I’m not saying it’s a must win. It’s much more that Pitt cannot lose. They can’t lose to two 1-AA teams in a season (or ever again). And they certainly can’t lose another home game.
Pitt lost Jahmal Pardner in the VT game. DE Jack Lippert and TE Hubie Graham missed the VT game with injuries. LB Todd Thomas has remained in recovery mode from off-season ACL surgery — but is apparently getting closer to seeing action.
The good news is that linebacker Todd Thomas, a 2011 starter who had knee surgery in January, might get his first snaps of the season Saturday.
“I don’t want to say it’s like sending a pitcher down to Triple-A to throw, but you have to get some live work,” Chryst said. “We have to see where Todd is at.”
Thomas has been practicing for the past week and has been encouraged by his progress.
“(He) felt better after each day,” Chryst said. “Todd was able to do a lot more (Wednesday) than he did a week ago, and Tuesday he did a fair amount.”
There had been rumors that Thomas might get on the field last week. Now, it is Coach Chryst saying its possible. So at least he’s getting closer.
The big blow, however, is Aaron Donald looking unlikely for the Gardner-Webb game. He has some sort of knee injury. The only good news is that it apparently isn’t severe. Normally, this would seem fine. Let him rest versus a 1-AA team along with the bye week. Of course, Pitt really can’t take a 1-AA team for granted after the YSU debacle.
That means talking up the kids who will get more action — dare we say, opportunity — with the other injuries.
Freshman Darryl Render is listed behind Donald on the depth chart and has been receiving extra repetitions in practice this week. Render, originally recruited as a defensive end, has impressed coaches enough this season to work his way onto the field as a defensive tackle.
He has played in all three games and made two tackles.
“He’s mature beyond his years and he’s going to come in and just get bigger and stronger,” defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said.
Render wouldn’t be the first young defensive lineman to step into in a key role. Redshirt freshman Devin Cook got his first career start Saturday against Virginia Tech at defensive end. He finished with five tackles, including two for a loss.
Chryst said that, while the experience will benefit Cook down the road, inexperience is no reason a player can’t help the Panthers right now.
“There’s a guy that I think’s growing and getting better,” Chryst said, referring to Cook. “That’ll benefit him the rest of this year, and you hope it carries over into next year, but there’s only one reason he was out there: He gave us the best chance that day.”
While the loss of Pardner means Andrew Taglianetti is now seeing more action in nickel situations, there is another player who could end up getting some action.
I asked Chryst if, with Jahmahl Pardner out for the year, there was a chance that the redshirt could come off freshman Ryan Lewis. Lewis was on the team’s travel roster to Cincinnati, which is usually a sign that coaches think a guy is ready to play, even if only in an emergency situation. Chryst said they hadn’t gotten to the point of making a decision with Lewis, though.
“We’ll kind of see,” Chryst said. “Certainly talked about that. Hopefully we don’t lose anymore corners. … Ryan is continuing to get better and you appreciate that from him. I don’t know if we’re that definitive yet.”
Probably not. Kind of surprising, though, how quickly Ray Vinopal has fallen away from any talk of seeing game action outside of special teams. He appeared poised to have a real impact based on how he was in the spring and training camp. Yet, after getting burned repeatedly in the YSU game, he has quickly become a non-factor.