Pitt's spring practices are coming to an end, with the 11th practice of the spring season today over on the South Side. Here are the notes and quotes from the day that was in Panther football...
- Tom Savage looked a lot sharper today. He seems to have some good timing down on a post route and threw a couple of beautiful corner touchdown passes to Ronald Jones, who has also come on since returning from injury earlier this spring.
"I thought for a while he was holding on to the ball," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "It kind of goes without saying, when a quarterback's in rhythm, he's got a better chance and one of the things that cause you to not be in rhythm are the quarterbacks not understanding something, the quarterback getting fooled on a coverage or a receiver off on what he should be doing. I think a couple plays specifically, I think he learned from Tuesday and was able to think a little bit better."
- Malcolm Crockett returned from injury at the running back spot today. He backed up new No. 1 back Isaac Bennett. While Bennett has a big opportunity now that Rushel Shell is gone, Chryst said he hasn't approached practice any differently than before.
"I think all the guys are eager," Chryst said. "I don't think Isaac's changed any. I really don't. I think he comes in and he tries to work. He's not all of a sudden changing who he is, and that's good. He wasn't a guy that I thought slacked before."
We spoke to running backs coach Desmond Robinson after practice, and he laid out exactly what he was looking for from the running backs this spring. Specifically, Robinson was most focused on what the running backs are doing when they aren't getting carries.
"I think the greatest thing I see from Isaac this spring is his effort when the ball is not in his hands, and that's what we've been putting a lot of emphasis on," Robinson said. "I want to see guys downfield blocking, downfield with an effort to teammates. Because that's the sign of a great player, when they can play hard when that ball's not in their hands."
Robinson also said they've been working with Bennett on his vision at the line, which has been much improved this season.
"We want him to be a little more patient and create the hole," Robinson said. "He's doing a better job of creating the hole and then using his acceleration to get through it afterwards. That's been something that we've emphasized for a year and I'd say right now, he's doing that better than we had anybody to it last year."
- I wrote a little bit earlier this week about Gabe Roberts adjusting to the center position, and we spoke to him today about the topic. He said coaches approached him last season about the move, and he spent time snapping as he recovered from a torn labrum. He said the biggest problem was learning to recognize everything the centers have to pick up, including blitzes and pass rushes.
"It's more difficult," Roberts said. "I was in the film room a lot over the winter, just trying to study what I can. It looks easy on film, but when you get out there it's like you lose peripheral vision."
Roberts' shotgun snaps have gotten noticably better since the beginning of spring camp. He missed one under-center exchange with Savage today because, as he explained it, he hit himself in his, um, "manhood" on the snap.
- Tyone Ezell spoke a little after practice about how the technique of the defensive line has changed this year under new defensive coordinator Matt House. Specifically, Ezell said the linemen are taught to play more square this year, whereas last year they were supposed to dip their shoulder and get upfield. My first inclination is that this puts more of an emphasis on defensive linemen occupying blocks, rather than making plays, and let the linebackers make the tackes.
"It's a huge difference from last year," Ezell said. "Here, they want our shoulder pads to stay more square and attack the center or guard, play up on two gaps."
There you have it. Pitt has a scrimmage tomorrow at Heinz Field, but that session is closed to the media, so we won't get another look at practice until next week, the final week of 2013 spring ball.