OK, it has been a few days since I've updated this blog on Pitt camp and mostly because it has been an uneventful few days. The coaches were getting ready for the scrimmage, the players were getting a little bit of a rest and frankly, there just isn't much new or interesting to report until yesterday's scrimmage.....
So here seven observations and/or thoughts about camp thus far....
1.) I received some criticism via e-mail that I wasn't "paying attention" enough to this so-called quarterback controversy, even though I reported EXACTLY what Dave Wannstedt said earlier in the week which was "Bill Stull is our starter." I'm not sure how many different ways he could say it but that's exactly the mindset that he has and has had and frankly I've seen nothing in the past four days that makes me believe it will change. Yes, he and Tino Sunseri were "splitting reps" but they were splitting reps (while Pat Bostick was throwing the ball to trainers and managers and cheerleaders and anybody else he could find to catch with him) because the coaching staff is trying to figure out if Tino is ready to be the back-up quarterback - which would give them the luxury of redshirtting Pat Bostick and have him around for two more years. This wasn't a competition for the starting job in the truest sense of the word, though had Sunseri shined and jumped off the page with his play he might have had a chance to overtake Stull.
Quarterback controversies are fun, unless, like this one they bore us all to tears because we were all pretty sure the fix was in from day 1 and this was never a true competition involving two guys on an equal ground trying to win the job. I can't make it any clearer than this one. I suppose I could be wrong. I highly doubt it based on everything I know and have been told.
Bill Stull will be the starter, get over it and move on.
2.) Dave Wannstedt yesterday said that whether or not Ray Graham is ready to be trusted in a game must "still be evaluated". Translation -- he's a true freshman who fumbled a few times early in camp and turnovers get you beat. From what I've seen Dion Lewis is indeed the most consistent of the running backs but only because he's been here six months longer than Graham.
But let me say this -- if you have an offense which looks like it will really struggle to throw the ball and make big plays in the passing game -- without some sort of play-action or other misdirections in the backfield -- you better have a "home run" hitter in the backfield and Graham is clearly that. In fact, he had the five-tweeter twitting play of the day yesterday on his first carry when he took it 65 yards for a touchdown -- then topped that and probably had a few more twits tweeting with a 24-yard screen pass in which he made about nine of the 11 defenders -- the first team defense by the way -- look rather silly trying to tackle him. There is no question that this kid needs to play and play a lot along with Lewis but it will be interesting to see if he has earned enough trust (never mind the fact that the other two guys he is competing with have never played in a game either) to get on the field. He is the most explosive back and the one who is the biggest threat to take it the distance every time he touches it. LeSean McCoy fumbled a few times as a freshman but his upside was far too high to keep off the field. Hopefully Graham will be given the same consideration.
3.) Speaking of freshman who need to be on the field, thankfully Dan Mason has apparently earned enough trust that he will play in a game. I've said this a few times to people I've talked to -- if I listed the top 15 or 20 hits I've seen this camp so far, he'd have about eight or nine of them. I know he's a freshman and it is a lot to put on him, but I hope at times this year we see him in the middle playing alongside of Adam Gunn - who can play both outside positions -- because I think that he can be a game-changer.
4.) The right tackle position is the only shaky position on the offensive line and mostly because the starter is a sophomore (Lucas Nix) who needed a lot of work but spent the past four or five days watching with a leg infection. And even before he got hurt he was swimming a little bit, though trying to block Jabaal Sheard would make a lot of guys look shaky. There is no question, however, that Nix needs to get back and work his tail off over the next two weeks in order to get ready to play. If he does come on, the line will be pretty good as the other four guys, and in particular Jason Pinkston and John Malecki, are playing really well. And that is regardless of who emerges at left guard because both Chris Jacobson and Joe Thomas have played solid throughout camp.
5.) The nagging injuries are starting to pile up and that probably is a sign that it is time to start dialing back the hitting and contact at practice and rebuilding guys legs. Dave Wannstedt admitted the other day that the Panthers have hit more in this camp than in any of his previous four camps and he said the reason is because it is the only way to evaluate running backs. I understand the rationale, I just hope he has a team left standing by the time the season rolls around.
6.) I haven't spent a lot of time talking about the secondary but Aaron Berry has played -- I know, it is only camp - a lot like a guy on a mission and a lot like a guy who realizes that his clock is ticking and his time is running short if he really wants to try and get to the NFL. And Dom DeCicco has played extremely well also. The only issue with the secondary is, if Elijah Fields can't do the things he needs to do in order to become the starter -- and as right of now, he isn't, and Andrew Taglianetti is -- the secondary is comprised of DeCicco (6-3) and three guys who are right around 5-foot-10. That could be a problem when the Panthers face a team with tall receivers - and we've seen some of that at camp as Oderick Turner (6-3), Mike Shanahan (6-5) and Jonathan Baldwin (6-5) have all at times been able to take advantage of their size advantage over Pitt's corners. Still, I think the secondary will be a strength of the team provided the pass rush is as good as we think it is because the one thing all four of the starters do very well is tackle, so there shouldn't be a lot of yards after the catch and if the pass rush is good, there shouldn't be a lot of opportunities for deep balls a la the Rutgers (from last season) debacle.
7.) There are a lot of really good football players who will have a hard time getting on the field because there is so much depth at some positions. That says a lot about more about how well Dave Wannstedt and company have recruited than any star rankings or recruiting rankings could ever tell us. I mean, even though Jabaal Sheard has been hurt, Justin Hargrove got hurt and Tony Tucker is AWOL and looking like he is probably going to be headed elsewhere -- the pass rush from defensive ends hasn't missed a beat thanks to guys like Shayne Hale (who by the way has missed a few days with a concussion-like thing) and Brandon Lindsey and heck yesterday even Nate Nix stepped in and got to the act. Think about this -- the first season Wannstedt was here they were converting running backs, using true freshmen and walk-ons and trying to find anyone who had a little bit of size and speed -- like Chris McKillop - to try and field a defensive line. And if they had an injury to any of the "starters", forget about it. Now, that isn't the case and despite a rash of some injuries and a possible defection, a freshman like Tyrone Ezell -- who looks like he is going to be a good one and who is physically big enough to play right now -- will certainly be redshirtting and spend a year in the weight room and working on his technique, which is what you'd like to do with your freshman linemen.