Most of Pitt's players got the day off Sunday (the younger players had a practice/walk through in the evening), but the team was back on the field Monday morning. In case you missed it, here's my notebook from today's PG, which leads off with Paul Chryst voting in favor of power five conference teams only playing one another in an ESPN poll.
Back to today's practice, the Panthers started outside despite some rainy weather, but moved to the indoor facility about halfway through when the heavier stuff started to come down. Here are a few notes from the session...
- A number of players missed all or part of practice with injuries, so let's go through those one by one. Cornerback Lafayette Pitts did not practice with what appeared to be a continuation of something he aggravated in Saturday's session, but Chryst said he expected him back for the night session of Monday's two-a-day. With Pitts out, freshman Avonte Maddox got a lot of work with the first team and, for the most part, held his own out there. I'll have more in a story on Maddox later this week, but he's virtually a certainty to play as a true freshman at this point. In his position at boundary corner, he's been going up against Tyler Boyd a lot. That can certainly be challenging, as Boyd is, well, rather good, but Maddox said he enjoyed it because it makes him better every practice. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to see Maddox challenging for a starting job by the end of the season. He's definitely on the small side, but he runs well and isn't afraid to go up against bigger guys. He has definitely been the biggest pleasant surprise of training camp so far for Pitt.
- Defensive linemen Tyrique Jarrett and K.K. Mosley-Smith also both missed most or all of today's session with nagging injuries (for the record, Chryst said he didn't think any of the injuries are long-term). Their absence left a big void in the middle of the defensive line, so Darryl Render got a slightly heavier workload, and guys like Justin Moody, Jeremiah Taleni and even Connor Dintino got some work with the first team. Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said last week that, of the two freshman defensive tackles, Dintino is closer to being ready to play than Mike Herndon. I don't think it's a slam dunk, but Dintino could be a dark horse candidate for a freshman that sees the field this year. Breckterfield said he would ultimately like to get four or five guys in the defensive tackle/nose tackle rotation, and if Render, Mosley-Smith, Jarrett, Moody and Taleni aren't up to the task, I could definitely see Dintino sneaking in there as maybe a fourth option.
"I think they're starting to know where to go," Chryst said of his young defensive tackles after practice. "That's from the young guys' stuff (post-practice scrimmaging). We're going to need to keep building our depth there with everyone healthy. They have a ways to go still, but they go hard and they've got some stuff to them. All the line, young o-linemen and young d-linemen, it's knowing what to do and I think they're getting there, but then it's just the technique stuff and understanding the pad-level."
- Freshman receiver Adonis Jennings also sat out today's session. No word on his status other than that, as with the rest, Chryst doesn't think it's serious.
- Redshirt senior linebacker Todd Thomas suffered a left leg injury during an 11-on-11 drill about halfway through practice and spent the remainder of the session sitting on the trainers table and, from the sounds of it, complaining about how he felt he was cut block by an offensive player. Again, no word on the severity of the injury, but given that he stayed out at practice, I can't imagine it's too serious.
With Thomas out, it looks like the Panthers have Anthony Gonzalez switch over to weak-side linebacker, and then put Bam Bradley on the field at Gonzalez's usual strong-side spot. Gonzalez can play both positions (he did last year) and the staff probably views Bradley as their best non-starting linebacker, so it's a move that's really about getting the most talent on the field.
- Isaac Bennett got a little bit more work today than he has in the past, participating in some inside-run drills and even a few 11-on-11 plays. Chryst said after practice that, basically, since Bennett's knowledge of the playbook is so strong, they can work him back a little bit more slowly and focus on his shoulder healing completely rather than feel the need to get him extra practice reps.
"What is our job? It's to make sure guys are ready for the start of the season," Chryst said. "A lot of these guys, it's running those plays and understanding techniques or understanding the nuances of the play. I think [Isaac]'s pretty good there. So he's put himself in a position where we can be a little bit more cautious with him. It's been pretty good so far."
- Finally, freshman offensive lineman Alex Bookser got some reps at right tackle with the second team today (he did in Saturday's practice as well), which I would think indicates that he's the most developed of the freshmen offensive lineman (makes sense given the recruiting rankings). I think it's still a near-certainty that Bookser will redshirt this year barring a disastrous injury scenario (Jaryd Jones-Smith would make more sense as an injury replacement at either tackle spot), but it's a credit to Bookser and his potential that he's earned these second-team reps.
"I've liked what he's done," Chryst said. "He's getting some reps with the twos. He earned those. I think right now, we need to just lock in at camp and go see where it's at. But right now, it's too early for that discussion (playing him this season) because you have to still keep going. I've liked where camp is headed at this point."
- Tyler Boyd had a ridiculous sideline catch that prompted a certain, unnamed Pitt staffer to slam his binder to the turf in delight. But, really, Tyler Boyd making a ridiculous acrobatic catch isn't really news anymore, is it?