My name is Sam Werner, and, as you've probably seen, I'll be taking over the Pitt football beat this season. Many of you have already reached out to me on Twitter (shameless plug: follow me @SWernerPG) and I want to thank you for your kind words welcoming me to the world of Pitt football. It should go without saying (but I'll say it anyways) that I'm incredibly excited to cover the team this season. College football really is my passion and I hope to convey that in my coverage of Pitt football.
Before I get started with my impressions from this morning's practice, I want to take care of a few housekeeping items.
First and foremost, I want to extend a million thanks to Paul Zeise. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read Paul's heartfelt farewell (for now) post below. Paul's coverage on the beat the last 12 years has been truly outstanding, and I know I have some big shoes to fill (literally and figuratively). He has been invaluable in helping me jump right into training camp coverage, and I want to wish all the best to him and his son Elijah as they goes through the recruiting process.
Second, I'd like to take a second to introduce myself. I plan on being as active as I possibly can, both here and on Twitter, so I'd like for you to get to know me a bit before I get to know you over the course of this season.
I'm originally from the great town of Norwalk, Conn. and attended college at Notre Dame. Until now, I have covered high school football and Robert Morris athletics for the Post-Gazette. As I mentioned earlier, I love everything about college football and, like most of you, can't wait for this season to get started. Outside of sports, I enjoy a wide range of music and most of the quality shows on TV these days (Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Parks and Recreation are probably my favorites on the air right now). Like I said, I look forward to getting to know some of you as we go through what should be a very interesting Pitt season.
But, really, enough about me. Let's get to what you all want, and that's notes from this morning's practice...
-Today was the first day of two-a-days for Pitt. The team practiced from 8:15 to around 11 this morning, and will be back at it tonight around 6:45. This week, they'll have two-a-days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, one practice on Tuesday/Thursday, a scrimmage on Saturday and a closed practice Sunday.
-Devin Street was in pads, but was limited in practice. Paul Chryst said he wasn't hurt, and that the staff was just trying to keep him fresh during two-a-days, as well as get some other guys some reps. Chryst said the staff would do this with certain guys during two-a-days.
-With Street limited and Shanahan sitting out, Chryst and his staff ran through several different receiver combinations. Those two, along with Cameron Saddler, appear to be the sure things. Brandon Ifill, Ronald Jones and Ed Tinker also got some work in today.
-Redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts, who has made quite an impression auditioning for the starting field corner spot opposite K'Waun Williams, was absent today. He and his cousin, Jevonte Pitts, were excused because of a death in the family. With Pitts gone, Cullen Christian got virtually all the work with as the first team field corner. That battle will be something to watch, and I'll have more in the P-G later this week.
-Ray Graham was still in his red "Can't Touch This" jersey, but he continued to participate in most drills. Graham insists that he'll be 100 percent by the beginning of the season, but, even if he isn't, Isaac Bennett has looked the part of a starting tailback. He broke through with a 50-yard touchdown run during 11-on-11's, and seems to have taken advantage on the extra reps he got in the spring. I'll have a story on Bennett in Wednesday's P-G.
-Speaking of running backs, the group of Graham, Bennett and Malcolm Crockett seems to have separated itself from the field, at least for now. Those three got pretty much all of the first- and second-team reps in practice today, with Corey Davis mixing in sparingly. Obviously, it's still incredibly early and things could change rapidly, but all-everything freshman Rushel Shell looks like he has some work to do to get impact playing time.
-Tyrone Ezell appears ready to wreak some havoc along the defensive line. He had a big day at the team's scrimmage Saturday, with several batted down passes, and looked good again today. I think this defense could end up being pretty good, assuming certain parts stay healthy. Aaron Donald is indispensable along the line, and they need some guys who are dinged up (like Todd Thomas and Shane Gordon) to get healthy.
I'll be back in a little bit with some post-practice quotes from players and coaches, and then again tonight with anything from the evening practice session.
Once again, I'm really excited to get going and am ready to work tirelessly to give you all the stellar Pitt football coverage you have come to expect from the Post-Gazette.