If the Panthers were to play today, as Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said, Joe Thomas would be the starter at left guard. Yet almost every time the first-team offense takes the field, including Monday’s morning session, Chris Jacobson lines up at left guard.
What does that mean?
That Pitt coaches want Jacobson to be the starter. That Thomas has an edge in experience and makes less mistakes, but Jacobson is the more talented of the two. Or that Thomas has shown he can play guard and tackle and the coaches would rather he be the top backup at both spots.
It’s up to Jacobson, who is getting every opportunity to win the job.
If that isn’t confusing, consider this: Wannstedt says Pitt has three starting receivers in Jonathan Baldwin, Cedric McGee and Oderick Turner, but the Panthers only use two at a time in traditional sets. And Wannstedt calls Andrew Taglianetti and Elijah Fields starting safeties, even though Taglianetti takes first-team reps and Fields isn’t in the dime package.
Either way, the starting lineup is almost set.
On offense, QB Bill Stull, FB Henry Hynoski, TB Dion Lewis, WRs Baldwin and McGee, TE Nate Byham, LT Jason Pinkston, LG Jacobson, C Robb Houser, RG John Malecki and RT Lucas Nix, with Dorin Dickerson in place of Hynoski in two-tight sets and Turner in three-receiver sets.
On the other side, DEs Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, DT Mick Williams, NG Gus Mustakas, SLB Greg Williams, MLB Adam Gunn, WLB Max Gruder, CB Aaron Berry, S Dom DeCicco, S Taglianetti and CB Jovani Chappel. DBs Ricky Gary and Jarred Holley are added in the dime.
The top backups are, by position, QB Tino Sunseri, TB Ray Graham, WR Turner, TE/H-Back Dickerson, OL Thomas, DE Shayne Hale, DT Myles Caragein, OLB Shane Murray, MLB Dan Mason, CB Gary and S Fields.
Which leaves the starting placekicker and fourth receiver as the top remaining position battles. With Dan Hutchins named the starting punter, it would appear that Kevin Harper is going to get every opportunity to win the kicker job – as Wannstedt has stated that he’d prefer not to have one person handle both kicking duties – but Harper has to convert when they count.
The fourth receiver spot should be interesting. Mike Shanahan was leading the way before breaking his left hand, and could get back in the rotation when healthy. The candidates, for now, are Cameron Saddler, Aaron Smith and Aundre Wright, and they all bring something different. Saddler is versatile and is exciting in the open field. Wright has breakaway ability. Smith is a possession receiver who knows how to get open.
Which makes every practice from now until Wednesday – the final two-a-day practice and scrimmage – important for those three, as it’s their last chance to make an impression on the coaches.
* Highlights from Monday’s morning session:
* Baldwin caught a pass in the flat and slipped by Berry for a 10-yard gain, one of the only times Berry has missed a tackle in the open field.
* On back-to-back runs to the right side, tailback Chris Burns was stopped before he could get to the sideline. Holley made a strong tackle, and linebacker Carl Fleming cut Burns’ legs out from under him.
* Aaron Smith made a nice one-handed catch over the middle on a pass behind him from Sunseri. Smith has shown flashes this camp, but consistency needs to be his calling card if he wants to get playing time. His dropped pass against Bowling Green has haunted him, and Smith missed an opportunity at a touchdown in camp when he dropped one in the end zone.
* Baldwin used a nice hesitation move to beat Berry on a post pattern, then adjusted to make a nice catch over his right shoulder for a big gain.
* Pat Bostick completed a pass to tight end Brock DeCicco over the middle with three defenders nearby, a nice throw-and-catch in tight coverage.
* On the first play of 11-on-11 drills, Stull hit Turner in stride on a post pattern for a 48-yard touchdown pass over Chappel and DeCicco.
* Sunseri went through his progressions until he found his third option, Greg Cross, open on the left sideline for a 14-yard gain.
* Sometimes, Smith is only as good as the defenders allow. Chappel made a nice breakup on a Sunseri deep pass intended for Smith, and Reed broke up a Stull throw intended for Smith.
* Saddler surprised Fields with a seal block to spring Wright on a reverse.
* Lewis had the best run of the day, spinning past one defender and slipping another at midfield.
* The Panthers practice again at 3 p.m. For live camp updates, follow @KGorman_Trib on Twitter.