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Talkin' Bout Practice - March 7

Written by Sam Werner on .

PittFB03071Another day, another spring practice wrapped up for Pitt. The Panthers practiced indoors again today and, per NCAA rules, were in only helmets and jerseys. Here are a few notes on the day at practice...

- Once again, as expected, it was mostly Tom Savage taking reps with the first team during team drills today. He made some nice throws but also had a couple of passes that should have been intercepted during team work and skeleton drills. The biggest adjustment Savage has to make this spring is reading defenses and making quick decisions on the fly. He didn't really have to do that as a scout team quarterback this season, so this spring he has to get re-adjusted mentally to making those reads in the pocket.
"Last year, even in the camp, I wasn't taking too many reps," Savage said. "[I was] just trying to take as many mental reps as I can. But now I'm out there seeing the reads and seeing the looks, so it helps a lot."
This is somewhat new territory for Chad Voytik, too, and you can tell that both guys are a little tentative during team drills in these early practices. They seem to be focused more on making good reads and safe decisions, rather than showing off their arm (though both of these guys have shown pretty impressive velocity so far in camp).
"It's really too early to tell," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "I think they've done a good job of working in the offseason, understanding things. They're not nearly where we want them to be, but they shouldn't be. I'm not disappointed or anything, but certainly a long ways to go."

- Juantez Hollins took all of the first team reps at right tackle today after TJ Clemmings got the nod yesterday. I'll have more on the offensive line in tomorrow's paper, but coach Jim Hueber was pretty honest in his assessment that Clemmings is still a work in progress as he transitions from defensive end to offensive line.
"Honestly, I thought maybe with the time that we spent getting ready for the [bowl] game, we would have been a little further along than we are," Hueber said.
My take is that Clemmings still needs to beef up a little bit more to be completely effective along the offensive line, and that's what he's got the entire spring and summer to do. This is the position, though, where if neither guy seizes the job during spring camp, Dorian Johnson could be very much in the mix when he arrives in the fall.

- The depth are a little bit limited due to injuries, but Trenton Coles has been getting most of the work as the third cornerback on the first team. This is with Cullen Christian (calf sprain) and Jahmahl Pardner (ACL recovery) sidelined due to injury, but Coles is an intriguing player with his height and speed. He's reportedly the fastest guy on the team, and at 6-foot-3, certainly has the potential to be a weapon on defense.

- Spoke to Eric Williams after practice about his transition from linebacker to safety. He played safety in high school, so it's mostly just getting re-acclimated to the position. He looks a little bit slimmer than he did last season and he said he trimmed down a bit for the switch. The coaches came to him asking if he'd be interested in the move and, after some brief thinking on it, he decided to go ahead.
"The biggest difference would be just recognizing more on the field," he said. "Looking at it as more of a full-field perspective, and not just zoning in on my keys."
While Pitt is certainly deeper at linebacker than safety, I don't think the coaches would have made the move if they didn't think Williams would make an impact at his new position, so I expect to see him on the field plenty at safety this year.
One interesting note is that he said the team has been using more zone coverage concepts so far in spring practice under new defensive coordinator Matt House. Former DC Dave Huxtable employed almost exclusively man-to-man looks, so it'll be worth tracking that change.

- Also on the defensive side of the ball, Pitt looks like it's been mixing things up a little bit more in terms of formations. They haven't shown much new stuff in team drills, but in unit work the defense has even shown a couple of 3-4 looks. With all the depth and versatility Pitt has at linebacker, this seems like a natural move to mix in some 3-4 looks. It also helps them move around Aaron Donald, the defense's best individual weapon, and get him good matchups.

- The starting defense remained the same as yesterday. Looks like Deaysean Rippy and Bam Bradley are vying for the backup Sam linebacker spot now behind Anthony Gonzalez. Down the road, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of those guys challenge for the starting job, based solely on their athleticism.

- Gonzalez dropped a couple of interceptions in team drills today. There's no real takeaway there, but it did happen.

The team has this week off for spring break before reconvening Sunday, March 17. Chryst said he was optimistic the team would use the week off in a positive way to go over the playbook and get ready before they return and get set to practice in pads after the break.
"There's two ways we can go with that," Chryst said. "We can lose ground or we can gain ground because they've had it, it's in their hands, and they've taken advantage of the time. So, like a lot of this game, it ultimately ends up in their hands."

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