Pitt will have its final spring practice today, and I spoke recently with offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph about the progress the Panthers have made. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
We’ve talked a lot about your quarterback this spring, Chad Voytik, how has the rest of the offense looked?
Joe Rudolph: It’s coming, truly coming. I think it’s a group that loves to work, and they love to work together. I’ve really enjoyed their approach to the spring, and I love how they’ve interacted and competed. There’s a way you can compete where you’re not giving anything up – you are going after it – but you also respect that person across from you, and I think this group does. We have to do a good job coaching, and player-wise they have to do a great job absorbing the details and information that will allow them to play a little bit more aware, with a little bit more seasoning than the number of starts or years in the program represent. I do, I like them. I think it’s coming. The group is coming along.
How much better has the pass protection looked?
JR: I think a lot better. There are some guys who have truly settled in the position. T.J. Clemmings stands out the most as really settling into a position and taking ownership of it. I really see a maturing in him, which is nice. He’s over there next to Matt Rotheram, and that brings some great stability. I see Artie [Rowell] getting more confident, not only making the calls and those types of things, but in his technique at center. I think at times you get into it, you do a lot of great things all through practice and the minute you get into a game you get a hair hesitant. When you do that, you’re not playing fast. You’re not playing at your best. This group is ready to do that and have that little bit more confidence you need to let it go. They’re getting there. The left side is young. Adam Bisnowaty has been limited, hasn’t been able to do a lot of team stuff, we’ve got Jaryd Jones-Smith and Dorian Johnson have been battling over there. There are some things that show their heads from an understanding at times, but we also see some things ability-wise where you say, ‘Wow.’ So we’re plugging at it.
I would think you have to be encouraged by the depth and experience that’s returning this year at running back:
JR: Yeah, the kids just work. Last year they worked their tails off. We asked them to jump into it, trust us and play with confidence. Isaac [Bennett] was the one guy who had experience, and I thought he did a great job for us, just steadying the whole group and being the bell cow when we needed him to and understanding protections. James [Conner] had his moments when he really stepped into the spotlight. His confidence level has increased and we’re still hammering him on getting that complete understanding. They’ve been a blast. Rachid [Ibrahim] did some wonderful things for us last year and really saved us in a lot of areas and helped us because we were confident in his knowledge of protections and the run game and for a young guy to really have a grasp of all of it, you don’t see that too often. He’s doing a really good job this spring again and we’ve got a nice group coming in, so we’re excited.
What’s the next step for Tyler Boyd?
JR: I think Tyler, the fun thing about Tyler is he loves to compete and he loves to be coached. He wants to know how he can get better. When you’ve got that approach, boy you love it. I’m sure there’s a lot of details, whether it’s finding the right blocks and the right fits in the run game to being consistent on all of his routes and route adjustments, and recognition of coverages, so I think there’s a lot of room for growth, but in that, the ability to keep playing fast and making plays as you have.