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The bromance is real. Trump complimented Putin after Putin complimented Trump. They both want to dismantle NATO. I wouldn't be surprised if Putin went out and campaigned for Trump.
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It has been a long and considerable wait since the final horn sounded at the Military Bowl last December, but football, in some capacity, is back as Pitt began its training camp in advance of the 2016 season Monday.
For each day I’m at camp, I’ll aim to do a blog post similar to what Sam did, where he recounts some of what he saw and provides quotes from the practice. Only so much can make it into a story that runs in print and online, so this is where you can come for everything else.
Before we get going, though, a couple of quick notes:
1) These media viewing windows we get are brief, i.e. all of 30 minutes, and a chunk of that time is spent stretching and warming up. So if there aren’t any revelatory observations every day, there’s a reason for that.
2) I’m not the new Pitt football beat writer. In addition to my job as the primary Pitt basketball writer, I will be helping out with our Pitt football work and our overall coverage of Pitt athletics. There should be an announcement in the coming days about who the new writer is, but the timing of all of this is out of my control.
As for the news and notes from camp:
** Given where Pitt had the media stationed for that brief viewing window, I mostly paid attention to the offense today. The players working with the first team today throughout the entire viewing window were: Nate Peterman, James Conner, Dontez Ford, Quadree Henderson, Scott Orndoff, Brian O’Neill, John Guy, Alex Bookser, Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty. Others who shuttled in with the first team on select reps we saw were Jester Weah and Zach Poker.
Among those I saw working with the Manny Stocker-led, presumably second-team, offense were: Stocker, Tre Tipton, Connor Dintino, Jaryd Jones-Smith, Justin Morgan, Devon Edwards, Aaron Reese, Carson Baker, Chris Wuestner, Poker, Rachid Ibrahim, Zach Challingsworth and Rafael Araujo-Lopes.
Probably the main takeaway from all of this, at least to me, is that Henderson is the primary receiver Pitt has lined up opposite Ford, the latter of whom enters the season as the leading returning receiver. But, again, it’s early and at a pretty deep position – even with all the hand-wringing we’ve done – it’s all subject to change one day into camp.
** Conner had long said returning in time for training camp would be one of his goals as he valiantly battled cancer and on Monday, he did just that. I’ve got a quick story on the Post-Gazette website right now on that and will have a fuller version in tomorrow’s paper.
** Lopes was working as the primary punt returner during the team’s punt drills. Again, the variety of drills we have the privilege of watching isn’t all that immense.
** Bookser is still working as the first-team center, a position switch he made partially out of necessity in the spring with Alex Officer out. Here’s the first-team offensive line, by position:
Left tackle: Bisnowaty
Left guard: Johnson
Right guard: Guy
Right tackle: O’Neill
** I’ve been experiencing some problems with my phone lately, so no videos from me neither today (that is, I have them on my phone, but haven’t been able to email them from it, post them to YouTube or import them on my computer) nor the rest of the week. Apologies.
** As for your post-practice comments from Pat Narduzzi, James Conner, Jordan Whitehead and Adam Bisnowaty…
“We got practice number one in. We really had a good day of practice. We still need to learn how to practice a little bit better and stay off the ground in shorts because we’ve got no pads on out there, but overall there was good recall from what we did in the spring. The intensity was there, the attitude was there. We probably could finish plays a little bit better. I don’t know if our finish was as good, and that’s usually part of the thing we’ve got to break.”
On entering his second year as head coach:
“Year two—I’m a little grayer, I’ve got a little less hair. Our kids know what they’re doing. There’s more recall in what we’re doing. They could go out there and really run the practice themselves. They know the offense, they know the defense, and they know the tempo we want. As coaches, it’s just coaching the little things.”
On the return of James Conner:
“It’s great to have James [Conner], but I can’t say he ever wasn’t out there, that’s the crazy thing. You would think he wasn’t with us, but no. Through the workouts he was here, during spring ball, too. But now we know that he’s full go. We try to have a quick whistle, whether he’s in or somebody else. I had one of the players say, ‘Coach, don’t baby him. He’s a man.’ We know he’s a man, but we still have to be smart. He had a good day today. It’s great to get him out here. It’s real, and he’s back 100 percent, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do better.”
