We might as well start with the big news of the day, and that's the announcement that linebacker Todd Thomas has told the coaching staff that he intends to leave the football team. Thomas was not present at the Panthers' second practice of the season today, and coach Paul Chryst led of his post-practice media briefing with this:
"I had a chance to have some conversations with him the last couple of days and he told me last night and this morning that he's going to leave the team. I'm not going to talk about any of our discussions with him, and should something change, then I'll visit that. Obviously I like Todd and you want what's best for every one of these kids in the program, so I'm not going to talk any more about that."
Chryst did not answer when asked if Thomas would seek a transfer or stay at the university, and wouldn't even really clarify if the move is finalized or permanent. Efforts to reach Thomas have been unsuccessful, and his high school coach said he hasn't been in touch with Thomas over the last few days.
At Pitt's first practice Tuesday, Thomas was practicing mostly with the second team, behind Anthony Gonzalez and Mike Caprara at the outside linebacker spots. His body language definitely didn't look positive on the field, but when we spoke to him afterwards he said he planned to use the move as motivation.
""Basically, I'm at number two," Thomas said. "Well, it's a rotation, so it's really not a depth chart right now. But I'm coming in as a number two right now, so I don't know ... I'm 100 percent, everything's fine; I guess I can't control what happens.
"The motivation worked, definitely."
While this certainly goes along with the theme of the coaching staff wanting guys on the roster who want to be there, this definitely isn't a good thing for Pitt heading into the 2013 season. I know the staff though Thomas, while explosive and athletic, needed to be more consistent, he was one of the best playmakers on that defense. He was the team's fourth-leading tackler despite playing in only nine games last year, and, quite simply, can make plays that not a ton of other guys can make.
We'll see where the story goes from here, if Thomas does in fact decide to leave Pitt or if there's a chance he could return. It sounds like it could go either way.
With that, here are a couple of other notes from Wednesday's practice session:
- With Thomas out, Nicholas Grigsby took over his spot at outside linebacker on the second unit.
- There was one session late in practice where we saw a basically all-freshman offensive line, and it looked like this: Jaryd Jones-Smith (LT) Aaron Reese (LG), Alex Officer (C), Carson Baker (RG), Dorian Johnson (RT). All of those guys (except for Johnson) will redshirt this year, but it's an interesting look at where the staff at least sees them starting out position-wise.
- They ran 7-on-7 drills late in practice as a sort of offense vs. defense competition, best-of-7. The defense won 5-2, and the passing game looked like it was still a little out of sync as Tom Savage tried to hook up with his receivers.
"Certainly some things that are spacing and some of the nuances, we've got a lot of cleaning up to do," Chryst said. "Part of it is a lot of different moving parts to it. Right now, the way we've set up camp, we're trying to get a lot of the installation in, it's harder to come back and repeat a lot of those concepts so that's to be expected a little bit."
Jason Hendricks and Anthony Gonzalez both had nice pass breakups in the drill.
- Freshman Terrish Webb also had a nice interception breaking forward on a 7-on-7 drill.
- We finally got to see some field goal kicking at the end of practice, with freshman Chris Blewitt taking center stage. Blewitt, expected to be Pitt's starting kicker this year, didn't disappoint. He nailed field goals from 29, 35, 41 and 47 yards. The last one was with the whole team watching and some sort of reward on the line. After he made it, the team celebrated around him.
"For him, those were his first reps," Chryst said. "You look back to any time you're new with a group, freshman year, he probably felt a little bit more than we did."
- I think the wide receiver race could be more interesting that maybe anticipated. It wouldn't surprise me to see one of the freshmen like Zach Challingsworth, Jester Weah or Reggie Green challenge for playing time this year. They all have certain strengths (Challingsworth looks like a good route runner, Weah is very athletic) that could get them on the field this year if no one else steps up at that position.
"We've got to find top five, top six," Chryst said. "You guys know the pool. There's room for anyone. I think yeah, right now, certainly open to everyone."