Nate Barnes

Notebook: Training Camp August 22

News and notes from Pitt's practice August 22 on the second scrimmage of camp, impressive work done by freshmen on punt returns and

Defense wins ballgames

After the offense won the first scrimmage, the defense punched back and earned a victory Saturday. Unlike last weekend where the offense was strong early, the defense came out hot and was able to hold on when the offense rebounded in the second half.

Mike Caprara was the leader on defense as he recorded seven tackles, two for loss. Caprara said the defense focused on the fundamentals during the week and that paid dividends early. 

"I think the basics were going pretty well," Caprara said. "Because that was the perspective going into this scrimmage. Know your roles, [man] up and go for it."

Of potential concern, Caprara noted the defense did not finish the scrimmage very well. The offense marched down the field in its two-minute drill and culminated the drive with a touchdown pass from Chad Voytik to Elijah Zeise. 

To recall, the Panthers lost more than a few games last season after they held fourth-quarter leads. 

"Today wasn’t a great finish," Caprara said. "We started off on fire but at the end of the day, the two-minute didn’t really go our way--the ones and the twos. I just think we’ve got to finish then we’ll be alright."

James Conner

While Chaney said the running game wasn't where it needed to be, that's by no doing of Conner's. The Pitt staff has been holding him out of a lot of live work, likely to reduce the number of times Conner will be hit. 

Precautions like this aren't uncommon, especially with a player like Conner who tends to run through anything in his way rather than around it.  

"He’s getting his work done during the week," Chaney said. "We’re not going out and doing a lot of live stuff with him, we’re putting him in some protection situations because we feel like that’s something he needs to continue to grow as a player with."

Chaney also assured that Conner is right on schedule and ready to play. Although, among things to worry about with them, Conner probably isn't on the list.

Whitehead and Henderson

Pat Narduzzi has said there are about three or four freshmen that are in line to play this year. While he hasn't detailed who those players are, it's apparent who they could be. 

The last thing the Panthers practiced during this morning's media window was their punt packagaes. The returners were primarily Jordan Whitehead and Quadree Henderson. Each made impressive plays. 

Whitehead in particular drew the attention of everyone when junior Matt Galambos, the starting middle linebacker, laid a loud hit on Whitehead that surely would have flattened the freshman. Except Galambos bounced off Whitehead and ended up prone while Whitehead continued his return while a shout of "Sit down, Galambos!" emerged from the sidelines. 

It's no secret at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds of (seemingly) all muscle, Whitehead's body is college-ready. Maybe moreso than some of the players older than him. That becomes all the more real when 240-pound linebackers can't lay clean hits  on him. 

A peripheral benefit of these freshmen potentially electrifying the return game would be the decrease in workload Tyler Boyd would see on special teams. While Boyd is undoubtedly the team's best returner, reducing the amount of hits he takes may be worth a few less yards. 

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