The LBs / Defense
I tend to concentrate on the offense when I watch practices mainly because I understand that side of the ball’s responsibilities more so that the defenses. That said – here are some observations, and opinions, on the Defense.
rsJR Eric Williams is going to be a good Safety and I think he will bounce JR Vinopal out of the starting spot opposite Jason Hendricks. He’s a bit thin at 6’3” and 215 but he closes well and knows how to play that position in regards to seeing how the play will unfold. He seemed to always be around the football. He might show some real star power back there this year.
rsJR Todd Thomas absolutely laid out SO TE J. P. Holtz on a running play and stood over him screaming “Pancake!” for a while. Those two scramble it up a bit in practices and Thomas looks to continue his sound progression at that Weak Side LB position.
rsJR Anthony Gonzalez really surprised me out there at Strong Side LB. He understands how the play will develop, probably the switched QB in him, and just glides to the ball avoiding blocks. He’s one of those players who looks like he isn’t putting any effort into running but gets there damn quick. I really didn’t think this was going to be a good move for him but everyone I talked with said he was probably going to start this season.
The other LB position in the Middle has been solidly grabbed by rsFR Mike Caprara. He’s impressed the watchers and it looks like the staff wouldn’t hesitate to get him starting time should Shane Gordon’s injuries keep him from practicing or playing. I asked a group of WPIAL HS coaches about Caprara and they went crazy describing how good he was at Woodland Hills. One coach said they had to game plan around him in his FR year.
Caprara came into the program at around 6’0” and 200 lbs. He’s at least 6’0 (maybe 6’1”) and probably up to at least 225 now, he’s pretty stocky even if a bit short. You can hear it when he hits someone though. I believe he’ll be a good one for us if not this year then he’ll shine the next three seasons. It may be sooner than later though.
BTW – not one person I spoke with thinks Dan Mason will return to the football program let alone see any playing time this season. Not sure what the story is there, everyone is very tight mouthed which make me wonder, but it appears this staff is going in a non-Mason direction, at least as far as I understand.
We are in a world of hurt if DEs Durham and Lippert see substantial playing time. This position will be the Achilles Heel of our defense this season. True FR Shakir Soto has been in the two deep along with Bryan Murphy. Murphy and Lippert are returning players who really haven’t done much over their careers at PITT and Durham is an unknown since he played his one college year at FB for OSU.
All the above give 100% out there and made some good plays but it might just be a case of the talent ceiling these kids have. Put it this way; word on the street is that Luke McLean might be forced into a lot of action as a true FR.
(Note: Ex-LB LaQuentin Smith was moved to DE from the interior for Thursday’s practice and it looks like he’ll be kept there.)
The DL looks good with Donald being his own great self hard to tell much with him as the coaches are sitting him out for the bulk of most practices, after all it isn’t like they have to see what he can do.. I’ll say this publicly right now – Tyrique Jarrett is the Next Big Thing on the DL and you can take that to whatever bank you want to.
Say what you will about Aaron Donald being our best defender last year, rsSO Layfaette Pitts gave him a good run for the money in 2012 and hasn’t slacked up a bit.
I don’t pay much attention to the actual characters on the OL until the last two weeks of summer training camp so I have nothing of substance to report there… sorry. Rumor has it that Clemmings is filling space until Dorian Johnson arrives at the Southside facilities on his golden chariot. Even as a true FR he’ll most probably grab that Right Tackle starting job.
One thing about the OL though, Huebner came out about as pissed off as one could get and just laid into the offensive lineman after each play. The only time he shut up was when Bisnowaty tried to debate a point with him. Huebner was so shocked he couldn’t say anything for a while then regained consciousness with “Don’t you f*cking argue with me buddy!!” repeating that phrase more than once.
As a matter of fact I thought the tenor of the whole practice was much more intense than any I saw last year in either the spring or summer sessions. Whether that was in response to the events that unfolded last week of because they still have to winnow out four scholarship I don’t know – but there wasn’t any joking around between Staff and players like I’ve seen before.
Edit: My article yesterday about the offense was pretty critical about the two competing QBs so it was nice to read this in Sam Werner’s Redshirt Diaries first this this morning regarding yesterday’s practice.
“Tom Savage looked a lot sharper today. He seems to have some good timing down on a post route and threw a couple of beautiful corner touchdown passes to Ronald Jones, who has also come on since returning from injury earlier this spring.
“I thought for a while he was holding on to the ball,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “It kind of goes without saying, when a quarterback’s in rhythm, he’s got a better chance and one of the things that cause you to not be in rhythm are the quarterbacks not understanding something, the quarterback getting fooled on a coverage or a receiver off on what he should be doing. I think a couple plays specifically, I think he learned from Tuesday and was able to think a little bit better.”
I’ll follow up with an article about what happens at the Spring Game next Friday, until then HTP!