I end the week with the sound down on UCLA/Tulsa while trying to figure out which event earlier Friday was more stunning:
– Pitt running back James Conner flattening safety Terrish Webb on a run play during only the second day of padded practice. It was a violent collision that even concerned coach Paul Chryst, but I’m betting it would have made Jerome Bettis smile.
– Or, the Power firing Derek Stingley after one game, tying the all-time, any-sport record for the quickest dismissal of a coach after the start of the season. (I mention it here only because I got the news while watching the fourth day of Pitt’s spring drills.)
I get the feeling there will be more than one defensive back who will want no part of tackling Conner this season.
Conner says he weighs 248 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame — 18 pounds over his listed weight. But the extra pounds don’t seem to bother him; they merely make him look more intimidating.
The hit on Webb, a promising safety who is in a fight for a vacant starting spot in the Pitt secondary, was impressive. Conner didn’t break stride as he rolled over Webb, who courageously didn’t flinch and jumped right back to his feet at the end of the play.
After practice, Chryst was slow to condone such friendly fire, but he also didn’t want to discourage Conner’s physical way of carrying the football.
“That’s the tricky thing,” he said. “We keep learning how to practice. There’s a guy we are saying thud it and all that.”
He added, “But he’s not (holding anything back).”
By the way, I still haven’t seen Conner take any snaps at defensive end.
Some other notes:
– Cornerback Lafayette Pitts keeps catching the coaches’ attention. New secondary coach Troy Douglas praised Pitts, but also cautioned he has a long way to go in his third year as a starter.
“I’ve got to get him to play with his eyes better,” Douglas said. “He has so much talent. The young man can run. He’s a very talented player.”
He also agreed when I mentioned that Pitts, a Woodland Hills graduate, plays with an edge.
“He’s got some swagger to him, no doubt.”
– Quarterback Tom Savage watched practice for the second time this week and reports the NFL is bearing down on him in advance of the draft May 8. The Oakland Raiders have invited Savage for a visit, and other teams are making similar plans for him, he said. Aaron Donald also stopped by on Thursday.
– Keep an eye on cornerback Jahmahl Pardner, who is more than a year removed from a serious knee injury and could fill the spot vacated by K’Waun Williams. He looks as active as he did before the injury in 2012 — and two years smarter.
– Almost every day, another player mentions the good things going on in the weight room under the supervision of new strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej. Good move by Chryst, promoting the former Wisconsin defensive tackle and shot putter from his assistant’s position.
– Lots of high school prospects and incoming freshmen watched practice Friday. More than one person commented on Adonis Jennings’ imposing size for a wide receiver (6-3, 195).
– I had a chat with new Gateway coach Tom Nola, who is looking forward to tackling a roster probably twice the size of what he had at Clairton. He also mentioned the possibility that Pitt’s secondary in 2015 could have three Clairton graduates — Webb at safety and Titus Howard and Trenton Coles at cornerback. The fourth member of those great Clairton defensive backfields also plays for Pitt, but Chryst is content to keep Tyler Boyd at wide receiver.
– Overall, Chryst liked the hitting at practice. Not bad for Day 2.
“Today was a little bit cleaner, not right or perfect all the time,” he said, “but I thought it was a little bit better as far as the physical part of it. I thought that part was pretty good.”
– Couple of injury notes: Coles is dealing with a groin that he injured this week. Offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty (back) and wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon (foot) have done next to nothing, but Chryst is wisely being cautious with both players.
– Wide receiver Ronald Jones looks, potentially, like a more productive player than he was before his season-long suspension last year.