Found April 15, 2012 on Pitt Blather:

On Thursday I posted an article that listed some things I felt would be interesting and important to look for during the Spring Game this year.  Here they are below in bold with a snippet of text from that article following in italics.

Can Sunseri carry practice success onto the field under competition?  “I want to see if what we are seeing and hearing about Sunseri’s calm demeanor and accurate deep throws in practice can translate into completions at game speed.”  All three QBs got a nice amount of reps yesterday and each stayed with the squad they were assigned – Sunseri 1st team, Myers 2nd and Anderson 3rd.

Sunseri did not play to the level that he has been over the last four weeks of practice and in truth was showing more of the same we have seen from him during past games.  He was overthrowing open receivers and had an INT returned for a TD by Tags.  His stats on the day were a mediocre13-27 for 147 yards and one TD.  Rivals.com paints an accurate picture of how things progressed for him in this article:

Quarterback Tino Sunseri completed 13 of 27 passes for 147 yards but missed a number of throws that would have put points on the board. Twice on the first drive, Sunseri overthrew tight end Drew Carswell, once on a flag route then again on a fly where a blown coverage left him wide open. That trend continued as the afternoon wore on.

 “I think that guys were running open,” Sunseri said. “You just got to put the ball on people, understand certain route depths and just keep competing.

This quote from Sam Werner’s coverage in the P-G is pouring fuel on the fire as it is just more of the same:  “Obviously you’re disappointed you didn’t score, but there’s still positives in that,” Sunseri said. “You moved the football.”  Less silver linings and more sunny skies please, enough of the positive attitude after the fact.  He did nothing to dispel the “Practice Hero” label yesterday that’s for sure.

What will Mark Myers do when the spotlight is turned on for more than a play or two “Myers has struggled with the short/intermediate passing game.  I watched this happen in practice and I’ll be watching Saturday to see if that is still an albatross around his neck.  If it isn’t then new life may be breathed into the competition for the fall.  Well, ramp up the campaign slogans again. Myers made a case yesterday that he is to be reckoned with in summer training camp.

Myers was 10-16 with 167 yards and beautiful 58 yard skinny post TD to Brandon Ifill (remember that name).  All spring Myers has been hitting on well thrown deep passes and didn’t disappoint yesterday either by hitting two of them.  His passing all around was OK and he was accurate enough overall to complete 63% of his passes but his short passing game still has a way to go.

Having a 16.7 ypc average yesterday doesn’t hurt his case either.   I don’t know if he’ll be able to sustain that level of play in August but if he can then all the better for the Panthers.  I still think it is a long shot for him to grab the starting position but it is early yet.

Which WRs after Street and Shanahan are going to step up?  Saddler has really been the highlight reel of practice so far so he’ll be the #3 guy I think.  The format for the scrimmage is ones vs. ones and twos vs. twos so we should get a decent look at players like Jones, Brinson, Jackson, Salath Williams, Tinker, Ifill and Felder to see how well they can produce when the heat is on. 

What we saw from the WRs looked, to me, to be pretty promising.  Aside from Ifill’s long TD and Jones’s short TD the receivers were getting open very well even if they were being missed by the passes.  Tinker pulled in another deep Myer’s pass also.  There was a lot or WR rotation out there so it was kind of hard to track.  Shanahan didn’t play so it will be hard to project just how the receiving platooning will go once the matches begin in ernest.  I do think we’ll be pleasantly surprised at the effect this coaching staff will have on the WRs this year.  Again, two WRs to watch in training camp are Ifill and Brendon Felder who can catch the ball and has speed to burn.

Which brings us to this question – is Carswell a TE or a WR?  He’s been playing, and doing well at WR in these latter practices.  Will we see Carswell split out more and getting passes thrown his way?

WR and that is what he played mostly yesterday.  He was wide open for a deep TD but overthrown by Sunseri (ring a bell?).  He worked free on some other plays also.  He’s a big strong guy and gets downfield well so I see him being split out more than in the TE position when the dust settles.

Who will be the third RB coming out of spring camp, Davis or Crockett?  Saturday we’ll see a lot of Isaac Bennett of course since he’s the firm #2 RB.  But we know injuries happen to RBs all the time and that we could easily have to dig down to #3 to help carry the load.

Crockett didn’t play due to injury.  Corey Davis looked very quick and effective as did E. J. Banks – who I think would be the Wildcat QB if the staff uses that formation during the season.  Here are some stats compiled in a nice overview article by Steve Flinn of the Panthers 24/7 message board:

The Panthers depth in the backfield showed. E.J. Banks ran 13 times for 68 yards and a touchdown, Corey Davis ran 7 times for 41 yards, and Desmond Brown ran 10 times for 32 yards and a touchdown.

But the real question here is if Isaac Bennett is going to take carries away from Ray Graham.  He looked absolutely superb yesterday – here is how Rivals described his effort.

