And so it begins….
Pitt football camp began today and that’s good news for those of us who like to cover football because it means we are actually covering, you know, football, as opposed to conference meetings, realignment, recruiting, discipline, lawsuits, etc., etc….
The thing about today’s practice and the first few to keep in perspective is this – they don’t go in pads until Friday, so while it is nice to get a look at some players, it is still a little bit like covering 7-on-7 – “football in underwear” as football guys like Bill Cherpak would say – and we won’t know much about this team until this time next week when they have three or four days in pads under their belts.
That being said we can always make observations from practices so here we go….
** Hey let’s start at quarterback. Why not, it is what is on people’s minds, especially since Mark Myers is no longer in the mix as he is in the process of transferring. I thought one of the most telling statements Paul Chryst made after practice was when he was asked how things will change with Myers gone and he answered basically “it won’t”. In other words, Myers had fallen so far out of favor that he wasn’t going to be in the mix anyway. That means Tino Sunseri will be backed up by Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson.
First off, there can’t be a team that has three shorter guys playing quarterback than Pitt as all three are shorter than 6-feet. And while size isn’t everything it is pretty amazing how small this group is collectively. Voytik is the heralded freshman from Cleveland, Tennessee and he threw the ball reasonably well in drills. He has a nice arm, I wouldn’t say it is a cannon, but he has some zip on his passes to the sideline. I wasn’t blown away by anything I saw, but I do think he has some talent and he obviously ha s a bright future.
Trey Anderson impressed me today, he has a better arm than I thought, he can make all the throws and you know what, he makes good decisions. I don’t know if he could be a full-time starter at this level but he does enough good things that I think he will be fine as the back-up.
This is Tino Sunseri’s team and I will say this –he looks more comfortable in this system then he ever did last year and that’s a good start. But he still struggles with some of the primary throws he has to make – his deep passes are still not accurate and he sometimes short arms the ball and these are two areas he needs to continue to work at. I think he will have a much better season than he did last year, though, and mostly because he is playing in a system that will play more to his strengths.
The most impressive quarterback I saw today, however, is Tom Savage, the kid who played at Rutgers, transferred to Arizona and now is at Pitt – as a walk-on. He has the best arm of the group, he is 6-foot-5 and he can make all the passes and move around well. I was impressed with his raw ability but again, when he was at Rutgers it never seemed to translate into on-field success.
** Ray Graham is not ready to play. If they had to play this week I don’t think he could go. The good news is that there are still three long weeks for him to continue to heal and get stronger. But he is still testing it out, they held him out of team drills today and while he was able to make some cuts and do some running, he obviously isn’t back to Ray Graham of last year before the injury. That’s not surprising, an ACL is just a tough one to come back from and it is one that takes time to heal and recover from. Graham will get stronger and as he does we will get a chance to see how far he really has come in a year but for now it is premature to try and get a good read on where he really is at, especially before they put the pads on.
For what it is worth he said the knee is strong, stronger than he thought it was and he said it is his goal to be in the lineup for the opener against Youngstown State.
The same can be said about Rushel Shell – we knew he was big, strong and fast and nothing I saw today would suggest he isn’t the talent that we think he is. But again, until he puts on pads and I can watch him play against defensive guys who are bigger and stronger, I don’t know what really to say about him other than he certainly looked the part.
** Cory King is the starting left tackle for now. Scratch that – I am not sure there is a plan B so he is the guy. And believe it or not - I think that if he can come along and stay healthy, this line – the starters at least – will actually be serviceable. Ryan Turnley and Chris Jacobson will be solid, Ryan Schlieper and Matt Rotheram got experience last year and both figure to progress this year. And don’t forget, the line will be helped by the blocking schemes and play calling of Paul Chryst as there will be fullbacks and tight ends to help. Now, if King gets hurt or doesn’t pan out, well…....
I watched King move around today, though, and I like what I see so far. Again, no pads, but he does seem to have good feet and he moves well and gets out of his stance quickly so there is no reason to think that he won’t have some success at tackle. I would think the next guy in line is Justin Virbitsky but even Chryst admitted today this is going to be a developing story throughout training camp as there just aren’t many answers.
** The linebacker group also had some interesting developments, at least from the standpoint of the personnel groups. The first unit was Nicholas Grigsby (outside), Eric Williams (outside) and Shane Gordon (middle) and the second unit was Todd Thomas (outside), EJuan Price (outside) and Joe Trebitz (middle). Now, I don’t think this will be the two-deep – I expect either Thomas or Price or maybe both to be starters by the time the season rolls around but I do like that they are both being made to earn it. This group actually has a chance to be one of the more athletic groups of linebackers we’ve seen at Pitt in a while and I do like Shane Gordon in the middle because he is, as Mike Tomlin would say, a “run and hit” guy. The significant news, though, is that Dan Mason is not initially in that two-deep and if you listen to what Paul Chryst said today it is clear they are still uncertain whether or not he is going to be able to play. I know he played significantly during the spring but that was spring and there were a lot of guys hurt. This is the real deal – and everyone is back and I just don’t get the sense that they are fully comfortable putting Mason out there on the field. Remember, he is lucky to be able to walk and the things that he has to do in order to be able to walk, much less run, are far more than anyone should have to. He is clearly motivated, he is a leader but I just don’t know how much he will contribute.
** One significant position change –Tyrone Ezell moved from defensive tackle to defensive end. I think this speaks volumes about the end position which, like offensive tackle, was very thin. I know they still have Bryan Murphy, TJ Clemmings and Shayne Hale but this position needed some shoring up and I think Ezell is explosive enough to make the transition from tackle to end. Clemmings is the one who needs to really get in gear because he is the one who was supposed to be a difference maker and now, going into his third year, is when he needs to take that big step forward.
I really believe this – if this end spot gets worked out this defense will be very good. I think the linebackers are going to be fine, the secondary will be very good, the defensive tackles are very good - the end spot is going to be the variable and like offensive tackle, a position to watch.
** Pitt added seven freshmen walk-ons: defensive back Ethan Brown (Royersford, PA/The Haverford School), offensive lineman John Guy (Somerville, MA/New Hampton School), placekicker Brad Lukasak (Orwigsburg, PA/Blue Mountain), long snapper Pat Quirin (Pittsburgh, PA/Pittsburgh Central Catholic), fullback Anthony Rippole (McKees Rocks, PA/Montour) and wide receiver Chris Wuestner (Carlisle, PA/Carlisle).
** A few weeks ago when I was at ACC media day I made mention of the fact that the conference was flirting with Notre Dame and may even consider some sort of a partial membership situation for the Irish. Here is some more on that front from Mark Blaudschun, who is a tremendous reporter with a lot of contacts and a lot of years experience. I saw him down at the ACC meetings and he certainly knew all the power brokers in that conference so this is some good stuff.