PITTSBURGH — During the “teach” period of Pitt football practice, the Panthers perform individual drills under the supervision of their position coaches.
Offensive linemen work with Dave Borbely, linebackers work with Rob Harley, quarterbacks work with Shawn Watson, so on and so forth.
Sometimes, the group will exchange “rocks,” or members of the scout team, to assist with the drills.
So, some of the scout team defensive linemen will help Borbely and his offensive line set their blocks. Some scout team defensive backs will try to jam Kevin Sherman’s wide receivers.
On Tuesday, that’s exactly what was happening when Sherman was called away from such a drill, slowing progress to a halt. True freshman defensive back Judson Tallandier grew frustrated.
“These are my game reps,” Tallandier said.
It’s a message that was brought into focus on Saturday, when out of nowhere, fellow true freshman V’Lique Carter was un-buried from the depth chart at cornerback and converted into a slot receiver. In his first crack at game action, he gained 137 yards and scored twice on seven carries.
Carter had been working on both sides of the ball on the scout team, and his electric rushing ability was both frustrating Pitt’s defense and impressing the coaches.
“He played tailback in our last preseason scrimmage,” Borbely said. “Our defense wanted to go live against those guys. I had no idea who the kid was. I couldn’t have picked him out of a crowd of two. We were going No. 1’s on both sides against the rest. I was talking to the first group of linemen, and this guy is running down the middle of the field and there’s no one around him on the first-team defense.
“I was like, ‘Holy shit! Who is that?’ Then he broke another one. After watching that performance and watching him in practice last week, I was pretty confident what he could do if we could get the ball to him.”
The message to the rest of the “rocks” should be loud and clear: Make an impact at practice — even on the scout team — and you, too can get a shot.
Part of that hope should come from the new NCAA rule that allows players to see four games of action before they burn their redshirt season. That means that even as the calendar turns to November, almost no Pitt player should be ruled out for potentially earning some playing time.
Perhaps that’s the reason, or perhaps it’s a different one, but redshirt senior offensive tackle Alex Bookser said this year’s scout team is the best one he’s seen in his time at Pitt.
“I don’t know if that’s the reason or what it is, but I do know that this year is the best scout team group we’ve had since I’ve ben here,” Bookser said. “I’ve never thought about whether that was the reason, but those guys come out every single week and they’re unbelievable. I can’t say enough about them. … Whatever it is that keeps them fired up, I hope it keeps them going, because they’re playing awesome.”