After the second scrimmage of training camp, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt allowed his team a much-needed recovery day by giving the Panthers a non-contact practice in helmets and shorts Sunday afternoon.
“We changed up the pace a little, but I think we needed this,” Wannstedt said. “This is just what the doctor ordered, coming out in shells. We had a lot of energy, covered some situations that needed to be covered and corrected some things from the scrimmage, had meetings a little longer than normal to watch the tape.”
What the tape determined was not necessarily starters at the two positions up for grabs, but perhaps an indication that a pecking order has been established at certain spots:
· While redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson continued to take reps with the first-team offense at left guard, Wannstedt said senior Joe Thomas has an edge for the starting job.
“I would say that physically, they’re really very, very close right now,” Wannstedt said. “Chris is still making some inexperienced mistakes that Joe has not made. In my mind, a little bit like (safeties Andrew) Taglianetti and (Elijah) Fields, they’re both starters. They’re both capable. If we were playing tonight, Joe Thomas would probably start.”
· Wannstedt declared redshirt junior Dan Hutchins the starting punter, not that there was any concern let alone much competition. Pitt has three freshmen walk-on punters, in Pat Costello, Aaron Hassett and Matt Yoklic, but Hutchins handled all of the punts in the second scrimmage.
Wannstedt will hold off on making a decision on the placekicker, though, until early next week. Hutchins is battling redshirt freshman Kevin Harper, and they split kicking duties in the second scrimmage. Hutchins made his only attempt, while Harper was 1-for-3.
“We’re trying to put both of them under as much pressure as we can,” Wannstedt said. “The field-goal thing, we’re going to continue to monitor and make a decision on that the first of next week.”
Harper has longer range, having made a 61-yarder as a senior at Mentor (Ohio) High School, but that alone won’t win him the job. He has to be more consistent, especially on kicks from more likely distances.
“There’s no question that Harper’s got the strongest leg. If we were attempting any 50-plus field goals, he gives you the best chance to make it because his leg is so strong,” Wannstedt said. “But, as we all know, field goal kickers make their money kicking between the 30s and 40s.”
· Ray Graham’s standout performance in the scrimmage – he had a 65-yard touchdown on his first run, turned a screen pass into a 24-yard scoring play and finished with 152 all-purpose yards – moved him ahead of Chris Burns for the backup tailback job behind Dion Lewis.
“If we were playing tonight, they would be the two guys, in all honesty, that would probably give us the best chance to make plays right now,” Wannstedt said of Lewis and Graham.
The Panthers want to make it clear that Burns isn’t out of the running because the plan is to use all three backs at some point this season. Plus, it would be a shame if Burns’ brother, Derrick, backed out of his verbal commitment because Chris wasn’t getting much playing time.
It already happened to Pitt once, when Averrin Collier picked Syracuse over the Panthers after watching his older brother, Kevin, slip down the depth chart behind LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling.
· The status of redshirt sophomore defensive end is still unresolved, as he was excused for the sixth day of training camp to deal with “personal issues.” It’s not a disciplinary matter, and Wannstedt wasn’t sure whether Tucker will rejoin the team but said Tucker is welcome back.
“I don’t know if it’s going to work out or not. There’s been some personal issues going on with him,” Wannstedt said. “We’re trying to help Tony in any way that we can.”
The clock, however, is ticking.
“Obviously,” Wannstedt said, “it needs to be resolved here pretty quick.”
· Wannstedt said redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Justin Hargrove, who was injured in the scrimmage, had an MRI Sunday and won’t require surgery on his ankle but is “week-to-week.”
· Tight end Dorin Dickerson, defensive end Shayne Hale and right tackle Lucas Nix returned to practice. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard, linebacker Tristan Roberts, tight end Nate Byham and receiver Mike Shanahan were among those who sat out with injuries.
Highlights from practice:
· Jonathan Baldwin made another spectacular one-handed catch, when he plucked a ball sailing out of bounds and saved a spectator from getting hit in the face.
Baldwin later caught a Tino Sunseri rollout after it was tipped into the air by cornerback Aaron Berry and jumped over cornerback Jovani Chappel for a one-hander in the end zone for a touchdown.
· Sunseri had one pass intercepted when he fired a bullet that bounced off the hands of fullback Henry Hynoski and another, in 11-on-11, when a throw bounced off Aundre Wright’s hands and into those of Fields.
· The Panthers practice return to two-a-day practice Monday. For live camp updates, follow @KGorman_Trib on Twitter.