Pitt wide receiver Cam Saddler has run through a gauntlet of emotions in the past month, but he has come out on the other end with a smile on his face.
Helplessness – When he was injured in training camp and couldn’t practice while younger wide receivers caught the coaches’ eyes.
Frustration — When he broke into the open against Buffalo, but quarterback Tino Sunseri overthrew him.
Embarrassment – When offensive coordinator Calvin Magee caught him walking off the field in practice and hollered like an irate parent.
Pride – When wide receivers coach Mike Norvell praised him for his blocking.
“I feel more comfortable now,” Saddler said. “Now, I’m getting a little more swag about myself. I played 50 plays (against Buffalo) and now I have a feel for what is going to happen. I should be all right.”
Saddler has lost his punt-return duties to freshman Ronald Jones (“My man, my protégé,” Saddler said). But Saddler, a redshirt junior from Gateway High School, remains one of Pitt’s three starting wide receivers.
“I want my job back, but I’m a team player. I’m all about winning,” Saddler said. “But you know what? I am playing a lot of plays (50 of Pitt’s 66 offensive snaps). I was tired (after the game). I was really tired.”
Competition from the younger players doesn’t bother him.
“It happens every year,” he said. “I’m all right with the fact that coach is trying to get everybody touches any way he can. That just makes me realize I have to keep working. I can’t get complacent when those new guys come in and try to take my job.”
Saddler was no factor in the Pitt passing game against Buffalo, catching two passes for negative-8 yards. But he said he blocked so well, he estimated he was responsible for 110 of running back Ray Graham’s 201 yards.
“I did a really good job on the edge protecting Ray,” said Saddler, 5-foot-7, 170 pounds. “Coach is impressed with the way I have been blocking. I have been impressed the way I have been blocking. He’s happy I’m a fighter. That’s what I do. I’m a fighter. I got a little anger in me.”
Saddler wasn’t angry, however, when Sunseri missed the pass in the first half that would have been an easy touchdown.
“It happens,” Saddler said, shrugging. “Tino and I are both sick. I think I might be a little sicker than he is about it, but we worked on that this weekend.”
Saddler took some of the blame after he adjusted his intended route to take advantage of a gaping hole in the Buffalo secondary.
“I think I might have caught Tino off-guard that I got there so fast, but it was too open not to take it,” he said.
Saddler’s emotions swung full-circle when Magee yelled at him at practice Tuesday.
“I was being a little lazy,” Saddler said. “He caught me once. Then, I did it again. I started walking (off the field). He let me have it.
“It kind of caught me off-guard, kind of like when your dad yells at you for something that you thought you were all right doing.”
Saddler said Magee told him, ‘You better keep running.’ He said if I walk off the field one more time, he is going to do something real bad to me, trust me.”
Saddler took the criticism in stride, even tweeting the news to his 2,245 followers.
“Coach Magee is my man,” Saddler said. “He makes practice fun.”
As long as no one is caught taking a walk.
= Coach Todd Graham said he likes Pitt’s energy and attitude, but the team spent this week focused on improving the basics.
“The thing I’m most worried about is turning the ball over, stupid penalties and we’ve got to get better fundamentally,” he said.
= Maine won’t get any work out on the turf at Heinz Field prior to game day. The stadium isn’t open on Friday for practice/workout. The Black Bears, who have never played at an NFL stadium before, will see the field for the first time before Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff.
“That will be something we have to battle against,” coach Jack Cosgrove said. “We do have a bit of a concern with that.”
= Pitt is 9-0 against FCS opponents, including a 38-16 victory against New Hampshire last year.