First off, I can’t thank Reed enough for the work he’s done in August. It’s been tremendous having him writing and making the trips for practices and scrimmage. Some fantastic stuff.
There’s not a lot I can add to that part. So I’m just going to clear some tabs, hit the links, and toss a few of my own thoughts in along the way.
The offensive line is either going to have much better depth or the starting five is not nearly as improved as hoped. There is no disputing that there is more experience and size on the line. Then there’s the improved health of guys like Bisnowaty.
Bisnowaty most likely will be starting for the Panthers at left tackle when they open the season Aug. 30 against Delaware. That is the position he practiced while he redshirted as a freshman in 2012 and played before his injury last season.
But in the past two practices, he has also seen some time with the second team at left guard. Offensive line coach Jim Hueber said this was just to work out some emergency scenarios in case a lineman or two get hurt.
“I have to have an eye on what we’re going to do when we’re going to start putting the team together,” Hueber said Wednesday. “What we would do if something would go wrong, rather than just say, ‘Hey we have some guys.’ I’m not sure that some of our redshirt freshmen are ready yet.
“It really is ‘What’s the fit?’ I think [Bisnowaty] is the guy that can move inside rather than [backup left tackle] Jaryd [Jones-Smith].”
Jones-Smith has been given props by both the coaches and observers of the practices. He’s widely considered to be the next player off the bench if a starter goes down.
Bisnowaty healthy is obviously important, but I can’t help but be a little worried about how he will hold up for the season. The same article notes that he has been battling back problems since high school. As anyone who has struggled with even the most minimal back issues knows, they don’t go away. They can flare up at any point and without any warning. More so on a person who carries over 300 pounds on a 6-6 frame.
Still, despite the stability at the O-line, it doesn’t seem that anyone is overly impressed with them either. That becomes a concern, because with Chad Voytik and to have a better offense, Pitt needs to be able to use the tight ends as more than additional blockers. That’s supposed to be the plan this year.
Where Savage was a pure pocket passer, and made his best throws deep downfield, Voytik is more of a scrambler and will rely on tight ends to give him safety valves when he escapes the pocket.
“They box people out,” Voytik said. “They always provide a throw, and that’s so helpful for me. Already going through plays, I’ll see a tight end who has a guy on his hip, but he’s still open. That’s been really helpful for me.”
Holtz said he and the rest of the tight ends have done a good job in training camp building rapport with the new starting quarterback.
“I think we have great timing right now,” Holtz said. “Chad’s going to do great this year. I’m excited for him to take over the team.”
Even though the numbers fans will focus on are the receptions, yards and touchdowns, Holtz is quick to point out what a tight end’s No. 1 priority in a pro-style offense is.
“Obviously, our first job is to block,” he said. “Our catches will come after that.”
Running backs. Reed mentioned him and I realized I had completely forgotten Jameel Poteat had transferred and walked-on to the football team. I’m not sure about his actual eligibility this year. At the time of his transfer, it was indicated that he wouldn’t be eligible until the 2015 season. He may just be getting some reps or something else has changed regarding his transfer status. I would imagine Coach Chryst would love to have him this year to be able to redshirt the entire freshman class of running backs. But more likely his last, best chance comes in 2015
Isaac Bennett seems to be showing his solid form. Not flashy, but consistent, not going to put the ball on the ground, and solid in blocking.
The Wide Receiver spot is the one area where there is a fair amount of comfort with the situation. From a clear number 1 and 2 receiver, to plenty of depth, and lots of potential coming down the pipe. Injuries can change that in an instant, but that is generally true for any team at any spot.
I’m not going to dwell on the QB situation right now. No one is sugarcoating that while Chad Voytik will be the starter; he does not appear to be near where we, the coaches or even Voytik himself wants or expected to be.
Over on the defense, the depth is more than a little shallow in the secondary. Yet, Reggie Mitchell is playing everywhere possible to cover all holes.
…versatile defensive back Reggie Mitchell, who has played safety, corner and nickel the past two weeks.
“I feel good about Reggie,” Chryst said. “He’s a smart kid, he’s dependable. The last two practices, he has come up with strips (forced fumbles), which we are trying to emphasize. I think he’s a heckuva football player.”Mitchell, a Shady Side Academy graduate who transferred from Wisconsin, was teamed with freshman Avonte Maddox at first-team cornerback after starter Trenton Coles went down with an undisclosed injury.
The move had more to do with Chryst’s quest to find depth at cornerback, where numbers are thin.
“Just getting a feel for what guys can handle,” he said. “What’s too much and what fits their skill set.”
And Avonte Maddox gets some big praise from DB Coach Troy Douglas, even as he cautions that there is more than just that one aspect.
“He’s a competitor,” defensive backs coach Troy Douglas said this week. “Probably out-and-out, he might be our best [man-to-man] guy. But you’ve got to do more than play man. It’s just the little things that we’ve got to keep coaching.
“He’s got a chance. He’ll be fine.”
Even for the speedy Maddox — he said his most recent 40-yard dash time was 4.38 seconds — adjusting to the speed of the college game has been his biggest challenge. Tuesday, he showed off his quickness when he chased down freshman running back Qadree Ollison from behind to prevent a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills.
“I knew it was going to be fast, but it’s way faster, so I just came out here and had to pick up with the speed,” Maddox said. “I’m getting used to it now.”
I am certain there are going to be more pass interference calls on the secondary this year, but I also believe the interceptions will be up significantly.
On the D-line the mantra of “it takes a village” to replace Aaron Donald continues.
Soto, like many of his teammates and coaches, preached a team mantra when discussing how the Panthers will make up for Donald absence.
“No one [player] is really going to do that for a while,” Soto said. “I believe the whole defensive line can do that, produce the same numbers he did.”
So far, a week and a half through training camp, Palermo said he can see flashes of Soto’s potential, but added that he hasn’t put everything together on a regular basis yet.
“Shakir’s done OK,” Palermo said. “Shakir needs to step up his game a little bit. He’s a starter for us right now, and he’s got to practice a little bit more on a consistent basis. When he does what he’s supposed to, he’s a very good football player.”
Part of the reason Palermo is a bit hard on his pupil is that he knows the importance of Soto to the defense and the possibilities if Soto can tap into his full potential.
There are legitimate expectations on the young sophomore’s shoulders, and Soto wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like having people to have confidence in me,” he said. “I prefer that than having people not talk about me at all.”
It’s easy to also forget Devin Cook will be rotating at DE. He went down in the Duke game last year, and has been working his way back from a torn ACL and MCL in his knee.
And inside, Darryl Render had a good scrimmage.
The run defense dominated the Pitt ground game, and Render was in the middle of much of the action.
He batted down a pass and later intercepted a shovel flip that thanks to Donald-like quickness off the snap and the proper read of the play.
“I was where I was supposed to be,” Render said, “and it popped right there, and I said, ‘There it is.’ ”
Although it was only a scrimmage against a Pitt offense that has yet to find its legs, Render liked the results.
“We played good run defense,” he said. “That’s what we take pride in because, I guess, people are really sleeping on us because Aaron Donald is (gone).”
The other question in an era of more open offenses and much more passing, is whether the D-line will be able to generate pass rushes. Even with Aaron Donald last year, that was a struggle. That seems to be one of the big unknowns at this point.