Pitt is having its first two-a-day practice of training camp today. The Panthers opened things up this morning at their regular time, and will hit the field again this evening for a slightly lighter session. They had been doing evening walkthroughs this week, so the only real difference today is that it will, presumably, be with pads on. That second practice is closed to the media, though, so we will never know. In case you missed it, here's my story from today's PG about T.J. Clemmings finally feeling comfortable in his role at right tackle. Now, a few notes from the Panthers' morning session today...
- We had our first near-fight of training camp today between receiver Dontez Ford and cornerback Trenton Coles. Some background: It came during one-on-one drills between receivers and cornerbacks. Coles and Ryan Lewis were on one side (and, it should be said, actually doing a very good job in coverages). Both, especially Coles, were very vocal about their successes. Ford was the last receiver to go, and apparently there was some debate as to who "won" the drill (basically, Ford caught the pass, but Coles' argument was that he was supposed to be playing a coverage in which he would have received safety help). So the two agreed to go again. On the second rep, Ford got past Coles, but Coles grabbed a good hunk of his jersey. The pass fell incomplete, and the two started pushing and shoving (Coles even went into an old-timey boxing pose. Think the Notre Dame Fighting Irish logo) before they were separated by teammates and coaches.
This is all a rather long-winded way of saying that Trenton Coles plays with a little bit of an edge to him. This can be a good thing, especially at cornerback, but he treads a fine line. I asked defensive backs coach Troy Douglas after practice how he makes sure Coles stays on the right side of that line.
"I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing," Douglas said. "I try to coach with a little bit of an edge. You don't want it to get negative as far as creating penalties and that type of stuff. But you've got to let him be who he is. Just talk to him about it and get on him, but you know that ain't going to help. He's going to be who he is, I think."
- Let's stick with cornerbacks for a second, because I had a couple of notes there today. First of all, Ryan Lewis looked pretty good (as I kind of mentioned earlier) in individual drills. It looks like Avonte Maddox may be ahead of him in the overall rotation, though. Lafayette Pitts went down midway through practice with what just looked like a cramp, and Maddox saw some pretty extensive work with the first team during team drills late in the session. I've said it before, but Maddox certainly looks like he's going to play this year, at least on special teams. I wouldn't be surprised to see him pushing for considerable playing time on defense as the season progresses, either.
- I want to go back to something that I probably should have mentioned yesterday. I touched earlier this week on the punt return picture, which right now looks like Tyler Boyd and Kevin Weatherspoon. If I had to guess now, I think the most likely scenario is that it will be a situational thing, with Boyd taking the punts that will likely produce returns and Weatherspoon handling the ones on Pitt's side of the 50 that will likely produce fair catches. I asked special teams coach Chris Haering how he would balance Boyd's ability returning kicks versus not wanting to get him killed back there, and he had a good response.
"We don't look at it that way, that he's going to get killed," Haering said. "We look at it just like you would on offense. We're going to block the returns, we've got good guys that are out there blocking the returns, straining their tail off, so our hope is you don't get free runners and guys that are going to get blown up. Tyler, he is a special kid and he's excited to do it, too. He's 100 percent bought-in and it's another chance to make a play for our football team to win, so we don't look at it like that, that we're putting him back there and holding our breath. The ball's going to be in his hands and we're going to block it."
I still think he'll share time with Weatherspoon back there, but maybe Haering's quote is an indication that we'll see Boyd more than expected.
- I thought Chad Voytik had his best practice of training camp today. He does a lot of things well, but has had trouble at times putting everything together on a given play. For example, he'll go through reads, move well in the pocket, but then miss the throw. Or he'll make a strong throw, but it's into coverage when he had other options. Today he did his best job finding open guys and, most importantly, putting balls where they need to be.
"I like Chad, how he's been approaching it a lot," Paul Chryst said. "Every day you're getting some stuff that we've got to clean up. But yeah, I've loved his approach to it and if he keeps doing that, he's going to maximize his opportunity."
Of course (and you can see this in Chryst's quote) it's not perfect yet. Voytik still has plenty of work to do and, ideally, needs to get to a place where he's doing everything right on every play. But today was his best day in terms of finding open guys and then making the throws he needed to hit the openings.
- There were a good number of Pitt football alumni at practice today, and Chryst had them address the team after practice. Former Panthers coach Walt Harris was also there today. He usually stops by for a handful of practices every year, and has definitely stayed around the program since he left.