Monday, August 4, 2008

Training Camp Opens

Finally after a long 8 months we are back into the business of Pitt Football. Sunday was the first day of training camp at the Southside Complex. Expectations have risen considerably since the win against WVU last December and this season could define the future of the program. Coach Wannstedt must translate all of the success off the field into his first winning season.

The story of this month will be: Can the offensive line gel into a cohesive and productive unit? Only one player on the line, CJ Davis, has significant starting experience. On the plus side this offensive line could be the most talented group Pitt has had for a long time. To me the three biggest question marks on the line are:
  1. Can Robb Houser solidify the center position? I don't think he needs to be All-Big East or All American but Houser needs to provide stability to a position that has been a problem for some time. There is very little time for him to make the adjustment from Junior College to the Big East. If Houser fails in camp or early in the season we could see major problems from the offensive line.
  2. Is Joe Thomas the man at right tackle? Thomas had a rough season last year at guard and now he is being penciled in at right tackle this season. Judging from his play during his freshman year it appears that he is a better tackle than guard. Reports have stated that Thomas has really put in the work during the offseason in the weight room and has lost a considerable amount of weight. Coach Wannstedt says that he is under 300 pounds now which fits into the speedy lineman template for the system. If Thomas can't win this position Jordan Gibbs, Dan Matha, and Chase Clowser are the upper-classmen that could have a chance to take the job. High-profile recruit Lucas Nix could also have a chance to win the starting job should Thomas fail, although I believe a redshirt for Nix is the current plan.
  3. Can John Malecki make the transition from defensive line to offensive line? Malecki seems like a safe bet to be at the very least a serviceable player at guard. With his ability to move and toughness he will make a big impact in the running game. I thought Malecki had a really solid season last year on the defense and is definitely a player to watch out for.
Looking quickly at the defense I see a few position battles popping up. There is the battle at one of the safety positions between Elijiah Fields and Dom DeCicco but I see this as moot because both will be starting early in the season. At linebacker many are looking to see if Greg Williams can beat out Shane Murray. I feel that Williams, with his athletic ability and speed, could add much to the defensive but Murray has matured into quite a solid tackler and smart player. Jovanni Chappel is an early favorite to win the corner position opposite Aaron Berry but Ronald Hobby has enough talent to beat him out as a freshman and has been with the team since January. Another player to look at is the redshirt freshman Buddy Jackson who has the size and speed to be a factor at the corner position. Don't forget about Ricky Gary factoring in either, he looked pretty good early in the season last year. My outlook is that Chappel will have this job as long as he continues to play steady mistake free football.

On the offensive side of the ball, outside of the line, the only positional battle I see is for the 3rd wide reciever position. I have a feeling that Oderick Turner will get the benefit of experience to play across from Derek Kinder opening day but the 3rd spot could be interesting. TJ Porter had the most productive season of any of our wideouts last year despite having no touchdowns. Aundre Wright is perhaps the fastest player on the team and coming off a redshirt we will need to find a way to get him touches. Aaron Smith is another redshirt player that could factor at wide reciever. The wildcard in this situation is Jonathan Baldwin; his talent and size could make him into a dominant reciever day 1 here at Pitt. In the past Wannstedt and co. have been very reluctant to go with a freshman at a skill position but I can see Baldwin doing what Shady did last year. Getting limited touches in the first two games and impressing to the point that he works his way into a starting job. Mike Shanahan is another freshman that perhaps could contribute right away but I see him getting a redshirt this year and making his move up the depth chart next year.

Well that is a little bit to look for during the hectic training camp this month. Keep coming back to The Cat Basket as we will be following the camp in depth.

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