Happy hump day everyone. As stated yesterday, I’m back by popular demand because Paul has today off, and I’m going to start by expanding on what he said yesterday about the players only having today Thursday and Friday before Saturday’s scrimmage.
In the 11-on-11 action today, the sense of urgency to impress coaches was at a higher level this morning. The idea of “pop and wrap” was completely out the window, as there we multiple, but not by any means brutal, takedowns on a few plays. Sure, people have been going to the ground all practice, but these were more complete tackles. Guys were hitting and driving. The pad popping was also more intense than what I’ve seen in the past week.
Paul did quite the thorough overview of the positions and while many positions seemed to have established starters, there are still a couple of good battles that I monitored during play.
Todd Thomas was out with the first unit for the entirety of the 11-on-11 session this morning, which confirms that he is most likely winning the competition against Greg Williams for the spur linebacker position.
The corners today were Buddy Jackson (below) and Antwuan Reed, but that decision is mostly because K’Waun Williams was out of practice this morning but will be back out tonight according to Graham. Regardless of who starts at corner, it appears that their experience coupled with Graham’s intent to force turnovers could mean good things for the Pitt defense this year.
At the Mike and Sam positions, I’d further Paul’s observation that Max Gruder is entrenched as a starter on the inside. He was out there with the first team again alongside Shane Gordon.
While the defense displayed a sense that they are settling into their depth chart by putting all their top guys out on the field, the offense showed it by sitting their top players. Cam Saddler (who was sporting a green No. 2 today), Ray Graham and Zach Brown all sat out the morning scrimmage, so freshman Corey Davis saw first-team reps out of the backfield. Salath Williams and Joshua Brinson we at the wide out positions vacated by Devin Street and Saddler.
Speaking of green jerseys, I figured that to couple Paul reporting walk-on Trey Anderson (below) getting bumped up to the backup role I should let you all know what he looks like. I agree that he’s probably a shade under six feet tall (although I cut his legs off to get a closer shot), but he can chuck a pigskin pretty well regardless. He looked pretty good with the second team today and showed some pretty good patience on one play. The pocket collapsed to a certain extent, yet Anderson kept his eyes downfield and connected with a deep crossing route.
As for the fifth person wearing green today, it seems like the Anthony Gonzalez (below) project is in full swing. He was taking reps with the tight ends/h-backs, although he also threw to some receivers immediately after stretching. To me, the their intentions for his future can be seen when they have him driving the blocking sled with the other ends. It’s not every day you get to see a green jersey doing that.
Following practice, Graham announced that defensive back and Montour High School graduate E.J. Banks has been cleared to play this season. Banks redshirted at Notre Dame in the 09-10 season, and although he would normally have to sit out this season because he transferred, that restriction was waived.
Judging by yesterday’s comment string and a less-than-friendly email sent to me over the weekend, I’d like to notify those that don’t want to read anything fun that they can safely browse away without risk of being uninformed, as that’s all the “important” stuff from the morning.
If you’re still here, then thanks for sticking around.
I’d like to start by saying that one thing I always get to see in the first hour of practice is a special teams drill that looks absolutely ridiculous but is also understandably necessary. They really do put the “special” in special teams, as they are so specific that you almost wonder why they really need to practice them.
Yesterday wide receivers coach Mike Norvell had them doing the old “practice messing up the receiver while he’s trying to do a fair catch” drill. While the receivers were working on the highly important job of securing the catch, the gunners were practicing getting close to him and yelling as loudly as possible. I guess that’s necessary, but it is hard to not chuckle at in person.
Today’s drill was focused on blocking punts, and it involved players running at their coach, who would then punt a deflated ball. About halfway through the drill, Graham called for a few soccer balls, which just made it look even more out of place. As silly as it looked, though, I can see the importance of practicing it. Blocked punts happen a decent amount in college football and can really turn the tide. And with the difference between a block and a miss plus a penalty sometimes being just a few inches, teaching proper technique (hands low, right on the ball as opposed to high and over your head) for a few minutes certainly won’t hurt the Panthers.
I’ve discovered that the good stuff always comes during special teams practice. Today the punters, including red shirt sophomore Matt Yoklic, were sporting cutoff football pants with thigh pads in them that were cut well above the knee. After watching Yoklic launch a few very impressive punts, he gave him a high five and then asked if he could “get these a little shorter,” pointing to the shorts.
As intense and focused as practice has been this past week, there have been many moments like this that show Graham also wants his players to have a little fun. Things like this aren’t new to football practices (it’s a game after all), but that doesn’t mean seeing them doesn’t provide some kind of enjoyment.