Not only has Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt declined to name a starting quarterback, but practices are closed to the media after the first 30 minutes and Kevan Smith or Pat Bostick aren’t available for interview requests until after Saturday’s game against Grambling State at Heinz Field.
So it isn’t easy to get a read on this one.
It has led to speculation as to which freshman – redshirt (Smith) or true (Bostick) – will get the starting nod.
If you listen to the average fan, Bostick is the best bet because he’s supposed to be the quarterback of the future. If you listen to Pitt players, Smith is the more likely choice because he’s best prepared at the present.
And if you listen to Wannstedt, it’s still undecided.
“I’ve pretty much made up my mind that it’s going to be a game-time decision,” Wannstedt said. “When you’re dealing with two young kids, I don’t want to affect either one. You’ve got to be careful when you name a guy the starter that the other guy doesn’t get … down because it’s more than likely that you’re going to be playing both of them anyway.
“The best way to go about it is to take our time through the practices and meetings and have them ready to play and make a decision and see how it goes.”
From my observations, Smith should start. Not because he has a year in the system. Not because he has limited game experience (2 of 4 for 18 yards in 1 ½ quarters against Eastern Michigan). Not because he has greater attributes as far as size, speed and arm strength.
The players say they trust Smith. They believe in him, even after his difficulties handling snaps from center. Even after some of his passes were picked off and returned for touchdowns in spring drills and training camp. Especially, even after Bill Stull beat out Smith for the starting job.
And, if you buy into the concept that Bostick is the quarterback of the future, why put him in a situation where he could fail? Let Smith start and Bostick, if necessary, come to the rescue.
The ironic part is this: Wannstedt is opening the position to competition, but is looking for the quarterback that doesn’t press and takes what the defense gives him.
“We’ve got guys that will make plays,” Wannstedt said. “They don’t have to make the big plays. The plays will come. Just run the offense. We just got Billy to that point. Billy was not going out there trying to be the star. Billy was not going to force throws. He was going to run the offense and make as sound of decisions as he could.
“That’s going to be the challenge this week with Kevan and Pat. The guy that will just take what they give you will be the guy.’
Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh this week separately discussed their plans at quarterback and if one thing is comforting it’s they’re on the same page.
See for yourself from the following questions:
Why wait to name a starter?
Wannstedt: “I think it depends on your personnel. If you’re deciding between a veteran guy and a freshman, it’s pretty easy. If they’re both close, early in the week you name the veteran guy and give him some confidence and go. In this case, we’re dealing with two freshmen.”
Cavanaugh (tongue in cheek): “Just to keep you guessing. We already know. I could tell you right now who the starter is going to be. … But I won’t.
Cavanaugh (more seriously): “We’re literally going to try and split their reps equally and see who functions the best. It’s one thing going through summer camp without a game plan in place and in a couple of days trying to compartmentalize all the different fronts and pressures and trying to match them up to the protections we’ve got in and the run schemes we’ve got in and, in three days, execute them very well. We’ll see which of the two does the better job of that.”
How has returning home during training camp to deal with “personal issues” affected Bostick?
Wannstedt: “I think Pat’s closed the gap on that. It wasn’t as much the physical thing as it was mental. If Pat was showing up then, he’d be behind. But he was here since May. He was at every spring practice in March. He would drive down on Fridays and sit in on meetings. He’s caught up. Anything he would have missed those few days is not having any bearing on where he’s at right now.
“He’s excited about playing. The redshirt thing is something we talked about at the beginning of training camp, once he got back with us. That was a real possibility because he got back late and was doing so well. Now, the scenario has changed. He’ll be prepared to play one way or another Saturday, and he’s excited about it.”
Cavanaugh: “If he goes out and plays well, if he’s the guy and does a good job, I don’t think anybody will remember that he left for a week. He’s not unlike most freshmen that come in here. They all have things to deal with, and some of them deal with them in different ways. … We understand that and give them a little leeway. We try to help them instead of being critical about it. We know it’s a tough transition for them, so I think he’s gotten through it. I think he’s certainly pleased that he’s at Pitt. He loves being here. He’s excited about an opportunity that’s starting to show itself, and I expect him to compete real well this week.”
Which freshman is most ready to play?
Wannstedt: “Kevan probably has a better feel today for what we have to do to win. I sure as heck hope so. But Pat has not shown any signs of ‘I’m going to win this game myself.’ Pat’s pretty smart. We’ll find out real quick this week, calling plays in practice and doing things out there. It’ll be pretty obvious where their mindset is.”
Cavanaugh: “From a mental standpoint and understanding what we’re doing and what he’s working against, (Pat has) really never had a problem with that. He works hard in the classroom and has a good understanding of offense and defense that he got in high school, and that transition has been a little bit easy for him.
“But, physically, he’s a little bit behind. He still has to get in better shape, and we’ve been addressing that. And he has to get stronger, but that’s something that’s not going to happen overnight. He might be a year away from physically developing where I think he’s going to be. But 90 percent of this game is being smart, and he’s got a lot of those tools already in place.”
What is the key to their success?
Wannstedt: “I think that the real key is what you do with them as a coach and his supporting cast. If you’re putting a young kid on the field and he has to do more than just his job, it’s going to get you. It should be obvious to everybody that the surrounding supporting cast we have now is better than it’s been since I’ve been here.”
Cavanaugh: “It’s a challenge for all of us, but we’ve got some people around those quarterbacks. And I’ve told them that this is not something that they have to go out and do by themselves. So, we’ve got enough talent around them that they should function very well.”
How do you plan to use both quarterbacks?
Wannstedt: “You’d like to get them both meaningful play. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to do that or not. Just like last week with the running backs, with LaRod and LeSean, we didn’t have a set number of plays or series we were going to play guys. I think that’s what we’ll do with the quarterback thing, see how it unfolds, how those guys play. If somebody goes in there and lights it up, heck, we may let him play the whole game.”
Cavanaugh: “I don’t think it’s going to be a platoon thing. … It’ll be in the flow of the game. Hopefully, we’ll be winning big and now we want to get the other guy some playing time. Hopefully, it’s not that we’re getting our (butts) kicked, and now we’ve got to make a change.
“I think we’ll just see how the (starter) is playing. If we’re moving the ball, I don’t see why you’d ever take the guy out if we’re moving the ball and scoring points.”
How quick of a hook will the starter have?
Cavanaugh: “Being a former quarterback, I think it’ll be a very slow hook. But I’m not making that decision. It’ll be coach Wannstedt’s decision. I just think that for somebody going out and playing for the first time, you’ve got to be understanding about that. … There’s probably going to be some things happen that we wish wouldn’t happen, but if he’s not protecting the football or if he’s turning it over and we’re getting penalties because his snap count is off, those are things that we can’t live with. … But I’d like to think that we’re going to let a guy playing for the first time, whoever that is, earn his stripes.”
At the moment, it’s so close you could flip a coin.
Or go by one of Wannstedt’s favorite lines:
“First one off the bus starts.”