Today was the fourth day of Pitt camp - the second day in shoulder pads and the final day before the team puts the pads on.
It is one of the toughest days for guys annually because the excitement of camp has worn off, the fatigue is starting to set in and guys are getting beat up and tired - and everybody anticipates the first day in pads because it means the team can finally start scrimmaging.
But what we saw today was a lot of guys fall out, get nicked or dinged, and that's never a good thing but as Paul Chryst explained, this is the time when we will begin to separate the men from the boys so to speak.
It is all about finding a way to push through the fatigue, the heat, the bumps and bruises and developing a mentally tough team.
“These first five days (of camp) they call them ‘acclimatization days’ for a reason,” Chryst said. “They’re getting used to it. We’re not going to plan a big speech, ‘Hey, we’ve got full pads on.’ I think you have to have the mentality every time you cross the line it’s full go. But I think it’s another step and that’s always good."
“There’s absolutely a fine line [between pushing through injury and sitting out]. You’ve got to understand the balance but you’ve got 29 practices before the first game. You’ve got to make sure you make the most of it. Absolutely it’s a juggling act.”
The best news is that none of the injuries are serious but we will have to see who comes out and plays on Friday before we really know who was just bumped today and who was injured.
Incidentally, Chris Jacobson and Todd Thomas sat out of practice today (in Jacobson's case, more accurately, he was extremely limited) and Ray Graham was again in the green shirt meaning they need to keep their hands off him.
This is all keeping with the theme of "let's be smart with guys returning from injury."
For Friday's paper I wrote about the defensive line.
Here is another theme to remember "depth is an issue along the defensive line, offensive line at tight end and quarterback" because thse are issues and certainly worth watching.
The defensive line, however, has some chance to become a very strong unit as the first four (currently Ty Ezell, KK Mosley-Smith, Aaron Donald and T.J. Clemmings) is big, athletic and somewhat versatile.
The best news came from defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield, who said that Clemmings has come back from summer conditioning with more "nastiness." He said it is clear he is ready to take the next step as a player - "the light has gone on" so to speak...
This is excellent news for the defensive line because Clemmings is a huge piece - he was one of the highest rated kids in his class, he was a huge get out of Paterson Catholic and his talent has never been in question. What has been in question is, well, just how nasty he was as he is a shy, quiet kind of kid and up until this point he played that way as well. Now, however, he has seemingly seized the first team defensive end spot opposite of Ezell and it has a lot to do with the fact that he is playing a lot faster and with a lot more of a sense of urgency.
The other player that Breckterfield spoke highly of is Jack Lippert, who is pushing KK Smith at nose tackle. He said Lippert came back from offseason conditioning and he dropped some weight, he got himself in better shape and he is playing his best football right now.
Again, there is some work to do in order to develop some depth but it is a good start to a very nice unit.
One thing that is coming into focus is the fact that Trey Anderson is ahead of Chad Voytik in the back-up quarterback derby, at least based on how they have taken reps this week. Clearly they want to try and redshirt Voytik if at all possible and Anderson's a little more experienced so they want to get him ready in case something happens to Tino Sunseri.
Chryst was asked about this (Anderson and Sunseri taking most of the reps) in the little post-practice media scrum and here is what he said:
"We did a lot of just ones and twos and Chad (Voytik) got in on a couple there," Chryst said. "But certainly both Tino and Trey need as many reps as they can get. Chad has done a great job of studying and learning and that’s not easy, no spring ball and no real reference, but I think he’s done a great job of knowing what to do and I think he goes out and works at it. So I’m pleased where he’s at.”
On the quarterbacks - many have asked me how Tino Sunseri has looked and I would say that he still struggles with the same throws he has struggled with for three years but he seems to have a very good command of the offense and I'm seeing him asked to throw less passes that he can't make in this offense than he was last year. I expect him to improve this year and be better than he has been.
I've often said football practice is football practice and when you've seen one, you've seen pretty much all of them. But the one clear difference to me between practice this year under Paul Chryst and last year under Todd Graham, is how physical the practice is and we haven't even seen them in pads. It is clear this a different style of football - not better or worse, just different -- than spread football.
The coaches are all pretty much old school coaches and the players are asked to get after it pretty good.
I think the surprising thing, though, is it really is not stone age football - they are playing at a rapid pace and moving fast between drills. So it isn't slow and plodding, even though it is physical. Guys are flying to the ball on defense and exploding off the line on offense.