Pitt coach Paul Chryst met with the media for the final time today before the Panthers' matchup against Gardner-Webb on Saturday. The topic was mostly the injury status of a couple of players for this week's game.
Chryst said that Aaron Donald (knee), Hubie Graham (clavicle), Jack Lippert and Todd Thomas (knee) were all questionable for the game against the Runnin' Bulldogs. For three of those, that isn't a good sign. For one, it is. Let's talk about the first three...
- Donald is dealing with a knee issue, and while Chryst didn't totally rule him out of Saturday's game, he did say he didn't "feel great about it." Chryst did say that it really shouldn't be a problem beyond this week. Pitt has a bye week after Gardner-Webb, and Chryst was pretty certain Donald would be good to go against Syracuse. He's a big guy for Pitt to have as the enter Big East play. The Panthers aren't deep along the defensive line, and Donald is the biggest difference-maker of the group. Even if he isn't being as disruptive as he was against Virginia Tech, he can (at least in theory) free up other guys to make plays.
Freshman Darryl Redner will presumably slide up into Donald's spot if he isn't a go Saturday. I wrote yesterday about how Render impressed defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable with his growth and work ethic since he arrived in camp, and I think the staff feels pretty confident about what he'll be able to do with more playing time. If Donald does indeed return 100 percent against Syracuse and Render gains some game experience and confidence against Gardner-Webb, that's a win-win.
- Graham got injured against Cincinnati, but re-entered that game after he came out. He sat out the Virginia Tech game and, according to Chryst, has been very limited in practice this week. That'll mean another chance for freshman J.P. Holtz to show what he can do. Holtz impressed the coaches against Virginia Tech, even though he didn't finish with any catches, and Drew Carswell also showed some more blocking ability than may have been expected. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph spoke glowingly of both during his time with the media Tuesday. Chryst didn't offer a long-term prognosis on Graham, but I suspect he's another guy that should be back after the bye week.
- Lippert also didn't play against Virginia Tech, and Chryst sounded more down on his chances this Saturday than the other two. Devin Cook looked good in his first career start at defensive end against the Hokies, and even though Bryan Murphy is still listed as the starter at defensive end on the depth chart, we'll probably see a good deal of both.
- Now, the one guy for whom being "questionable" is a step forward. Thomas returned to practice last week after being sidelined since the early portion of training camp. He'll work back in a little bit at the strongside linebacker spot, currently occupied by Eric Williams. Chryst said that, especially early, it'll be more about how Thomas feels rather than working out a rotation between the two players.
"I don’t think we’re to the point yet where, ‘How we’re going to make this work?’" Chryst said. "It’s more, getting the guy back and seeing the way it goes. We’ve got an opportunity to get him some snaps."
- I asked Chryst if, with Jahmahl Pardner out for the year, there was a chance that the redshirt could come off freshman Ryan Lewis. Lewis was on the team's travel roster to Cincinnati, which is usually a sign that coaches think a guy is ready to play, even if only in an emergency situation. Chryst said they hadn't gotten to the point of making a decision with Lewis, though.
"We’ll kind of see," Chryst said. "Certainly talked about that. Hopefully we don’t lose anymore corners. ... Ryan is continuing to get better and you appreciate that from him. I don’t know if we’re that definitive yet."
- Chryst admitted that, heading into Saturday, he wasn't sure how much he would get from Ray Graham. Obviously, Graham ended up playing and playing quite well. Chryst said that game-time approach was also a strategy he would likely take with the questionable guys this week.
"That’s where you’re kind of cautious in trying not to overstate something one way or the other," Chryst said. "You just try to pay attention to the guys and we just need to make sure that we’re smart. I think a player will always err on the side of, ‘Hey, I can go coach.’ We need to make sure we listen to them, respect them, but also trust [head trainer] Rob [Blanc] and the doctors and make sure we’re doing the right thing."
Chryst also agreed with Graham's assertion that he would like to lose the knee brace at some point this season, though Chryst said it certainly wasn't up to him.
That's all for now, folks. If you missed my Pitt football chat earlier today, here's a link to the transcript. We'll be back tomorrow with a look at Gardner-Webb, plus some other assorted news and notes.