Rain forced Pitt coach Paul Chryst to move practice from Heinz Field to the indoor facility on the South Side where it still appears to me that the defense is ahead of the offense.
The star of the spring, clearly, has been junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who looks like a guy who will be playing on Sunday for money very soon.
On one pass rush, Donald lost his helmet, but still forced his way through a double team. Said quarterback Tino Sunseri: “Most likely, you are not going to find a guy like Aaron Donald on a lot of teams.”
One of the few offensive highlight during the padded scrimmage was a long touchdown run by running back Isaac Bennett, who is having a good camp. He hit a huge hole and veered to the sideline where a change-of-pace move helped him elude safety Ray Vinopal. Later, Vinopal forced a fumble that cornerback Lloyd Carrington picked up for a touchdown.
– Pitt looks like it will have intriguing depth at running back in the fall when Ray Graham is expected back from a knee injury and freshman Rushel Shell will compete for playing time.
– No wide receiver is having a better camp than senior Cam Saddler, but Devin Street looks more like a playmaker than he did a year ago.
– The offensive line needs a lot of work, but center Ryan Turnley is playing well. The return of guard Chris Jacobson will be a welcome addition in the fall. Depth may be a problem, but there’s plenty of time to fix that. As Chryst likes to say: “Spring practice for a fall sport.”
– Less yelling from the defensive coaches today, but offensive line coach Jim Hueber gave his players an earful at one point. Jim’s a good coach, an old-school guy who won’t tolerate mistakes or excuses. If there is talent on the Pitt offensive line, Jim will find it. He has coached in eight different places since 1974, including with the Minnesota Vikings where he was on a staff with the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin.
– You think Hueber has moved around? Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has coached at 10 different schools (East Carolina twice) since 1982.
– One of these days, I’m going to get Hueber and Huxtable in the same room and ask them to start telling stories. I may not have enough batteries for my tape recorder.
– If you don’t read Joe Starkey’s outstanding piece on the recoveries of Graham and linebacker Dan Mason from serious knee injuries, you are doing yourself a disservice. It’s in Sunday’s Trib.
– Lots of recruits descended upon practice, accompanied by parents and coaches, including Upper St. Clair’s Jim Render, Muzzy Colosimo of Greensburg Central Catholic, Aaron Krepps of Belle Vernon, Rod Steele of Steel Valley and Terry Totten of Central Catholic. Former Plum coach Bill Rometo also was in the house.
– Four recruits who already have signed also watched: offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty of Fox Chapel, tight end J.P. Holtz of Shaler (still wearing a boot on a foot he injured in the state basketball playoffs), linebacker Devon Porchia of Parkville (Md.) Gilman School and safety Deaysean Rippy of Sto-Rox.
– Speaking of Upper St. Clair guys … On my way home, I walked past director of football relations Bob Junko as he spoke to several young people, welcoming them and regaling them with stories. I wanted to stop and listen, but I didn’t think I’d blend into the group.
When you wonder why the Pitt program didn’t collapse under the weight of three head coaches leaving in 12 months, Junko and assistant athletic director Chris LaSala provide the answers. They diligently and professionally kept in touch with recruits through the transition periods, and Pitt recruited better than anyone had a right to expect. You won’t find two more loyal employees.