The day’s practice schedule was broken up into warm-up drills, then live full tackle drills, a scrimmage with the referees calling penalties (and lots of them), full 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills, finishing up with short yardage situations including red zone plays. During the punting drills Winslow was getting the ball 40-45 yards downfield consistently and on the two directional punts I watch both went inside the 10 yard line and were downed.
Kevin Weatherspoon was the sole punt returner today as the staff had Boyd only warm-up with some drills early on then sit out the live action parts. In the kickoff drills Maddox, L. Pitts and Ibrahim were on the receiving end and did OK. Maddox is fast as hell and is turning into a valuable guy for the team this season. Again, Boyd was our leading KO return man last year and would have been back there this scrimmage also if he wasn’t resting.
Something that jumped out at me during these special team drills is that the kicking and coverage squads were populated mostly with players who are starting at other positions. Apparently Chryst is not screwing around with special teams play this season.
Blewitt was down today with a .500 success rate. He made four FGs, including a 52 yarder and missed four. Not much to say about that except let’s hope that it was an off day and not the norm for him.
In discussing individual offensive units and players let’s first understand two things; First is that a scrimmage is in essence a tryout for the 2nd and 3rd string positions and secondly, if the offense doesn’t improve by giant steps in the next 14 days we are going to be some very disappointed fans. You can point to the old saw that in camp “the defense is always ahead of the offense” but right now that’s an excuse. What we saw from the sidelines was not pretty and centered on the QB position.
It no big secret that Chryst will name Voytik as the starter before the Delaware game and that’s probably going to be the right choice in the end, but the truth is that Voytik hasn’t locked up that position based on his fall camp play. Each practice I’ve attended Voytik has been hesitant, has missed some reads his outlets and has been up and down with his accuracy. This especially happens with any sort of pressure in front of him. IMO It isn’t a case of nerves or inexperience at this point; it is just where he is on the growth chart toward being a starting QB. I’m not exactly sure where he should be on that chart, but where he is isn’t a feel-good making place.
Now with that said, Voytik also made some good plays today, especially in his rolling out and his hitting some nice passes in the drills outside of the scrimmage. Two notable plays during the scrimmage were when he hit Ibrahim out of the backfield on the right side with a nicely led swing pass and Ibrahim went for 19 yards; another was a pass in the flat to Ibrahim which he ran in 58 yards for a TD. Voytik had a some other nice throws also, but the problem is that he’d follow up a good completion with two botched throws and look too inconsistent for a productive starting QB.
He’s got some time still but overall let’s keep our fingers crossed that he has a productive two final weeks of camp with strong improvement before we get into the regular season. We might slide by Delaware if he stays playing at this level but not Boston College I think. We’ve seen stranger things in football than a big jump in play by someone so I’m of the mind that what we see now isn’t necessarily what we’ll see on August 30th. He’ll get better and settle down more.
Anderson played pretty well out there today with some quick, accurate passes and more completions both in the scrimmage and in the live drills. While he was hit and miss with his passes at times, he did make some very nice plays also. He hit Boyd down the left sideline for a big gain, helped out by what are becoming routine great catches by #23 as Boyd leaped over two DBs for the grab; he hit Wuestner on a deep out pass that was a fastball and perfectly thrown and he had a long, cross-field pass into the right end zone to Wuestner that was ruled a bobble (maybe) by the ref.
His best scrimmage plays were a slant to Jester Weah who was blasted by a LB yet held onto the ball to pick up a long yardage 1st down and a couple of nice completions for 11 and 25 yards to Challingsworth. Anderson’s stats would have even been better as I counted at least three dropped passes by his receivers on well placed throws.
