Earlier this week, reporters who cover Pitt football practice noticed backup quarterback Anthony Gonzalez working with the H-backs.
Pitt coach Todd Graham wasn’t eager to talk about it, perhaps hoping to spring Gonzalez on an unsuspecting opponent later in the season.
But when the athletically gifted Gonzalez made an outstanding, running, one-handed catch at practice Monday night, the secret got out.
First, Graham’s wife Penni tweeted from practice that someone she didn’t want to name made a great catch. Four separate blogs also picked up on the news and, finally, Graham was willing Tuesday to talk about what looks to be more than just an experiment.
Gonzalez, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, can run and catch. If he learns how to block and gains some weight, he might find a new home next season.
“I called him Slash today,” Graham said.
Graham explained that Gonzalez’s first position remains quarterback, and the redshirt freshman from Bethlehem Liberty High School actually played exceptionally well behind center in the team’s first scrimmage Sunday.
But Graham added, “We think he is too good an athlete to be sitting over there as the third-team quarterback. We were somewhat impressed. We are going to use him in a dual role.”
After practice Monday, Graham said he sat down and watched video of every move Gonzalez made at H-back.
“And he looked like he had been doing it,” he said. “He looked like a guy who looks natural doing it. He actually looks faster running down the field on a seam route than he does at quarterback.
“It’s kind of interesting. We are excited about that. It gives us some depth there and helps us to be more versatile.”
— Graham might have felt comfortable moving Gonzalez to H-back because freshman walkon quarterback Trey Anderson has been so surprisingly impressive.
Anderson, who three weeks ago was getting ready to attend Tyler (Texas) Junior College, is No. 2 on the depth chart behind Tino Sunseri, moving past redshirt freshman Mark Myers.
That could change, obviously, before the opener against Buffalo on Sept. 3, but the sudden emergence of Anderson gives Pitt unexpected depth at quarterback, with four players who have eligibility beyond 2011.
Plus, high school senior Chad Voytik of Cleveland, Tenn., has verbally committed and is planning to enroll at Pitt next year.
When asked if he believes the backup job is up for grabs, Anderson said, “Yeah, definitely. But I am just worried about doing the best I can do. I am not worried about other people. I continue to progress every day. I have made good strides.”
Anderson told me today that the offense he ran at Pearland (Texas) High School is identical to what Pitt runs, with the obligatory differences in terminology.
“The high tempo, some of the plays are the exact same plays I ran in high school,” said Anderson, who led his team to a state championship last season.
— As for the Penni Graham’s tweets, Todd Graham smiled and said, “Our twitter ban if fixing to expand.”
— The most distressing news of camp is the injury to starting wide receiver Devin Street.
Graham stopped short of calling it a concussion, telling reporters that it is a “bell-rung deal.”
But Street hasn’t appeared at practice – even just to watch — since suffering the injury in a drill Monday morning.
“He’s recovering,” Graham said. “It’s just going to be a process. He didn’t get a lot of sleep (Monday night) and we just wanted to have somebody monitor him and let him get some rest today. It wouldn’t do any good (for Street) to go out there and stand in the sun.”
— Meanwhile, wide receiver Cameron Saddler and cornerback K’Waun Williams missed practice for the second consecutive day after also getting their bells rung.
But Saddler was well enough to fire up his teammates by shouting these words of encouragement Tuesday morning at the outset of practice:
“If you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, that’s when you will be successful.”
He also told cornerback Antwuan Reed that he is sitting out of practice because he wants a new pair of cleats.
Saddler, of course, was kidding. As his father Champ pointed out, he just got two new pairs of cleats.
Saddler, actually, is itching to return.
“I’m tired of watching people make plays,” he said. “I want to make plays myself.”
— Graham is already touting starting offensive tackles Lucas Nix and Jordan Gibbs as two of the best in the Big East. “They are smart and bright and have a lot of savvy because they have so much experience,” he said.
Nix, in fact, is so incredibly athletic for a 310-pound man that Graham is amazed at his dexterity.
“They do this deal (exercise) where they are kicking their legs up front and he is kicking his leg above is head,” Graham said. “You don’t see a lineman doing that.
“That’s a little contrast between him and Gibbs. I told Gibbs he would be lucky to do a Cotton Eye Joe.”
The Cotton Eye Joe, for those of you who may be unaware, is a country western dance that Graham said is big in Texas honky-tonks. “Not that I’ve been in any,” he said.
A quick trip to Youtube.com will give you a description of the Cotton Eye Joe, in which the dancers barely get their feet off the ground.
The accompanying music is catchy, and reminded me of Saturday nights in Consol Energy Center where it is regularly played at Pittsburgh Power games.
— Back to Nix, Graham said, “He can be as good as he wants to be. He can be a dominant player.
“He likes it when it gets physical and tough. He wants us to run the ball behind him. I like his attitude. I think he is one of the key guys on this team.”
More than his physical attributes, Graham is impressed by personal relationships and Nix has turned into a leader in the manner of teammates Myles Caragein and Chris Jacobson.
“Teams will have captains, but who do they really follow?” Graham said. “I think Lucas is one of the guys the kids follow.”
— Pitt/Notre Dame is set for a noon kickoff Sept. 24 at Heinz Field. Either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 will send it across the country. Another noon kickoff. Thank you, ESPN. Now, I can make dinner plans.