On James Conner’s limits in practice:
“He’s doing everything. He’s not limited. He’s going to be limited by us more than him because he’s never going to turn anything down. As coaches we’re going to have to limit him, but he’s over there throwing shoulders at people with shorts on. We’ve got to slow him down.”
On running back being an ‘instinctive’ position:
“There’s more than instincts. It’s catching the ball, it’s the mental part of the game that you need. It’s not just running the ball. Some people might think that playing running back is easy because you just carry the ball and find the hole, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
On whether James Conner practiced the same way he did in camp last year:
“It’s hard to tell. I’d have to go back and compare it to practice one last year. Just watching him out there he looks good, but I’d have to go back and really analyze today’s practice. We could very easily go back and say, ‘Let’s look at that drill last year and see what he looks like,’ but I don’t see a difference with the naked eye.”
On if there is anything he’s trying to stress in this first week of practice:
“No. There’s six days of practice from now until Saturday’s scrimmage, and if we’re only looking for one thing we’re cutting ourselves short. Every coach is looking for about a hundred things. And then a hundred times the nine assistant coaches that coach a position, that multiples pretty big.”
On the most competitive position battles:
“I think there’s competition at the defensive end spot. A year ago there wasn’t a whole lot of competition there, but I think there’s competition there [now]. There’s competition for the corner spot. You look at the field safety spot with ‘T’ [Terrish] Webb and Reggie [Mitchell], we’re still trying to find out. They’re both good players. It’s kind of fun as a coach to say, ‘Both of those guys are starters really, but who’s going to be that guy to take the first snap there?’ Offensively, there’s a lot of receivers out there that have talent. I think there’s going to be constant competition all the way up until September 3 at that spot. They’re fighting for those O-line spots. There’s only five—two guards, two tackles, and a center—but everybody knows we’ve got a little bit of depth on the offensive line, so there’s competition there. There’s competition just about everywhere. Running back has competition. We’ve got some talent out there, but we’re going to find out who can stay healthy, who can mentally stay in the game and who physically can do the job.”
On the five players who will not participate for medical reasons:
“Those are the hardest conversations. It’s easy to come out here and coach, but those are hard because for these kids, it’s their life. They come out here and work all summer, but thank God for our medical care here in the city of Pittsburgh and our scanning procedures. There are not a lot of places in the country that are going to find what we find. I’ve seen some bad things happen on the field, or in the indoor facility in the winter. I thank our doctors and the city of Pittsburgh for the care that we have for these guys.”
On the running back depth:
“There’s going to be times where you see two or three tailbacks out there, maybe four, who knows? We’ll find out here in the end, but we’ve got really good competition there from obviously James [Conner], an older guy, to the young guys.”
On how different it will be for Bam Bradley moving from the Money linebacker to the Star linebacker:
“Not much difference. You saw a snapshot of what he looked like before spring ball or after spring ball to what he looks like now. I’m interested to see. I saw him make some plays out there, and I saw him do some fundamental things. He’s a good football player. He changed his body a little bit. Fundamentally it should not be different. Skill-wise, does he have the skill set to go out there? That’s what we’re going to have to determine here quickly.”
On if he has opinions on eight or nine ACC games:
“Not really. I’ll let Scott Barnes and our athletic department take care of that. You put them on the schedule, we’re going to play them. We have no preference. We’ll leave that to the guys who really make decisions because there are times when they ask and they don’t listen to us anyway (smiles), so what does it matter? We’ll let Scott [Barnes] take care of that.”
On what the team phrase, The Pursuit, means to him:
“It’s just our catch phrase for this season. We’re on a pursuit. Our kids know where they want to go and we call it the pursuit. They’ll walk out the door and our kids will see it when they walk on the field. What is your vision? Our vision is to be in Charlotte in December, and that’s what we’re on a pursuit to. It was our idea, the team. Not mine, it’s ours. It’s a group effort.”
On whether offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a similar personality to Narduzzi:
“Probably. I hope I’m a good match with all of our assistant coaches. He’s high energy like I am, I guess, but I’m kind of tame out there right now. So I guess he’s got a little bit more enthusiasm than I’ve got.”
