[EDITOR NOTE: Crap. I thought I put this out before taking the kids to camp and going to work. Nope. Still sitting in draft mode. So, it's late and dated by 12 hours but nothing else to do but push it out now.]
Padless. No contact. But still, camp is open and that means one step closer to actual Pitt football.
Let’s do this with a link run through and then note some actual things from camp.
In five questions going into camp, three of the five relate to the young players. Another is the Aaron Donald question and naturally, the O-line.
Palko, Stull, Bostick, Sunseri, Savage and now Voytik. Good news! It means Pitt has had the same number of starting quarterbacks as coaches over the same period. Voytik seems ready.
Titus Howard may be suspended, but he is at practices. His teammates and friends want him around and while he is obviously off-limits to the media he is not being hidden in some film room.
With Howard out, the secondary got a lot more attention. Ryan Lewis has moved from safety to cornerback to help with the depth. That will make the competition tighter since it seems some of the freshmen are seeing an opportunity.
The highlight of today’s practice was probably an interception by freshman cornerback Avonte Maddox off Trey Anderson during a team passing drill. Maddox made a nice jump on the ball and took it back for what would have been a touchdown. When [DB Coach Troy] Douglas was asked about the chances of either Maddox or fellow freshman Phillipie Motley would see the field this year, Douglas said he hoped so and noted that “we didn’t recruit anyone to be backups.”
That’s the sort of statement players (and the fans) want to hear. Douglas knows that, and is making sure they have plenty of motivation. Douglas is also making it clear to everyone that the secondary has to be aggressive.
Speaking of noise, secondary coach Troy Douglas made a little when he implored his defensive backs to “Play the ball, please.”
Yeah, he said, `Please,’ but he wasn’t being polite.
Douglas has emphasized an all-out attack on the football — whether it’s in the air or in the arms of a running back.
“If we chase the ball, we have a chance on defense,” he said.
Coles agrees. “The ball is the issue,” he said. “That’s money floating around.”
At least we know that the secondary is looking to be very aggressive.
One other exchange between player and coach caught my eye. That was when wide receivers coach Greg Lewis insisted that freshman Adonis Jennings pick up the football and run it into the end zone after a pass intended for him fell incomplete.
Lewis, who played eight seasons in the NFL, repeated the command three times to Jennings before the young man got the idea, found the ball that had bounded far out of his reach and, indeed, ran it across the goal line.
Trivial events? Maybe.
But Douglas and Lewis are teaching their players accountability and a refusal to look for shortcuts.
Very important with Jennings. His talent and size makes him as likely as any other returning receiver to be the third WR behind Boyd and Garner.
Then there is the defensive end spot where the perpetually crusty Coach John Palermo was open about the situation.
A lot of the talk this offseason has centered around just how much James Conner will play defense this year, and it seems like the answer is a fairly significant amount. Conner was working with defensive ends coach John Palermo when I arrived at practice this morning, and Palermo said afterwards that he expects Conner to be a key part in third-down and pass-rushing situations. Palermo added that Ejuan Price’s season-ending injury has increased the chances Conner will see significant reps on defense.
“I would tell you that we will miss Ejuan a lot,” Palermo said. “Somebody else is going to have to step up to the plate in his position and, basically on third downs, we’re going to have to get that help out of James, I believe.”
– Sticking with the defensive ends for a second, Palermo said that he has “never seen a bigger hodgepodge of guys before in my life” with regards to size at the position. One projected starter, Shakir Soto, is listed at 6-foot-3, 270 lbs and the other, David Durham, is 6-foot-2, 240 pounds. Add in guys like Nicholas Grigsby (6-1, 220) and freshman Rori Blair (6-4, 230 lbs) and you do have a pretty wide range of sizes to choose from. The answer will likely be specialization, in that each guy will have a pretty clearly defined role, rather than all of them being interchangeable parts.
I mentioned Blair above because Palermo said he would “definitely” have to play for Pitt this season, despite being a true freshman. He did have the benefit of enrolling early and taking part in spring drills, but that does speak to the lack of depth Pitt has at defensive end.
“I’m hoping that Rori can fill that void that Ejuan left us with, but again, he’s a young kid,” Palermo said. “I don’t want to pressure him so much that as a young kid he loses confidence right now.”
I don’t think Coach Palermo was using hodgepodge in a positive way. Soto seems an absolute lock to start. Durham, probably, simply because of his experience. At this point it feels like DE is even more precarious in terms of depth than the CB spot. Very small margins.