I had a chance to drive up and watch the PITT practice this morning. The practice session lasted from 10:15 until 12:30 with a one hour scrimmage to start off. Here are some observations:
1. If you were keeping score the offense bettered the defense this morning. Neither side was that great or that bad but the offense moved the ball in the air (Savage) and on the ground (Conner). A word about our true FR RB James Conner -damned impressive in every way.
If you look at him out there he looks almost slender given the stories about him being a bruising back. But he’s tall at a legit 6’2″ and he carries that 235 lbs well. He was ripping off positive yardage regularly with some big 15-20 yarders thrown in. The thing with Conner is that he can get inside and move the pile but also get through the interior LOS because he hits the holes so quickly. Then when you don’t expect it he cuts outside and out runs the linebackers, drops his shoulder and levels the DB. He did this time and again today.
Actually that ‘dropping the shoulder’ backfired a bit today as after one hit he lay on the ground with what looked at first like a separated shoulder. The coaching staff went into severe shock at the sight of it. Not to panic as he was up with an ice pack taped on and stayed on the sidelines for the rest of practice. I’m starting to think that PITT fans will forget about Shell in a hurry if this kid plays anywhere near the level in games as he has in practice – he’s the real deal and might be RB1 before the season ends.
Jaymar Parrish opens eyes with his play at FB also. He’s built like one and blocks like one. That will be an interesting position to watch with a starting FB returning.
2. Our passing game was hit and miss as it has been all season. Savage was back on the field a lot with the 1st string and he got some real work in. If they are ‘saving his arm’ it didn’t show today. As always he hit the deeper passes; 25+ yards pretty well. His accuracy on the shorter game was no so good and I think he really tries to force the ball in with his strong arm. There is absolutely no doubt he’s the starter, was the starter going into the spring and even earlier. Guys, there is no doubt he was brought in to start this season.
Voytik struggled today and apparently has been doing so this last week of practices. He badly under threw two deep balls that Street had to come back on and still Street almost made heroic plays. Voytik then threw two INTs in the shorter game. He did have one great throw rolling to his left and wailing it for a deep TD. He completed passes but his best plays by far were on the ground when he tucked the ball and scrambled. He can do that and get yards. However, those are not called plays and he is expected to be a drop back passer in this offense. He tends to hold onto the ball and as a result he gets flushed out a lot and would have been sacked a bunch had he not had the red jersey on. He also had a pass to a wide open receiver blocked at the LOS.
In my opinion we will be in dire straits if Savage goes down with an injury this season. Nothing has changed my previous opinion that Voytik isn’t ready at this point to be a starting BCS QB. This is based on my watching him a couple of times this spring, now in summer camp and in discussions with people who have watched all the practices and scrimmages. There is no consistency there.
The spring game was just that – he had a good practice scrimmage between the offense and very vanilla and 80% speed defense. His showing in that game isn’t what we’ll see in competition. He’s a rsFR and has three more years to make his mark at PITT so I’m not saying he can’t get better. I’m just saying he’s not ready, IMO, to start this season.
To stir the pot a bit, Trey Anderson was again throwing the best short game passes today and also had a 50+ yarder in the air dropped by the WR on a great throw down the left sidelines.
3. Onto our receivers: Tyler Boyd is the real deal. He is good in the short game, the deep balls and the running game in space. He’ll not be asked to be a between the tackles RB at all but he had a wonderful sweep play that must have gone for 30 yards. At first I hesitated to jump on the ‘Boyd is Great‘ bandwagon until I saw him in person but he stands out like no one else on offense. He’s fluid, quick, fast and can catch the ball… I mean circus catches that remind you of Larry Fitzgerald. He’s no question the #2 guy at this point and Gardner will be the #3 WR. The reason we’ll see Gardner at WR is that he has the speed to create mismatches with the LBs and the speed to get down field under Savage’s big arm.
Interesting note: A good friend of mine is a true HS football head coaching legend in Maryland. He watched Boyd in person at the Big 33 game and afterward told me that Boyd was the best HS player he has seen in 35 years. I believe that 100% now.
Our TEs had some trouble with drops today but will be integral in the offense – Holtz starting and Orndoff off the bench. Forget about Gardner at TE – he’s a WR for sure.
4. I’m no OL expert but it is fun as hell listening to Hueber scream at these kids. IMO we’ll be alright on the OL and I think better at the run game than pass protection at first. All the kids did well but when it is reported that Clemming has an edge on Johnson I don’t think that is etched in stone at all. I’ll be surprised if Johnson redshirts this season as we’ll need him down the line. He was getting as much if not more #1 snaps at RT than Clemming. The OL guys are all big as hell. Clemming looks to be the thinnest of all and he’s built very well.
5. The defense held their own but I’ll comment on the LBs. Thomas was in with the ones a bit today and so was Bradley, Grigsby was with the twos. All of them were aggressive and really pushed. An interesting note about Thomas is that a) he’s bigger than he was at this time last year and b) he stayed out on the field after everyone else had gone into the locker room. He was moving slowly as he walked off, alone, and as he passed me I got the impression that he was leaving it all out on the field. I expect he’ll be back in the starting lineup before too long. That whole week long drama with Thomas really caught all the football program staff by surprise.
6. The loss of Eric Williams is going to have more impact than expected. The plan apparently was to move him back to Safety and have Vinopal as the second Safety there. There is a push to have the Clariton DBs get a lot of snaps to alleviate that situation but expect Vinopal to start I think. he’s got the defense calls down but now has to match that with his actual play.
7. Blewitt was killing it again today – he’s the starting FG kicker no doubt and his leg is strong and accurate. We didn’t see any KOs today so I don’t know who will be doing that. Pitts, Street and Boyd were rotating on KO returns and punts. Don’t know who it will be but Boyd gets to 60 in about .75 seconds.
I had a chance to talk with Dave Durham before the practice – nice kid who loved OSU but saw the handwriting on the wall with Urban Myer. He’s happy at DE.
I also talked with Jeremy Talini a bit about the Hawai’ian Islands – he’s from Kailua and knows where the tree house I lived in for two years is on Kailua Road. He’s a big boy and thinks he’ll be on ‘ready red shirt’ list. Loves Pittsburgh and said that Pittsburghers are much like his Island people – very helpful and nice, which is true.
Also and a side note; Kevin Weatherspoon’s Mom is smoking hot… not… kidding.!
All in all I was impressed with what I saw but not blown away. Things are pretty much like I thought they would be at this point in Chryst’s tenure. Expect a LOT of freshmen to play this year, both redshirts and true. I said I’d hold off my ‘formal’ season W/L prediction until I had seen the team in action in a scrimmage. So here it is.
I see a 6-6 season that could go up to 7-5 if we get lucky breaks on the injury front. Injuries at QB, DL and RB could be devastating for us and could easily lead to a losing season. I don’t see this team topping 8 wins by any means with the ACC schedule we are facing. In other words everything has to click for us to be on the good side of .500 ball.
That said I can see this team getting better in a hurry as the players get experience and we get acclimated to the ACC. I’d like to see a JUCO QB in the fold for insurance and competition as Chapman won’t be ready at all in 2014.
Note: I’ll be staying in town and attending the 2013 Kickoff Luncheon. If any fights break out between the SR players or if Chryst starts spilling state secrets I’ll write something up about it.