There were some nice efforts and results by all the defensive units, and I’ll address those but overall today the defense built “The Great Wall of Water Street” and didn’t let much offense trickle through.
Specifically, the defensive two deep up front against the running game made everyone breathe a little sigh of relief, especially in light of this being “Year 1 Perfectus AD”. The starting four defensive linemen from left to right were DE Durham, NT Mosley-Smith, DT Render and DE Soto. Those guys overall looked good in the ‘live’ actions, stuffed the run and got good penetration on some passing plays. Backing them up were MacLean and Blair at DE with Moody and Jarrett in the interior. All eight kids played solid ball as I saw it and as each day passes the staff should be feeling better about this unit.
One brighter spot was that Darryl Render had some real “wow” moments with his quick off the snap play. Jerry DiPaola of the Trib hits it on the head in this article about Render and while I wouldn’t say anyone going to forget our award winning Nose Tackle from last season, Render is starting to develop a reputation of his own. He intercepted a pass on an athletic play and was constantly beating his guy for run stoppage. He’ll be a very good DT for us this season and later on as he’s a JR who had some nice game experience over the last two seasons. We’ll have a solid two years of him on the line and that is a good, maybe great, thing to have.
Backing him up is Justin Moody, who as a rsFR is 6’3” and 280 (bigger I’d guess) lbs and can move for that size. He was a solid 3* DE in HS and was the 20th ranked player in the state of PA. He’s fun to watch when he gets in and has a great wing span to get RBs coming through the line. Hate to say it but he’s the type of talent, to my eye, who could also be a good OL if needed down the road but Chryst does like them taller. He had a nice sack on Anderson where he got into the backfield in a blink.
Ahhh, the position of Nose Tackle; let’s get to it so the fans can stop the self flagellation (it’s OK to look) over the loss of The Great One. What we saw yesterday was not what we’ll see in the opening game as there are injuries, not serious, to the two-deep guys. Mosley-Smith and Jarrett both got just a small bit of action during the drills stage then sat down then on some plays Moody stepped to help that position depth out. Because of those injuries, unknowns such as rsFR Jeremiah Taleni and true FR Connor Dintino got a lot of the work during the drills and scrimmage.
Taleni made his presence know by bottling up the interior, along with making some tackles. He’s already 6’2” and 295 as a young guy but he’s a Hawai’i boy and will get bigger and wider… he’s waiting for you Haole offensive lineman to try to get past him, but be careful when you do. Seriously, I see him being really good at NT in the future, think Haloti Ngata good, even though Ngata’s a Tongan but why split hairs.
I talked about Dintino last week in my pre-scrimmage defense article and he also looked the part out there yesterday, even as a 1st year kid. There are two kids on defense who positive chatter is building about. First is Avonte Maddox (more on him later) and then Dintino who may well be in that DL rotation by the end of the season.
The linebackers played well in both run and pass defense. Starters Thomas and Gonzalez are going to be fine as the returning weak side linebacker and strong side linebacker. Galambos has found his spot in the middle and has played well. I’m less and less concerned about middle linebacker than I was before the camp. Here is a feel good story about his young life from the P-G. He didn’t necessarily stand out yesterday but was rotated out to give Caprara some scrimmage time.
The WLB and the SLB 2stringers acquitted themselves very well yesterday. Bradley can move up to a starter’s role if needed and play any position. Remember the other day when Chryst singled out Quentin Wirginis for selected praise? There was a real reason for that and we saw it again yesterday when Wirginis rotated in at WLB behind Thomas.
I counted at least two tackles for Wirginis but it is his speed to get all over the field that is impressive. He’s one of those players who always seem to be near the football at the end of the plays because he takes the first step in the correct direction. He’s another under the radar type HS kid Chryst finds as Wirginis too was injured during the whole of his senior year with a broken ankle. Get that? He misses his whole SR year; PITT watches his JR year film, invites him to their recruits camp and offers a scholarship right away. This kid could be the steal of the 2014 recruiting year if he keeps progressing as he has.
One last thing about younger LBs in these camps, sometimes lessons are learned the hard way. Jacob Craig made a nice break on a Jameel Poteat run down the right side and was in great position to make the tackle when Poteat gave him a right hip feint that sent Craig hugging air on the way to the ground. Honestly, I expected to see Craig get up holding his crotch to see if his package was still there. I’m sure Craig caught a hard time for that and it was very exciting to watch, but I’ll also remember that Craig was in exactly the right spot to make that tackle… and that ain’t too bad either. The offensive team was right there on the sidelines and freaked out when that fake happened.
Our DBs are going to be fine this season and the big reason is Avonte Maddox’s outstanding play in camp so far. He apparently is the type of athlete that, regardless of his size, a coach can insert at any skill position and Maddox would find a way to be good at it. Yesterday he was a DB, KO returner and the gunner on the punt coverage team. He fast as anything and sticks with WRs to disrupt plays. He played both behind L. Pitts at CB then rotated into the #1 spot ahead of Mitchell on the other side.
This is an area where the staff is still tinkering with personnel to find the right four guys and things will change, but one noticeable thing was that Trenton Coles got on the field very sparingly and that didn’t seem to have to do with any injury.
The team and staff seemed to be really upbeat through the day’s activities. I mentioned earlier this week that this is a teaching staff, especially given the youth (We’re #1! in that at least) we have both in the two-deep and on the roster. Standing two yards behind the offensive players it was easy to see and hear what was going on and I’ll say these kids are friendly and joke around with each other constantly. When a kid made a good play he got nods of recognition coming back to the sidelines, but when a player screwed up there were always 3-4 kids waiting to encourage him. That’s a good thing.
These coaches aren’t ones to hang back and let mistakes pass by though – there was continual constructive criticism even if it was peppered with some choice and descriptive phrases. The players pay rapt attention when addressed, that’s for sure. But this isn’t a rah-rah bullshit staff as we saw right before the Chryst hire so I feel real good about them and their approach here.
How all that translates onto the field this season is a mystery but as with anything else having a staff in its second year is a big difference than their first year with the players.
The people watching had a good time and the parents were really into supporting their sons.
SIDENOTES: Visitors yesterday were Lance Markle who played FB under Walt Harris, Reuben Brown who was his teammate and is a future NFL Hall of Fame player. Brown is thin as a normal guy and to look at him you wouldn’t believe he once looked like this. Dorin Dickerson, he of the PITT RB to LB to TE fame and who could run out there and play today, was standing on the sideline also. The new PITT Chancellor was there also and without SP which is the second time I’ve noticed that. Let the rumors begin.
Finally, Wirginis’ family has owned the famous Gateway Clipper Fleet of passenger boats in the Pittsburgh rivers for three generations which I found interesting both as a retired Coast Guard officer who inspected those type vessels in New Orleans and other cities and as a PITT fan. The Clipper Fleet are nice vessels.