I spent the last three days in Milwaukee covering the Pirates and it is a team that I've been asked to cover some this summer as we sort through some personnel decisions and one of the things I have figured out about listening to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is that he has very much the same philosophy as Pitt football coach Todd Graham.
In fact, one of the things Hurdle said when he was asked what was missing from the Pirates lineup and he said "our speed guys at the top of the lineup" and then he said "speed thrills."
Now, the only reason I bring that up is that Hurdle believes one of the reasons the Pirates have had a hard time scoring runs is they don't have Alex Presley, Jose Tabata and Chase d'Arnaud and as a result, they don't have guys who can disrupt pitchers and case havoc on the base paths and thus it is difficult to manufacture runs like they were able to at the beginning of the season.
He also said the overall speed in the field made it difficult for other teams to get hits because there were so few holes for the ball to drop in.
That's a lot like Todd Graham's philosophy and it just goes to show how much speed really can be a game-changer in any sport. And it also shows how many sports - including baseball - have changed as a result of teams and coaches searching for speed.
The thing about speed in football is that it causes the other team to panic a little bit. The little clock inside their head is a little faster and it can become disruptive.
Suddenly those holes in the zones don't look so big to an opposing quarterback because he knows that they could close quickly.
He also is worried about getting hit quickly because the speed of the defensive line - and let me tell you, this defensive line is very impressive to watch though I can't tell you who recruited all these guys - is going to be on him.
It really is going to be fun to watch this brand of football, particularly if you are like me and favor fast and athletic in any sport over any other style of game. The defense is buzzing around, the offense is getting 55 plays off in a 15-minute period and as the coaches continue to recruit more and more players to fit what they want to do, it will only get faster and faster.
*** Speaking of the defense, it apparently, at least according to those in attendance, had its way with the offense in the scrimmage Sunday. One receiver told me the offense wasn't very sharp but that the defensive line was so disruptive that it was hard to get much done. And the other issue was that Ryan Turnley struggled to consistently get the snap back to Tino Sunseri and that threw the timing of the offense off. Todd Graham addressed this today and admitted that Turnley missed a number of snaps but said it is early, it is a work in progress and that he'll be better as he gets more experience. He said that basically, the offense should be a little behind the defense right now but he expects that to change as camp continues.
Frankly, it seems like it is Turnley or bust at center because the other guards behind Chris Jacobson and Cory King just have not come along as coaches have hoped. Graham said today that Jacobson is the best center and guard but right now they need him to be a guard and they need to hope Turnley comes around. Greg Gaskins is now officially a tackle.
** A couple of minor injuries to report - Cam Saddler, Ed Tinker and K'Waun Williams all sat out with minor bumps and bruises and Graham said they should be fine and are out mostly because coaches are being extremely cautious with them. The other injury was to Devin Street, who got knocked out of the early session and Graham said he just got his "bell rung" and he doesn't think it is any big deal. Street didn't go in the evening session, but again, Graham said it wasn't anything major.
** In all seriousness, Pitt's second-team defensive line is so good that they've been scaled back some in some of the drills just because the second-team offensive line has no prayer of stopping them. But you know what - most first-team offensive lines won't be able to deal with that group, either, considering it is likley to be Justin Hargrove, Khaynin Mosley-Smith and TJ Clemmings or Tyrone Ezell. That group is impressive and I'll tell you this, Mosley-Smith is going to be a real nightmare to deal with for any center he lines up over. He is explosive, he is strong, he is fast - he is going to be a really good player.
** Salath Williams had another good day today and really did a good job filling in for Street. Williams made some really nice catches and like I wrote the other day, he appears to be more physical and more durable than he was last year. I really like what I am seeing from the receivers - I think they are athletic and they are fast and they seem to catch the ball well. Joshua Brinson dropped a few passes today, but he seems to be pretty fast and I think he will become more consistent as he settles in and gets more work (insert Bill Stull needs work joke here).
Receivers coach Mike "I'm not that crazy assistant at Oklahoma who was rumored to be a candidate for the Pitt's head coaching job" Norvell told me they absolutely need to have six receivers ready to play and they would like to have at least seven to feel comfortable in this system. So if you do the math there are probably four spots - Mike Shanahan, Street, Williams, and Cam Saddler who are definitely in that rotation. That means coaches need to find three more who are ready to play and Brinson would definitely be in that mix based on what we've seen so far.