Lest anyone think I’m down on Voytik, and I guess it could read that way, The Post-Gazette’s Sam Werner has a very good and detailed account of the drills and scrimmage (with stats) today in his Red Shirt Diaries (always a good read but especially today) and has hit the bull’s eye on Voytik’s play with this description:
“As you can see in his numbers, Voytik looked OK at times but definitely missed his share of throws. His statistics are aided greatly by a 58-yard touchdown swing pass he threw to Rachid Ibrahim on the final play of practice. Take that attempt out, and he’s 11 of 26 for 145 yards, no TDs and one INT. That’s not great. The biggest thing Voytik has to work on is his accuracy when he’s throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield. There was one play today that stands out when he had Manasseh Garner wide open down the middle for the field, but overthrew the ball slightly and put it over the wrong shoulder so Garner couldn’t make the catch. The deep ball will never be Voytik’s specialty the way it was with Tom Savage, but he needs to at least be able to hit open guys down the field for this offense to be as explosive as it can be.” Please check out the rest of Werner’s scrimmage article as he really paid attention…
So, above I make a comparison between the two QBs based on their play today but I don’t mean to imply that Anderson was great and Voytik sucked, it wasn’t like that. It was more like both QBs played average at best football today and that is worrisome at this stage of camp. But this is also what we at the Blather have been stating about Voytik after every practice we have watched over the last two years; Voytik’s arm isn’t what some fans want it to be and the offensive game plan will have to be shortened to accommodate that. Questions about ‘…his accuracy when he’s throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield’ is something you don’t ever, never, not ever want to hear about a QB.
The wide receivers were on and off also. With Boyd and Jennings sitting out and the staff giving the 2nd and 3rd stringers more work the top three receivers were RB Ibrahim with that big 58 yard TD catch, then WRs Wuestner and Challingsworth. Both Wuestner and Challingsworth were on the field a lot and made the most of their opportunities and they will both get some good PT this season.
Weatherspoon was also a busy guy today with his play in the two deep as the 3rd WR with Boyd and Garner and then his punt return work. He ran precise patterns today and made a couple of catches on poorly thrown passes during drills. The nice thing about Weatherspoon, other than the fact that he’s a 5th year hard working senior, is that he is a smooth athlete with his ability to grab the ball and quickly turn up field. Ronald Jones caught a slant pass that went for nice yardage and he’s a very quick kid who will be in at WR sometimes and put back to receive KOs also.
The TEs weren’t too involved in the passing today and I think that is because the staff knows who their two starters are going to be. They were active blocking in the running game though.
I watched the offense with a mindset of trying to formulate a solid three deep set of running backs if there was going to be a game tomorrow. With that I saw nothing that changed my mind that it will be the same three guys we ended last season with. Conner is by far the most productive and the most powerful. He’ll be the go to guy.
Bennett has put on a lot of muscle and is listed at 210 lbs however it looks like he weighs more but maybe because it’s on a 5’11” frame. Either way he was quick off the handoff in drills and didn’t look like his injury was holding him back. Let’s remember he’s coming off a productive 800 yard, 4.7 ypc season and should be even better this year. Ibrahim also made some plays and averaged around five yards a carry in my estimation. All three returning RBs have a good sense of their blocking role on pass plays and what to do when released into a pattern, as Ibrahim showed as the leading receiver yesterday also.
Everyone wants a bright shining young star in the backfield and this season are looking at James to provide it. Personally I don’t think that’s going to happen but he’ll get playing time. Both he and Ollison had their good moments out there and made some eyes open. Ollison in particular had a string of carries where he picked up three straight first downs. He’s a good RB as is James but they are both true FR. At this point I’ll say one of them will be a 4th RB and the other will be held in reserve for a possible redshirt. If I had to bet right now I’d say James is ahead of Ollison. How much either will actually play will also depend on what the staff ends up doing with Conner at DE over the course of the season.
One RB to keep an eye on for the 2015 season is Jameel Poteat. He made a move in the open field against a young LB that put the LB on the ground. Poteet did that right in front of the Offense’s side of the field and the kid’s went wild.
About that offensive line… Well, I might as well say it. If they were playing at their best yesterday we’ll have some problems moving the ball. Again it is the chicken or the egg question in that were they that bad or the DL that good? Regardless of what I said above about individual RB’s good plays and because I’m certainly not going to talk about every unsuccessful runs the backs had, the OL didn’t get any sort of push off the ball to open up running lanes.
I’m sure if you counted up the run yardage you’d find we averaged below 4.0 ypc. The run game just wasn’t that effective or consistent in any way. I did see the TEs making some good blocks on the sweeps; Holtz in particular slammed a DE down letting the RB pick up about ten yards.
The OL’s pass blocking was more effective but as the QBs were still ‘untouchable’ it was hard to tell how many sacks there would have been, but at least a few would have happened. Sometimes the QBs were hurried and that resulted in the spotty passing game although both QBs do have an ability to rollout and complete passes. The personnel on the two-deep OL were rotated in as has been happening all week in practice so I do believe Chryst when he says they are still ‘looking for the best five’.
A post on the defensive side of the scrimmage is in draft stage and will go up later…