PITTSBURGH – Junior Alex Kessman appears to have the Panther’s kicking job locked up heading into the 2019 season, as the team got some live looks at special teams on the fourth day of training camp.
Kessman kicked with the first team unit as expected and looked strong. Pitt lined up for six attempts, with Kessman going four of five. The snap was bobbled and thrown away on the fourth attempt. Kessman hit three kicks in a row to start the period, but missed his next attempt following the errant snap and hold. He bounced back and closed out the drill with a make from distance.
Freshman Sam Scarton kicked with the second unit. He went three of four.
In addition to providing a look at Kessman’s leg, the field goal block unit may have presented some insight into what Pitt’s starting defense could be moving forward. The members of the secondary on the field were senior Damar Hamlin, senior Dane Jackson, junior Jason Pinnock and sophomore Paris Ford. The linebackers were senior Saleem Brightwell, junior Phil Campbell III and junior Chase Pine. For the defensive line, senior Amir Watts, junior Rashad Weaver, sophomore Jaylen Twyman and sophomore Deslin Alexandre had their hands in the dirt.
Based on class, experience and last year’s depth chart, this could very well be the starting defense come Aug. 31.
RETURNERS AND FRESH FACES
Heading into 2019, Pitt boasts one of the most dynamic returners in the country in senior wide receiver Maurice Ffrench. Ffrench took back two kickoffs for touchdowns last year, including the opening play of the 2018 season against Albany. It was the first time ever a Pitt season began with a kickoff return touchdown.
There is no reason to think that Ffrench will not begin the season as Pitt’s kickoff return specialist, but that isn’t stopping them from getting a look at some other dynamic players for return duties. Sophomore safety Paris Ford and junior wide receiver Taysir Mack, two of the team’s fastest player, also worked with the returners. Some freshman got an opportunity during the special teams period as well, as running back Vincent Davis, defensive back AJ Woods and wide receiver John Vardzel all received reps.
With the Panthers attempting to generate more explosive plays this upcoming season, they will try to find their most dynamic athletes to help carry the load on special teams.
BIG TIME TARGETS
As many expected, the tight end position has been a point of emphasis early in Pitt training camp. Pitt quarterbacks and tight ends spent a considerable amount of practice working on routes on Monday morning, as the team is clearly trying to get the position more involved in the passing game this season.
The tight end that has stood out so far is senior Will Gragg. The Arkansas transfer has looked athletic and fluid, especially on the deep corners Pitt was practicing on Monday. Gragg and junior quarterback Kenny Pickett look to be finding some chemistry already.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Here are the rest of the sights and sounds from Pitt training camp practice No. 4.