** One development from today that I don't know what to make of is that walk-on freshman quarterback Trey Anderson took a lot of snaps today with the second team (in the limited time we were allowed to watch). I know coach Graham likes him a lot but I don't think this means he jumped ahead of the other quarterback on the roster, Mark Myers. There are times when coaches just want to see a guy step up and play against better defensive units or give a guy an opportunity to play with some better players. I will continue to watch this as it develops over the next few days but I wouldn't read too much into it.
** Speaking of speed, if a couple of more defensive backs go down with injuries, the guy who should be elevated on the depth chart is the mohawked manager --- not to be confused with Jon Grupp's favorite pint-sized manager -- who holds has the two flags and runs to the spot of every tackle and raises them quickly when the whistle blows so that the time of each play can be determined when watching film. I'm not sure if dude played football or not, but his closing speed is impressive as he runs from the middle of the field to the spot of the tackle and most of the time he beats some of the defenders to the ball.
** Speaking of speed part II -- Ray Graham turned on the jets on a wheel route and made a really nice over the shoulder catch of a pass from Tino Sunseri down the sidelines for a touchdown. I spoke to Graham today and he's excited about this season for obvious reasons but he said the thing that excites him the most is that Todd Graham "has such high expectations for each player". In other words, to quote Tyler Palko "mediocrity is not going to be accepted around here any more" That is the attitude this team has, it is the attitude the coaching staff has and frankly the players have bought into it. Graham said there is no reason, if he stays healthy, he can't have more than 1,500 yards rushing in this offense.
*** There was also an unbelievable catch made at tonight's practice, a one-handed over the shoulder catch and one of the most athletic plays of training camp. It was the kind of play that should get Pitt fans excited about the potential of a player and I wanted to tell you all about it..........
Unfortunately, just after I wrote down the player and his position and a description of the play so I could blog about it, my notebook was confiscated by Assistant Sports Information Flak Former Quarterback 93.7 Fan Frequent Guest Color Commentator Soon To Be Married Guy Connoisseur of All Guinness-Related Drinks Scratch Golfer Executive Associate Vice Chancellor Wannabe Member of the Mendy Nestor Fan Club Pat Bostick, so I can't recall the details other than it was a great catch.
I did, however, search Twitter to see if there was a description of the play and low and behold, I found it, though, that person's notebook - along with the notebook of my good friend Chris Peak - apparently was also confiscated by Bostick......
All inquiries on this matter, by the way, should be directed to E.J Borghetti, who probably has all of these notebooks hidden in one of those bags for all of those Big East folding chairs in his office that he hoisted from media day.....
*** The rumblings about Hopewell star Russell Shell coming to Pitt are getting louder and louder every day and are coming from more and more people, which has to be exciting for Pitt fans. Six or seven months ago, Shell to Pitt was a pipe dream as everyone I talked to around him told me he was a lock for Ohio State. But a lot has changed since then - Pitt has a new coach, Ohio State's empire has crumbled and Jim Tressel has been fired, and apparently Shell has some sort of family situation that he would like to remain close to home now. He has crossed Ohio State off the list because of the unrest there so that pretty much leaves West Virginia, Pitt and Penn State (if you believe the close to home stories and I have no reason not to) and from what I'm told Pitt is really in good with him. It will be extremely interesting to see what happens here because he is the kind of kid who, if he does commit to Pitt, could bring several other blue chippers with him. Keep a close eye on this one because if it comes to pass then this staff will have pulled off a nice recruiting coup.
*** Another story that developed quickly over the weekend was the Texas A&M to the SEC stuff and that was a significant story for Pitt and the rest of the Big East because as I wrote coming out of the Big East media day - the conference is watching the Big 12 very closely because if it falls apart, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri will be strong candidates to become the tenth, 11th and 12th members of the football conference. At the time it seemed like a pipe dream but now not so much, even though the story has slowed considerably in the last day or so. All I can tell you from covering these kinds of stories that it will change many more times and this whole conference alignment story won't go away anytime soon. The best I can tell you is this - it isn't a "done deal" until there is a news conference and both parties have signed on the line. The dominoes will fall eventually, but there are so many ways they could fall that trying to guess what things are going to look like is a mostly fruitless, though interesting and fun, excercise.
** Speaking of DeCicco, his younger brother Brock officially transferred out of Pitt, has been granted his release (to a number of schools) and is now waiting to figure out what his next step is. Like I wrote a few days ago, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia Tech are among the places that he is considering as they all recruited him the first time around. And from what I can tell Wisconsin has the edge but nothing is written in stone. So I will keep you posted on this whenever he makes his official decision.