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Day 3 - The stakes are raised

Written by Paul Zeise on .

I have had a lot of people ask me about how Tino Sunseri looked after the first two days of practice and reserved comment because it was fantasy football as far as I was concerned - the teams were in shorts and T-shirts and there was no pass rush and the defense was very vanilla and moving at about 1/2 speed most of the time.

So naturally Sunseri looked good because it was glorified 7-on-7 drills and that is much different than playing football from the pocket with 300-pounders running at you and linebackers and defensive backs flying around the field.

Today, however, the Panthers put on the shoulder pads and that meant the speed of the game went up a few notches as the drills became semi-live (meaning there is contact but players must do their  best to stay on their feet and not tackle to the ground) and it was easy to see the difference because Sunseri struggled.

He threw two picks, was not nearly as accurate as he was the first two days, missed some easy throws and by the end looked a little bit rattled.

That's not a big deal - in fact I expected as much from him because the speed of the game was so much different from yesterday until today. I also expected the offensive line to be a step behind as they got used to a full speed rush and they were as well.

It will take some time so there is no reason to panic. I expect the offense to catch up a little tomorrow and a little more each day and as Sunseri settles in and gets more comfortable I'd expect him to get better as well.

A big thing with him is confidence and so far he's played with far more confidence than he had even in the spring and he is clearly way ahead of where he was last year at this time.

Now, if he is still struggling a week from now....

Here are some other notes from today's practice:

** Greg Romeus missed practice again with the always mysterious "soreness and stiffness" which is code for who knows what. Obviously if he was just sore or stiff he'd be out there and while I know he's had some back issues in the past and coaches are going to be very cautious with him, I'm not sure that this isn't something lingering. I remember last year Jabaal Sheard was out with a knee injury that was supposed to be minor and day-to-day and he ended up missing more than half of camp. I'm not saying that is going on with Romeus but it does seem awful strange to me that your All-American defensive end is missing two practices in a row. One other player that missed for a second day in a row is safety Andrew Taglianetti but Wannstedt said he is just suffering from a sore groin and he should return over the next few days. Taglianetti is obviously a special teams ace but he is also the team's nickel back so he needs to get back in there because he will play an important role for the defense. As for Romeus, he is "a day-by-day thing" according to Wannstedt. I'm not ready for black helicopter-like conspiracy theories yet but if he is out tomorrow, well, I might start looking up into the sky.

** A couple of other players are dealing with some bumps and bruises. Freshman Todd Thomas has some stitches in his elbow and he's been limited to non-contact drills. Wannstedt said after practice that he will get them out tomorrow (Tuesday) and if that is the case then he should be cleared and ready for full contact tomorrow. Thomas, along with Sto-Rox graduate Andrew Carswell, are clearly the two freshmen receivers who are most ready to play in terms of their body type. They are both pretty impressive physical specimens. The other freshmen receivers, Salath Williams and Kevin Weatherspoon, have ability but they are both very skinny and will clearly need at least one year with Buddy Morris before they are really ready for battle at this level. One other receiver who is banged up is Greg Cross, who has a minor ankle injury and has been somewhat limited. This is not a good development for him because there are so many receivers on this team if he falls even a little bit behind he'll be left in the dust and never heard from again.

** The battle at cornerback is heating up - well more accurately Saheed Imoru was burnt so often today - and really the last few days -- that he is in danger of having to wear a disclaimer on his uniform that he is flammable. And at the same time, Ricky Gary, who has been running primarily with the first team played fairly well, so much so that Wannstedt said after today's practice he is clearly in the lead for the starting job. Now I will say this - I feel bad for Imoru because he has been put in a tough spot. He is a junior college transfer which means he only has two years to get on the field and they have thrown a ton at him in order to try and get him up to speed because they need someone to emerge to start at that cornerback spot. It is tough to try and learn so much so fast and then be expected to perform and so it is clear that he is still swimming a bit and his head is spinning and he is thinking and trying to react, which, at cornerback is a cardinal sin since every mistake a corner makes has the potential to give a touchdown to the other team. The good news for Imoru is we all saw his ability and the spring so he CAN do it if he continues to work hard but right now it is clear if the season started Ricky Gary would be the man to start and, if he continues to play like he did today, that is a good thing.

** Speaking of guys still learning - I heard Dan Mason's name yelled out today by coaches - and not in a good way --  more than I had the first two days and mostly it was because he was out of position. That is not a big deal as he is in his first year as a starter and I know coaches are working hard to make sure he gets to where he is supposed to. And of course, just when it seems like he is struggling, he steps in front of Mike Cruz and picks off a pass from Tino Sunseri and takes it to the house. Um yeah, Mason's going to be just fine, especially when he really learns what he is doing out there.

** The one player who may need to make sure his life insurance is paid up is Ray Graham, the backup running back who has the unfortunate assignment of running behind the second-team offensive line, which is, how do you say, a work in progress. You combine that with the fact that the second team defensive line - with Brandon Lindsey and Tyrone Ezell and Nate Nix - is still pretty darn good and it is a recipe for bad things for Graham. Today he took some big hits in the backfield. Of course, forget about the second-team defensive line - for a number of snaps the all-freshmen defensive line - Aaron Donald, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy -- was in there and looked to me every bit as good as the second-teamers. In fact, Aaron Donald was nearly unblockable, so much so that he had Dave Wannstedt raving about him at the end of practice and even hinting that he could be a candidate to play this year. And if we have seen anything from Wannstedt it is that he doesn't like to publicly praise freshmen so the fact that he did - and compared him to Mick Williams -- speaks volumes about just how good Donald has been.

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