August 5, 2014

Camp is Open! Camp is Open!

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 6:42 pm

[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.

Certain position battles are in name only (*cough* quarterback *cough*), but two of the three listed — in  a piece prepared well in advance of Titus Howard’s suspension — are real question marks.

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.

Reed and I seem to be taking turns questioning the defense. Those questions seem to be coming into focus, even if the exact plan isn’t.

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.

My prediction is that Chris James will end up later in the season as #1 RB while Conner will spend most of his time at DE …. (I kind of felt that for a while now)

Comment by wbb 08.05.14 @ 6:59 pm

I’ll still stick with Conner taking the lion’s share of snaps at RB, unless a surprise happens at that position and someone we haven’t mentioned gets a try… (see my post tomorrow morning).

Chas – great point about the number of QBs equalling the number of HCs we have had. I think Voytik will be mentally ready for the starting position. That successful half leading the team to a win probably dispelled and jitters he might have going into the Delaware game.

I’m looking forward to watching Rori Blair in practice also. I think that his low recruit rating had more to do with his having had that stroke than his actual HS career which was very good.

Comment by Reed 08.05.14 @ 8:10 pm

Luke Maclean is in that hodgepodge. I’m wondering when Palermo realizes that Luke is the DE of the future for this team?

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.05.14 @ 9:08 pm

How about Devin Cook? I haven’t seen any mention of him being in the DE mix.

Comment by Pathfinder 08.05.14 @ 9:44 pm

I agree more with wbb. It is a matter of need. If the runs are spread between Bennett, Conner and James, with Ibrahim and maybe Ollison and Briggs getting a few, Conner will be fresh enough to play on obvious passing downs.

A defense without a pass rush is toast. We think Soto will be good, we know Durham mounted no pass rush last year. Grigsby, Blair and Maclean are huge question marks.

Chryst likes using multiple backs. As the season wears on if they are successful, Conner will spend more time on D because he will probably be needed there more.

If we can’t pressure opposing QB’s we won’t win 8 games. I hope Dr. Tom is right, a few sacks from Luke would be a big help.

A few blitzes will help but the D-Ends must contribute.

Still hoping we get a couple more for next year’s class.

Comment by gc 08.05.14 @ 10:17 pm

With this schedule, mostly back-loaded, it should give the coaches ample opportunity to play some of the new kids at DE to see what they can do.

Also experiment with Nick Grigsby playing a hybrid DE/LB rush specialist, as he isn’t much smaller than Price was. Regardless of that at a smaller size he should be able to get around a massive LT.

Todd Thomas also has the athleticism to pressure the QB from the LB spot, so I wouldn’t take him off the field on 3rd downs.

Also why not try a 3-4 type defense, as we have more D-linemen than DE’s.

You could have Jarrett, Render and KK as the down linemen and then 4 LB’s or add a DE and subtract a LB in certain situations.

They only have the greatest coaching guru of the 3-4 sharing their practice facility.

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 1:14 am

High Hopes (continuing the thread) I:

“My only sadness is I won’t be in this position when Jamie, Paul and Suzie win national championships,” Nordenberg said. “I truly believe that can happen.”

Read more: link to

High Hopes II:

link to

The finale:

link to

Comment by steve1 08.06.14 @ 5:38 am

I like the idea of the 3-4 at times. Grigsby would be more effective with a head start than lining up and trying to bull rush a 300 lb lineman.

But just with a few plays, Conner showed that he has pass rushing skills superior to the others.

Also agree that Todd Thomas should never come off the field.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 7:02 am

I also think Chris James will be the the big surprise this season.

Comment by Moe Greene 08.06.14 @ 7:19 am

I think you’re in the know, Moe.

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.06.14 @ 8:59 am

There is very little depth on the defense. Normal wear and tear will require some underclassmen to play quite a bit. A few key injuries could cost a number of games, and another mediocre season. Longer term, defensive recruiting has to improve.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 9:32 am

You’re straining, Doc. I know you’re capable of mo and better bon mots.

A Mimosa might help. On me.

Comment by steve1 08.06.14 @ 10:06 am

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