Today was Pitt's second-to-last open (to the media) practice of training camp. They practiced outdoors today, with some rain coming on at the very end of the session. The Panthers will go again tomorrow afternoon before Fan Fest Thursday night, and will start preparation for Youngstown State next week. Let's get right to it...
- The Penguins coaching staff was at practice today, and coach Dan Bylsma spoke to the team before they took the field. Andrew Taglianetti, whose father Peter Taglianetti played for the Pens in the early 90s, had this to say about Bylsma's speech:
"He’s awesome. What he said was terrific. You have to have a will to win," Taglianetti said. "I’ve known him for the last few years. He’s one of the best guys in the city. He’s a genuine guy. He’s always having fun. I think that’s why the guys in the Penguins in the locker room really appreciate him. He relates to the players. It shows because his team is always winning. I can’t say enough about the guy. He’s a terrific guy. I thought it was awesome that he came and talked to us today."
Afterwards, Bylsma hung around for all of practice. He threw around some footballs, and has quite an impressive arm. He also filmed some videos for the Heinz Field jumbotron that involve him making diving catches and, I for one, am very excited to see this fall.
- The first half-hour or so of Pitt's practice overlapped with the end of the Steelers' practice, so for a while both teams were going at it down here on the South Side. Pretty good Pittsburgh moment to have Bylsma, Paul Chryst and Mike Tomlin all sharing the field at the same time. After the Steelers wrapped up, general manager Kevin Colbert hung around for a little bit.
"The whole Steelers organization has been unbelievable. At times, almost overwhelmingly hospitable," Chryst said. "I couldn’t be more proud to be their next-door neighbor. It’s something that’s important to us, having a good relationship, and they sure make you feel welcome and at home."
- The number of guys in Chryst "day-to-day" category keeps getting smaller as we get closer to the first week of game preparation and *gasp* an actual football game in 11 days. Mike Shanahan was back for pretty much all of practice today, and even took reps in the team drills. Position-mate Devin Street was also back in pads, but limited to individual work. Linebacker Eric Williams was also back. Having him and Shane Gordon back really helps solidify that linebacking corps. Todd Thomas has a "longer" recovery time than the rest of the guys, but once he gets back, those three make up a pretty good starting unit.
- MajorMajors asked about the receiving unit in yesterday's comments, so here it goes. Obviously, having Shanahan and Street back soon will be huge, especially with Shanahan. At 6-foot-5, he's by far the Panthers' biggest option at wideout, and big receivers are a necessity in a pro-style offense. There was a pass in practice today that he had to jump up for, and that pass would have been well over pretty much any other receiver's head. As for the guys further down the depth chart, Chryst spoke highly of Ronald Jones after practice and cited Josh Brinson's versatility to play all three WR spots. Brandon Ifill has been out with an injury for over a week now, so we'll see when he starts working back in. Ed Tinker and Brendon Felder have both been mixing in, mostly with the second unit, but that position is still very fluid, with basically everyone working with both the first and second team.
- Ray Graham sat out today's practice and Isaac Bennett was in pads, but only took part in individual drills. I wouldn't worry about Bennett, but next week will be big to see how close Graham actually is to being game-ready. If he's still in and out next week, that's obviously a bad thing. Rushel Shell continued to get a lot of work with those guys out, and definitely looks like he's starting to make some strides. I'm still not totally convinced he'll definitely play this year, though, given the depth of talent at running back.
- I wrote in today's P-G about the leadership and consistency of the starting five offensive linemen. Someone much smarter than I once wrote something about the best laid plans of mice and men and, sure enough, center Ryan Turnley sat out today's session. Chryst said he's just one of those "day-to-day" guys, but I think offensive line is one position where Pitt really can't afford any major injuries. There's virtually no experience and even just very few numbers beyond the starting five. Redshirt freshman Artie Rowell took first-team snaps at center in Turnley's absence, and redshirt sophomore Shane Johnson stepped in with the second team.
"The thing I appreciate from Artie is he’s into it, he’s working," Chryst said. "That part’s been good. Shane Johnson’s done a nice job. [He] just kind of put his hand up, said, ‘I’ll go play some center.’ The twos are getting some work."
- Please, I beg of you, don't overreact to what I'm about to tell you. Freshman quarterback Chad Voytik has looked very, very impressive in his last two practices. If it looked like a light switch went on last night, it stayed on today. He had a beautiful over the shoulder throw to Drew Carswell during the skeleton drill, and wrapped up the practice with a diving touchdown run in the rain. When Voytik understands the play, which, like any freshman, is not always the case, he can make things happen. We've also seen his mobility the last few days. He can make some plays with his feet (like a 20-yard run last night) but also seems to have pretty good throwing mechanics while he's on the run.
"The speed is hard to adjust to at first, but just all that goes into it," Voytik said. "Knowing every progression, and then every progression with a different defense to that progression."
Now, like I said before and, really, I can't emphasize this enough, please do not overreact to this news. Tino Sunseri is still Pitt's starting quarterback and, barring some cataclysmic shift, will be to start the season. Voytik has been streaky up to this point and Sunseri's experience and knowledge of game situations are a huge leg up. There's still a strong chance that Voytik redshirts this year, but if the past two days are any indication, he looks like he'll be a pretty good player down the road.
For what it's worth, Chryst said there was "definitely a transition" for Voytik moving under center after playing out of the shotgun in high school, but Voytik said he felt like he was picking it up quickly, and that being under center actually helped with his timing on throws.
- Tyrone Ezell had a nice play this afternoon when he batted a Sunseri pass attempt up in the air and outjumped everyone else to grab the interception. After moving around the past few weeks, Ezell has finally settled at nose guard. Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said that's where he sees Ezell's future.
"I think he’s where he’s going to be at, between him and K.K. [Mosley-Smith] battling for that spot," Breckterfield said. "I think he is a nose guard. Worst-case scenario, something happens, we could always move him back out because he’s got the playbook down."
- I tweeted this and, really, this should surprise absolutely no one given the impression he has made so far, but freshman TE J.P. Holtz said the coaching staff has told him he will play this year. Again, the kid has been a beast in camp, and Pitt is kind of thin at tight end, a position Chryst loves to use.
As we approach next week and get a depth chart, it'll become much clearer which freshmen will play this year and which will take a redshirt, but if I had to guess right now, I'd guess that the guys that will play will be Holtz, Bam Bradley, Deaysean Rippy, Jahmahl Pardner and Darryl Render. Those are guys that I think have secured some playing time at this point, and there are plenty of other guys who could go either way. That's just a guess, though, so I could be wrong.
That's all for now. I'll be back tomorrow with my FINAL "Talkin' 'Bout Practice" of training camp. Anyone interested in Pitt's Fan Fest this Thursday can check out some more info here. I'll be there, so anyone who goes, feel free to stop me and say hi. I said it up in one of the notes, but I'll say it again here just because it feels so good: 11 days until football.