It’s Pro Day today in the Southside. The donuts are available.
Perfect time to start catching up on spring practices from the weekend and yesterday. Let’s look at a couple of the things regarding the O-line and running backs.
I have to admit. It still feels odd to be positive about the offensive line. It has been ingrained in me for the past 15 + years to worry about the holes. Changes. Depth. Yet, this is the second straight year where the O-line has me feeling good about things.
Not that there isn’t flux. There’s position changes. A guy who moved over from defense that could possibly be a starter. Brian O’Neill has moved from Right Tackle to Left Tackle to replace Adam Bisnowaty. O’Neill has the talent and athleticism to handle the move. Plus, it is a position that will make him that much more desirable when he decides to head to NFL (no rush, on this, Mr. O’Neill).
It’s true when the optimist says four experienced players are back.
• Senior Alex Officer, 6-4, 335, has played center and right guard at Pitt, but he took repeated snaps at left guard last week in an effort to replace Johnson.
• Junior Alex Bookser, 6-6, 315, hasn’t moved from right guard, where he started all 13 games last year.
• Senior Jaryd Jones-Smith, 6-7, 325, started three games at left tackle in 2014 and missed the entire ’15 season with a knee injury. He now is taking snaps with the first team as O’Neill’s replacement at right tackle.
The new guy is former defensive tackle Connor Dintino, who is learning to play center.
It’s too soon for Dintino to consider the job his to lose, largely because coaches could decide to move Officer back to center, where he has made 23 of his 36 consecutive starts the past three years.
Dintino, 6-3, 310, is a fourth-year junior, but he only flipped to offense a year ago. He’s fortunate because he lines up next to Officer and Bookser, who also has center experience.
“I’m the young pup,” Dintino said. “I’m getting all the knowledge I can from both of them.
“Anyone can get (the center job). Everyone just has to keep working in spring ball. It’s where people go up the depth chart, go down the depth chart.”
Offensive line coach John Peterson said he likes Dintino learning the position in the stress-free spring environment.
“He’s a strong, powerful guy who is learning the details of offensive line play, transitioning from the defensive line and still growing with the details of playing offensive line,” Peterson said.
Sticking with the offense, Qadree Ollison is resurgent.
“I don’t know what word you want to use, want or need,” he said, “but I do want to get back to that (2015 level), even better than that.”
He said he prefers not to talk about that season or last year, when his yards per carry fell from 5.3 to 3.8 on 33 carries.
“It’s in the past,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do to change that. I can just focus on right here, right now.”
Narduzzi has a depth chart buried somewhere in his office that changes regularly during the spring. Given his 1,000-yard season, Ollison might be on top of it. The trick is to stay there.
The spring is all about competition, catching the coach’s eye and painting a favorable picture he might recall when training camp opens in August.
Even that is no guarantee. Davis or Sibley might arrive and look like the best of the bunch. Over the past decade, first-year freshman running backs have had success at Pitt, stretching from LeSean McCoy to Dion Lewis to Conner.
For now, Ollison and Moss are setting the pace.
Ollison, by all admissions came into last spring on the complacent side. It cost him then, and the whole 2016 season. There was open speculation by fans and the media that he might transfer after being buried on the depth chart last year and the talent that is coming this fall. Instead, Ollison is working harder.
When he thinks about the ups and downs he has encountered so far in his college career, Ollison always tries to remember something Pitt’s associate strength and conditioning coach, Freddie Walker, once told him.
“Be prepared to have a bad day,” Ollison keeps in mind. “He said it’s going to come. Bad days are kind of just inevitable, so be prepared to have one.
“What makes a great player great is how they bounce back from those bad days. If you let that bad day affect you, then you have two bad days. If you let that one affect you, then they just pile up on top of each other and you don’t get better that way.”
With a new year beginning, as the Panthers wrapped up their first week of spring camp Saturday with their first practice in pads, all Ollison wants to do is get better.
Put me in his corner right now, for hoping he earns the starting job. He’s stuck with it. Redoubled the efforts and is setting the tone at that spot.