In front of 4,607 fans on a rainy afternoon, the Pitt offense went to the ground early and often. Sophomore running back Isaac Bennett ripped off a number of nice runs early and give the Panthers their first big play of the scrimmage.

On the first play of the first team’s second drive, Bennett took the handoff right, cut back and juked defensive end Bryan Murphy, then stiff armed Lloyd Carrington before taking off down the left sideline for a 51-yard run. Bennett had 87 yards on his first six carries and finished with 121 on 23 carries.

Bennett was the star of the day.  He’s powerful up the middle, fast and quick in his lateral moves and has deceptive speed once he gets a step free.  I was told he’s gained about 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason, from 190 to 210, and it showed.  Shell will have a hard time leveraging Bennett out of the RB2 position as Bennett has done everything he;s been asked to do and much more this spring.

Is Ray Vinopal for real?  As of today he’d probably start at one of the Safety positions.  The PITT fans wanted a big hitter back there and they got him in this kid.  He’s one of those players who has a ‘nose’ for the ball and is always around the crucial point. 

Yes he is.  He was all over the field yesterday and made some very nice tackles on running plays.  I was surprised to see that the rumors of Huxtable moving the Safeties up for run support were true in spades.  It seemed like there was only one guy deep on some formations, but this plays right into Vinopal’s strengths.  He didn’t do anything to hurt his chances at being a starting safety come Sept 1st which I think will happen.  Steve Williams was knocking the crap out of a couple of guys out there also; we are going to be nice and deep at Safety.

Can Dan Mason really get back to form?  I wonder is our hearts aren’t getting in over our heads with this kid.  Getting back on the field and playing is one thing, excelling at MLB is quite another.  Let’s see if our fears are founded or not.

Mason started with the 1s and played well. To be honest I was concentrating so much on watching the 1st string offense I didn’t get a real feel for how Mason could drop back and cover passes but to me he looked the same he has all spring.  That is a good thing.  He’ll still have a real test in summer camp to show that he can do all that is required of him but he’ll most probably be starting at MLB.  Grigsby played MLB a bit yesterday and looked pretty good also.

Just how fat is K. K. Mosley-Smith?  He was relegated to 2nd string because of his conditioning early on and that’s something we really can’t afford to have happen.  Which squad he runs with on Saturday will tell us if he’s gotten back in to the good graces of Huxtable and the DL coach.

Smith stated yesterday and played a lot of reps.  He is still too big and I’m sure the staff will set a weight limit for him to reach by the opening of training camp.  It was hard to pay attention to Smith because everyone was watching Aaron Donald wreck the offensive line.  He was a force of nature out there yesterday with at least two QB sacks…literally which pissed off the coaching staff as the QBs had green jerseys on.

Is Bryan Murphy the beast we all think he is?  Yes. Wait until you see him with your own eyes.  IMO he’ll be the 2013 defensive star for us

Yes, he’s going to be great for us. ‘Nuff said.

Are we set at DB?  So, how about the new kids back there?  Keep an eye on Lafayette Pitts as he’s played very well so far and is pushing for a starting job.  The same holds with Cullen Christian.  This is a deep unit but I think we’ll see some not so familiar faces getting the most reps in summer camp if they produce in this scrimmage.

Christian and Carrington started as did Vinopal and Tags at Safety.  This didn’t mean much as K’Waun Williams and Pitts were out with injuries.  As stated above Steve Williams impressed with his hits, Tags had a Pick-6 and the other DBs were active and competent.

How are the Center-QB exchanges?  Over the last two practices there were some fumbles for just this reason and nothing kills a drive faster than a botched snap.  No mistakes between Sunseri and Turnley but Rowell the 2nd string Center and Myers.  Nothing to be overly worried about though.  Sacco got time in as the 3rd string Center.

Finally… will Tino Sunseri be booed after his first incompletion?  Odds are that he won’t unless it is on a deep post pattern.  Then we’ll see a lot of food stuffs being throw on the field in protest.  Hopefully it will have been bought here to keep it in the family.

Commendably, I didn’t hear any boos out there at all yesterday.  There may have been one or two but I couldn’t hear them with my new Spring Hat on.  I walked around during the scrimmage so I overheard a lot of comments and “Same Old Tino” remarks but no booing.

Speaking of the Sunseri family, I was introduced to Gus Sunseri yesterday and had an interesting conversation about the interaction between Graham and his nephew last season.  Too bad he didn’t bring his wife along…  Real nice, even when I told him I was pretty critical of Tino in the past, and an open guy and it was interesting to hear what he had to say about 2011.  Pretty much cemented the thoughts I have about the external pressures Graham put on Sunseri at by being a complete ass as a HC.

Note: It was a great day and nice venue for both tailgating and watching a bit of PITT football.  Thanks everyone.

THE BACKYARD
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