PantherDigest.com Camp Five Stars
A year ago, no one knew who Dion Lewis was. Now, he's going to be the target of every opponent's game plan. Lewis handled his second training camp as if he was a junior or senior. With close scrutiny on the offensive line for all of camp--having to replace seniors Robb Houser, Joe Thomas and John Malecki, and the fact there's a new starting quarterback this year, Lewis evaded the pressure by having several big-time runs. Though there was limited contact for a lot of camp, Lewis showed two tendencies that make him as dangerous he is. When finding the hole, it almost looks like the hole comes to him--like he has time, like he knows exactly where he's going. Two, even if it wasn't contact, he did a good job making people miss. He came out with the composure of a player looking to prove more.
At times, Jon Baldwin looked like he needed to be challenged. Of any player in the Pitt offense, this is the player most ready to see live action. He made his share of big plays--touchdown receptions, and one-handed grabs. Some of his one-handed grabs looked intentional, as to keep himself interested in practice. For most of camp, he looked either disinterested, or held back because of the fact it was practice or training camp. No player on the Pitt roster will be happier to be unleashed in a live game under the spotlight next Thursday night.
Jason Pinkston's play on the offensive line is more important this season, than any other. Though the Panthers had three new starters to break in, Chris Jacobson quickly became one of them. Jacobson is the most physically ready out of him, Alex Karabin and Greg Gaskins, but having the fifth-year senior in Pinkston adjacent to him on the left side, has also helped. For a group that has been the central focus all of camp, Pinkston has been the glue of the offensive line. He has a taller task, in terms of leadership, than any of the seniors had last year, and so far, he's passing with flying colors. Though the offensive line is still a concern--because they haven't played yet--Pinkston's play, and is leadership, is invaluable to the group as they look to prove themselves.
It seems like years ago that Sheard's status with the team was in question. He was the first person to speak on media day, issuing a prepared apology. He hasn't spoken with the media since, but has been dominant all of camp, from day one. With Greg Romeus bothered by an ankle from the second day of practice on, the pressure to produce as a unit fell on Sheard's shoulders. He has not faded since then. Sheard's leadership presence was clear in Wednesday's scrimmage--as he left his defensive linemen after just 10 plays, as players like Nate Nix, Justin Hargrove and Shayne Hale stepped up in his absence. It was a big question if Sheard could regain his teammates trust after his off-the-field incident just a few weeks before the start of camp. He has done that, and has been a rock for the defense.
The value of Mason was seen in the second scrimmage. There were four players given a limited number of reps--10 or less--in the second scrimmage. The first three were Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin and Jabaal Sheard. Mason was the fourth. Though he had a sore ankle that bothered him a little bit, Wannstedt values Mason that much, that when he pulled those first three, Mason came off shortly after them. As just a sophomore, Mason backs up his vocal leadership every play, and like Lewis, plays and acts beyond his years. Even though he has to replace a fifth-year senior in Adam Gunn, of all positions that were left vacant by graduations, middle linebacker is the least of Wannstedt's worries because of Mason's physical play through all of camp.
The loss of seniors Gus Mustakas and Mick Williams were a big loss. If there was one player who didn't get the spotlight, yet still had a great camp, it was Myles Caragein. That's part of a defensive lineman's job--to do the dirty work on the inside, to push back the offensive line, and to be the focal point of stopping the running game. Defensive ends look pretty because they get the sacks. Linebackers also look pretty because they are in position to make all the tackles. Defensive tackles hardly get all the credit, though the ones at Pitt in recent years, evidenced by Williams being named Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year last year, are getting noticed. Caragein, though he only has one career start under his belt, is poised for a breakout year.