On his first day back:
“Waking up was really exciting. I woke up and I knew it was going to be a great day. I am really thankful for it all. It felt like it was game day getting back onto the field. It was a great feeling all around.”
On if he has any restrictions during practice:
“They let me go; there are no limits. I am working on my conditioning still, but there are no limitations.”
On how his knee feels:
On if he felt nervous being back on the field:
“There are no nerves at all. I’m not an old guy but I’ve been around here for a little time. There are no nerves at all.”
On if he feels prepared for the season after sitting out last year:
“We have 20 days before the season starts and I’m going to use all 20 of those days to prepare for the season. I want to come back the best that I can and play at the best of my abilities. We will see September 3rd.”
On his excitement being back for camp:
“The official start date of camp is great. Being back with my teammates who competed all summer with me and stuck by my side with me during my journey, it felt awesome to be back.”
On Pitt’s depth at running back:
“Those guys without me carried the load [last year]. All of the young guys like Chawntez [Moss], Rachid [Ibrahim], Darrin [Hall] and Qadree [Ollison] are doing great. I’m just helping out now. They established and proved that they can compete in the ACC. Without me they had something great going, and I’m just trying to add to it.”
On having multiple running backs on the field:
“We are a dangerous group. We like to say that any of us can play and any of us can carry the load. That could be something to say and we are working on some formations. With all of us out there on the field, it’s going to do some damage.”
On his journey the past year:
“It’s bigger than the game of football. It’s bigger than myself. The impact that I have on others made me not take anything for granted. I’m just thankful to be out here. You won’t hear me complain; my teammates won’t hear me complain again. They aren’t going to complain either. You always hear me say, ‘Anything is better than receiving chemotherapy.’ I’d rather stay out here on the field for 10 hours a day than receive chemotherapy.”
On this being his second year in the program:
“With the new freshmen coming in, I’m learning new things and Coach [Narduzzi] is putting in some new stuff so we’re getting more detailed than we got last year.”
On what he wants to improve upon:
“Know my keys more. Last year I was ‘iffy’ on a couple of things, but this year I’m hoping for no mistakes on the field.
“Last year I was a step away from—who knows?—ten interceptions, five interceptions. Just a step away so that little step makes a difference.
On advice for freshman cornerback Damar Hamlin:
“We talk and I say for him especially, being a high recruit, just don’t get down on things early on because there’s a whole season and not everyone works the same.”
On having James Conner back on the field:
“Amazing. He never wanted to complain. He’s one of the best guys I know. He was my host when I was a recruit. He’s one of the main reasons I committed. He brings energy to practice every day.”
On ‘taking it easy’ on James Conner:
“We still get after it every day. It’s still football.”
On being named to various preseason awards lists:
“Last year I came in and I was just trying to make a name for myself. I’m just trying to do better and trying to do even more.”
On being part of quarterback Nathan Peterman’s trick-shot video:
“I have all the trust in my teammates so I think it was a fun little video and a fun summer. Now we’re at camp and we’re going to have even more fun.”
On the difference between offensive coordinators Matt Canada and Jim Chaney:
“I think either way we’re coming out here strong. Offense has good players on this team. We just have to go out there and have fun. Whatever they throw at us we’re going to go out there, run it, and execute it.”
On James Conner:
“James is a good guy, good kid. He overcame big things this summer. I’m just glad to have him back on the field.”
On the chemistry of the offensive line:
“I think we have a lot of older guys that have been around and that helps a lot. [We have a] lot of guys that have played as well and that helps a lot. We have a good group of kids and we hang out and that transfers to the field.
“Every day we come out here and try to be the player that we can be.
“We have great players and a great coaching staff. We’ve got all we need right here. We just have to come out here and execute everything.”
On differences from last year to this year:
“I think the biggest thing, with Coach Canada coming in, we had spring ball and summer. That really helped us a lot with getting ahead of the program with plays and stuff like that. With a new coach coming in, you learn a new offense. I think the transition has been very easy.”
On the game against Penn State:
It’s in-state. It’s huge, but it’s just another game on the schedule. We go down the line. Start with Villanova and up next is Penn State. We’re just going to play the best football we can and win as many games as possible.”
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