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Scrimmage Today then Winding it down

Written by Paul Zeise on .

A lot to catch up on from the weekend here at the Redshirt Diaries.

** Saturday’s scrimmage in a word was dull. I’d call it uneventful but when you lose a player to an injury, there was at least an event. I think another word a number of people I spoke with on the sidelines would use to describe it – and I would agree with them – is lethargic. As in, Pitt looked like a team that was out on a really hot, humid Saturday after a long week of really hard-nosed, tough practices. That is not unusual at this point in camp – guys are tired, they are beat up, they are a little bruised – but now is when the men and boys are separated as the guys who fight through it and find that second wind so to speak, those are the ones who finish camp strong and then go into the season battled tested and ready. Camp – especially under Dave  Wannstedt – is as much about toughening guys up both mentally and physically as it is getting the players up to speed with the X’s and O’s. So while I say the scrimmage was lethargic – and it was – it isn’t a reason for panic because guys are just fighting through the dog days of camp. I’d expect the next scrimmage – which is this afternoon -- to be a lot more crisp and played at a much higher level.

** Another reason the scrimmage was rather uneventful is because so many players were either held out of it or limited. And then Ray Graham goes down with a knee injury after Dion Lewis and Jon Baldwin were already shut down after a few carries, so the offense lacked a lot of punch. But that didn’t matter because the defense – without four starters to start and seven starters by the third series – was down to skin and bones rather quickly as well. So when a lot of people have asked me about how the Panthers did in the scrimmage I say  “well, next year’s team looks pretty good.” That is essentially what we were watching when the “first” and “second” units were on the field before giving way to mop up time. That’s why I didn’t get too moved one way or the other by the scrimmage – it was played I think at less intensity than one would think and it was played without too many of the key players  to really make much of what happened.

** There was, however, actual news to come out of the scrimmage and that was the fact that freshman defensive end Bryan Murphy broke his foot and needed surgery to put a pin in it. Murphy is now done for the season and will take a redshirt. That is a shame because immediately after the scrimmage Wannstedt raved about Murphy and said that he was going to be one of two freshman definitely getting playing time. Murphy is clearly a player for the future but like I said, for this year he’ll be shut down. He is expected to miss six weeks, which, it is almost always more like eight, before he is cleared to begin working out again. You figure then it would take about two weeks for him to get into game shape and catch to speed which would mean realistically, best case scenario, he’d be looking at coming back by about the seventh or eighth game and there is no way that Wannstedt is going to burn a redshirt for four or five games in reserve duty for a player with the upside of this guy. At least we hope that would be the case. I’m also starting to get the feeling that Ray Graham’s injury may be a little more serious than advertised. I don’t know that it is season-ending but it seems clear that it is going to take a little bit of time to heal. And that is really a shame because from what I’ve seen, he was focused and really ready to play at the next level. Graham was having a great camp and really looked like he was going to have a big season. Hopefully for his sake it is just a minor issue and he’s back quickly.

** Today is the final scrimmage of camp. Well, actually that is not completely true, they will scrimmage some Saturday but that will pretty much be the showcase of the scrubs as pretty much all of the key players will play very limited time, if at all.  So that scrimmage will basically be for the freshmen who are going to redshirt, the deep reserves, the "has-beens-and/or-never-will-be-type-players and anyone else who is headed for the scout team to get one last look and one last opportunity to showcase what they can do in Pitt’s scheme. So today is really the final “moving” day for anybody looking to move up and down the depth chart but a funny thing has happened – there really aren’t many spots up for grabs. In fact, I don’t think looking back there have been any position battles which were even remotely interesting. Greg Gaskins has taken pretty much every first team snap at right guard so I can’t see why they’d make a move there now. Ricky Gary took the open cornerback spot from day one and between his play – he’s played well – and the play of the guy he was in “competition” with, Saheed Imoru – he hasn’t played well, though he has begun to show signs of improvement – the competition ended about one day into camp and it became Gary’s spot. Alex Karabin is the starter at center without a doubt as nobody else has taken a first-team rep at that spot. And the closest thing to a competition was supposed to be at weakside linebacker but Tristan Roberts has been consistently the starter since day one and even though he missed a few days with an injury, he’s back now and he has taken almost all of the first-team reps. I can’t recall a camp with so little movement on the depth chart but frankly this one has been rather uneventful. That is a good thing for Pitt because it means the Panthers starters on both sides of the ball have had the full training camp to work together and grow into one cohesive unit.

** The other freshman who Wannstedt said is definitely going to play is K’Wuan Williams, who has become the talk of camp as he has been very impressive – particularly for a guy who wasn’t expected to contribute much if anything this year. Ray Fittipaldo did a nice story about him in Monday’s Post-Gazette. Essentially, K’Waun is a guy who has come out of nowhere and really is going to be a contributor this year – definitely in special teams and also in pass defense. From what I’ve seen he is already the third best corner in camp, though Buddy Jackson occasionally teases us by showing that all of that athletic ability he possess - when focused and doing the right things – can be a real asset on the field. The problem is Buddy Jackson doesn’t show up nearly enough and play consistently enough to earn the trust of the coaches.

** Wannstedt has backed off a little bit on his praise of Aaron Donald but it is clear that Donald will be another freshman on the field if the situation presents itself. The Panthers right now have three defensive tackles they will rotate – with Tyrone Ezell as the third guy behind the two starters – and ideally they talk about having three tackles and four ends who are really ready to play. The fourth tackle could be Donald, but if it is close between him and an upperclassman like say, Ty Tkach, then Wannstedt will work hard to keep Donald’s redshirt so that he’ll have four years to play. That’s especially true given that all three tackles will be back next year which would mean Donald won’t realistically have a chance to start until his third year in the program, which is ideal. It will interesting to see what decision is made on Donald ultimately. For my money, though, this kid is pretty impressive and likely too good to keep off the field.

** I’ll have a lot more after this afternoon’s scrimmage. I think it will be very interesting to see how hard the starters go. This is really the last opportunity for the coaching staff to go this hard as they will begin preparing for Utah one week from today. Think about that – the season really begins one week from today as they Panthers will be in game-week preparations (remember, they open on a Thursday and have a travel day to burn as well). That’s why they will begin to back off some of the hitting over the next few days and it is why guys who haven’t made an impression to this point better do something special today because they will have a hard time making a movement once the team starts preparing for other opponents.

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