Pitt had its 15th and final spring practice down on the South Side today. It was a bit of an abbreviated session with some fun thrown in at the end, but here are a couple of notes...
- Redshirt sophomore cornerback Jahmahl Pardner was absent today, and Paul Chryst said after practice that Pardner has decided to leave the team (though he is still enrolled at the university). I would imagine that Pardner will likely finish up this semester at Pitt and then transfer somewhere else to continue his football career. He came on with some really good promise early in the 2012 season as Pitt's starting nickelback, but tore his ACL against Virginia Tech and really was never the same after that. He came back to a much more limited role last year, but was fighting for playing time heading into 2014. It likely would've been an uphill battle — Lafayette Pitts, Trenton Coles and Titus Howard are both ahead of him at cornerback and Reggie Mitchell appeared to have passed him in nickel situations, too — but he likely would've seen some sort of role on the team next year.
That said, though, if there's one position Pitt could probably afford to take a hit depth-wise, it's in the secondary. The Panthers have all the guys I mentioned above, plus four more defensive backs coming in this summer as freshmen. It's never good to lose a guy who could've contributed but this is a much better situation than if Pitt had lost, say, a defensive end (where depth is pretty dire).
- Pitt was in full pads today, something they haven't done too much this spring (usually they haven't been wearing leg pads) but didn't tackle to the ground in any of their drills. They did some scrimmage-type stuff, but running backs stayed upright the whole time.
- In said scrimmage situations, the secondary looked pretty active early on with Howard, in particular, logging a couple of breakups. Terrish Webb, who appears to have locked down the starting safety job next to Ray Vinopal, also made a couple of nice plays. Those two guys have had really good springs, and will be critical pieces for Pitt next season.
"Those guys both have a lot of ability," Vinopal said. "Everyone on the team knows that and they trust their ability. It's just getting the mental side of the game down, and they're putting their time in in the meeting room, studying, watching film. They definitely are getting it. I'm very comfortable with both of them on the field, everybody on the back end I'm comfortable with."
- Wide receiver Jester Weah had a nice practice today. He beat Coles deep on a route in third-down drills, and also had a couple of nice touchdown catches in red zone drills. The first one was over Coles and the second one came over Pitts on a nice back shoulder throw from Voytik. I think Weah's still probably towards the back of the line when it comes to receivers who will see the field for Pitt in 2014, but his raw potential is so tantalizing that whenever you see flashes of it, it's impossible not to wonder what happens if he figures out how to harness that rawness into football ability.
- JP Holtz also had some nice grabs down in the red zone. Obviously he's a nice target down there, but last year Pitt had to keep him in and block so much to make up for offensive line deficiencies, he really wasn't deployed as an offensive weapon to his full potential. I think there will still be a lot of that in 2014, but if they can let Holtz loose a little bit more, he seems to do a good job creating space and getting open around the end zone.
- Sticking with tight ends, Voytik appears to have a good connection with Scott Orndoff. He has looked for him a lot this spring, and today had two long completions to convert 3rd-and-15 and 3rd-and-18 situations. Orndoff lost the end of last year with an injury, but showed good potential as a receiver early on in the season.
- I'm interested to see how Dontez Ford fits into the offense next season. He's a guy who has clearly been getting more and more work (and, appropriately, getting better and better) as spring has progressed. They seem to like him a lot on short crossing routes, and he caught a couple of passes in those situations today. He looks noticeably trimmer and more in-tune with the offense than he did even in Detroit last year (where he saw some limited action).
- Pitt ended practice today with some fun stuff to send the players off into summer. First it was offensive and defensive linemen catching punts (most of them did all right), followed by a team-wide game of dodgeball. It ultimately ended with a few defenders against backup quarterback Trey Anderson, but Anderson rallied and pared it down to just he and Coles. After a brief wrestling match, it looked like Coles got the final throw in on Anderson. Here's video of the whole game...
I'll have some more stuff coming later this week, including trying to piece together what the depth chart will probably look like come August, so stay tuned.