Pitt wrapped up its seventh practice of the spring season this afternoon. Once again, the Panthers practiced inside the UPMC workout facility on the South Side. It wasn't quite as exciting as Friday's scrimmage, but here are some notes from the day that was...
- Sophomore running back Rushel Shell was not at practice with what a Pitt spokesman called "an excused absence." Shell got banged up during Friday's scrimmage, but he wasn't with the rest of the injured players during today's session. After practice, Pitt coach Paul Chryst said Shell had "a couple of things" to work through and that he wasn't sure whether or not he would return at Thursday's session.
- With Shell out, junior Isaac Bennett and redshirt sophomore Malcolm Crockett got most of the work at running back (Bennett took the majority of the first-team snaps). It's going to be important for one of these guys to step up and be able to spell Shell for some meaningful reps next fall, so it's probably a good thing to get them first team work. While both players had flashes, they also had some issues with ball security.
"I think both give you really good effort, but both have put it on the ground," Chryst said. "We kind of moved the ball, had a good playaction, a chance to grab some momentum and then I think the next play, the ball fell on the ground. Sometimes certainly you've got to be able to take care. One time I thought he was trying to make too much happen and then he exposed it. If we can learn from those, all these mistakes, if you can learn from them they're good."
- Junior safety Eric Williams was also absent for the beginning of practice with "an excused absence," but returned about midway through the session. Even though Jason Hendricks is also sidelined, Williams' absence showed you just how thin Pitt is at safety. When he wasn't out there, the starting pair was Ray Vinopal and Ryan Lewis, backed up by Jevonte Pitts and walk-on Ethan Brown.
- When he returned, Williams had a nice interception on Tom Savage. Savage has struggled with his safety reads a few times this camp, and this was the second instance I can recall of Williams just dropping back and getting a (relatively) easy pick.
- Once again, it was TJ Clemmings starting at right tackle for Pitt. Looks like he may have pulled ahead (at least for now) in the battle with Juantez Hollins for that spot.
- Defensive lineman Devin Cook returned to practice for the first time this spring today. He worked mostly with the third team, but got into the second team rotation by the end of the session. I think he'll ultimately be a heavy contender for a starting job (especially given how thin Pitt is at defensive line), so I would expect that this was just the coaching staff working him back into the mix.
- True freshman Shakir Soto, though, did get some first team reps in 11-on-11 drills at defensive end.
"It's funny, we joke in our defensive staff room, Shakir should be getting ready for the senior prom and he's out here competing with 22-year old kids," defensive coordinator Matt House said. "Every day is a new experience for Shakir, but I'll tell you what, he's willing and he's certainly got a ton of potential."
It looked like the coaching staff was mixing it up a little more in general along the defensive line, with Darryl Render, Tyrique Jarrett and K.K. Mosley-Smith into a couple of first-team drills.
"They're developing depth and an identity," House said. "It starts up front. Really, we're going to depend on them having a sort of attitude and controlling the line of scrimmage just like any good defense does."
- Chad Voytik threw two interceptions during the team drills, one to Chris Davis and the other to Jevonte Pitts. Pitts has had a nice camp so far, with a pick today and a few nice tackles in the scrimmage Friday.
- Chryst said that, like always, there was some good and some bad when he watched film from Friday's scrimmage.
"That's the good thing about spring if you want to look at it. Someone's going to win, someone's going to lose, they're both on your team," he said. "If you want to pick the winner all the time, say that was a great day."
- House, specifically, said that he wasn't pleased with the defense's pad level and tackling angles during the scrimmage, noting that he counted 17 missed tackles during the 130 or so plays that Pitt ran Friday.
"Two big runs in the scrimmage hit us and both times we just didn't leverage the football," he said. "More important than any scheme, pad level, leverage and tackling. Those are fundamental cores to defense and if we don't get those done, then we won't be very good."
That's all for today. My first spring football chat of the season is tentatively officially scheduled for this Thursday (March 28) at noon, so mark your calendars. The Panthers will be back on the field Thursday for practice No. 8 of the spring.