Chryst said. Senior receiver Mike Shanahan (hamstring) was more active than he was Tuesday.
The college game has no mandatory injury report. So a boot on Holley could just be something minor. Still, not the sort of thing you want on the team’s best safety.
Chad Voytik has continued to improve and look steadier as camp draws to a close.
There is no current quarterback controversy at Pitt, with fifth-year senior Tino Sunseri entrenched as the starter. But Voytik has seized the No. 2 job after an injury slowed sophomore Trey Anderson, and he is getting a firm grip on an offense that was foreign to him only a few months ago.
“He’s getting better with repetition,” coach Paul Chryst said. “Not that every rep is always right or what you want it to be. But I think he is learning. He is taking advantage of the work he is getting.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph offered high praise of Voytik when he said, “It’s important to him. He has a lot to continue to learn, but I like his approach.”
I’m going to assume Paul Zeise has taken Sam Werner aside and showed him some old chats and Q&A from the Palko era where the continual drumbeat of questions were about getting Bill Stull at least some reps in preparation for the future. Expect a lot of that this year, only with a little more urgency, angst and desire to see Sunseri not on the field.
And finally since it is the topic of heralded freshmen starting to find their mojo, Rushel Shell appears to be heading in that direction.
Sticking with the running backs, I may have to revise some stuff I wrote yesterday. Given his work in the scrimmage today and increased reps over the past week, it looks like Rushel Shell will be ready to see the field this year. With Graham out and Isaac Bennett still nursing an injury, Shell got plenty of first-team reps. Chryst wouldn’t commit to whether or not Shell would definitely play this year or not, but noted his improvement with increased reps this week.
“Last week he missed a lot of stuff,” Chryst said. “He’s been able to go and every player learns by doing. I think some things are starting to click for him.”
I’m still assuming playing time for Shell this year. He may struggle to get carries at time, but considering the overall situation of the Pitt O-line, a lot of backs might be the only way to really keep the fresh legs going out there.