Pitt started its final week of training camp today, as the Panthers will start Florida State preparation a week from today (just think about that, we're one week away from the first Paul Chryst press conference of the season. That's neat.)
First, though, one more week of camp. Let's go through the quick highlights from today...
- We got some looks at the punt return unit at the beginning of practice, and it looked like Kevin Weatherspoon, Tyler Boyd and K'Waun Williams returning punts (in no particular order). Punt returner is still a position that's pretty up in the air after the graduation of Cam Saddler, and I don't get the sense that it's close to being settled (I would even throw Lafayette Pitts into the mix, too). Boyd has the pure talent to make some special plays, but it might be a bit risky putting a true freshman back in that situation and they could opt for a less spectacular veteran presence.
- Still no Isaac Bennett today for the Panthers, but he did move into a less restrictive leg brace that allows him to bend his knee. Chryst hasn't seemed concerned that Bennett's injury will threaten his status for the Florida State game, but missing this much time isn't good. I get the sense that they're being a bit overcautious with Bennett, since he's a guy they really can't afford to lose for any significant period of time. The last thing they want to do is rush him back just to suffer a more serious injury.
"He's done some things and each day, depending on how it responds, you can add a little bit more to it," Chryst said. "So far, knock on wood, he's been progressing."
- Redshirt sophomore Malcolm Crockett was also limited today after banging up his shoulder over the weekend. In his absence, freshmen James Conner and Rachid Ibrahim took most of the running back reps, with Desmond Brown also mixing in. Conner is pretty much a lock to play this year at this point, and it wouldn't surprise me, especially if an injury strikes, if Ibrahim sees the field as well.
- Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was at practice, but didn't participate in any team drills. Chryst said it was just a normal rest day he liked to give some of the older players. Tyrone Ezell also missed a good chunk of practice, and in their absence LaQuentin Smith and Darryl Render lined up as the first team defensive tackles. Render was expected, but I thought putting Smith there was interesting because he had primarily been playing defensive end so far. Obviously, Donald and Ezell will be the starters there, but the staff might think Smith has the ability to provide them with some depth inside if they need it.
- Redshirt sophomore Artie Rowell once again took first team snaps at center. They actually did something different things with the offensive line today, where they mixed the tackles and center from one team with the guards from the other team. That meant first team T/C (Adam Bisnowaty, TJ Clemmings and Rowell) working with the second team G (Ryan Schlieper and Carson Baker), and vice versa (Juantez Hollins, Dorian Johnson and Gabe Roberts working with Cory King and Matt Rotheram). Don't think there's a whole lot here other than mixing and matching some alignments. The goal is still to find the best five guys to play once the season starts.
- Redshirt freshman Mike Caprara and true freshman Matt Galambos split the second team reps at middle linebacker today. They were also both on the field together later on with Galambos sliding over to the Will linebacker spot. At this point, I would be pretty surprised if Galambos doesn't see the field, especially since he has also been working on special teams. Freshman defensive end Shakir Soto also saw lots of second team reps today, and he's another guy that I think will probably play this year.
- Speaking of freshmen, Jaymar Parrish has seen a lot more action this training camp than I think he (or anybody else) expected. He's being used as a sort of H-back, similar to the position Manasseh Garner plays, sort of between a fullback and a tight end. I would've thought he was a long shot to see the field this year at the beginning of camp, but now I could definitely see him in action this year. After practice today, though, Parrish said he hasn't thought too much about whether he'll be playing this year.
"Yes I am [seeing more reps than I expected,]" he said. "I didn't think I would get this many at all. We'll see about [playing] once camp's over and the Florida State game comes."
With a lot of these guys, it'll be pretty easy to tell if they're in line for playing time early next week once they start preparing for Florida State. The tougher ones will be cases like Dorian Johnson, whom they would probably like to redshirt, but will prepare as if he has to play just in case they need him.
- It looked like the passing game has taken a step forward over the last five practices or so. The timing between Tom Savage and his receivers seems to have improved, and Savage looks a little sharper in general. Today, he hit Devin Street on a 64-yard touchdown pass that probably traveled around 60 yards in the air.
- Kicker Chris Blewitt was not at practice today for what Chryst called an "unrelated medical appointment."