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Pitt

Panther Hollow: Rumored Thomas Return Not Official As Coaches Shuffle Duties

By Matt Popchock
Todd Thomas

(Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Those waiting to see if outside linebacker Todd Thomas still has a future with Pitt football will have to wait a little longer, as team officials still are not commenting on a report by Chip Patterson of CBS Sports on Thomas’ possible return.

Head coach Paul Chryst surprised the local media when he announced Wednesday, shortly after an equally surprising demotion of the Beaver Falls alumnus to the second string, that Thomas intended to leave the program after meeting privately with him.

According to Mike White of the Post-Gazette, Doug Biega, Thomas’ high school basketball coach, said cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and Thomas will rejoin the Panthers.

According to another normally reliable source, Thomas’ mother intervened at one point to discuss the matter with Chryst.

The bottom line is, however, he was not practicing at the time Patterson and White filed their respective reports, nor was he in attendance Friday, as day four of training camp came and went.

Despite multiple knee issues, Thomas (6’2″, 230 lbs.), a redshirt junior, ranked fourth on the 2012 Panthers with 59 total tackles, including a single-game personal-best 11 at Buffalo Oct. 20 and at No. 4 Notre Dame Nov. 3. He missed the first four games of the season but started the final seven at “Will” (weak side) linebacker.

Chryst opted instead to give redshirt freshman Mike Caprara, the all-time leading tackler in Woodland Hills history, first-string snaps on the first day of camp, and since then, redshirt sophomore Nicholas Grigsby, who began last season at the Will, has played in Thomas’ place. It isn’t the most devastating blow Pitt has had to endure, but clearly there are no winners in this situation.

Chryst so much as said he likes Thomas, but the demotion was a motivational tactic he felt necessary. Thomas, when he spoke publicly Tuesday, seemed to handle it professionally, and had he then simply taken his medicine and continued practicing in good faith, there’s still a realistic chance he’d be starting against Florida State Sept. 2.

At the same time, roughly 20 players–Wannstedt- and Graham-era recruits, it should be noted–have parted ways with the program in the past year, and, once again, there’s no official guarantee Thomas comes back. Admirable though his approach to player discipline has been, this is just more negative attention drawn to the program that the second-year sideline boss has to ride out.

Having said that, he was in good spirits Friday as the team performed some red-zone drills in anticipation of Saturday’s first full-on padded practice of camp, and as Pitt tinkered with his coaching staff.

“I love every practice. I really do,” Chryst said. “I thought practice had some good energy. We’ve got to keep grinding away at it. But it was fun.

“We won’t do anything different [Saturday]. We’ve just got to keep going on and playing.”

His assistant coach, Joe Rudolph, will remain offensive coordinator, but going forward he will also absorb the duties of running backs coach.

Graduate assistant Mickey Turner will assume Rudolph’s previous responsibilities as tight ends coach, while Desmond Robinson goes from running backs coach to player personnel director.

According to the Post-Gazette’s Sam Werner, this will allow Robinson, who played defense on Pitt’s last national championship team in 1976, and was once a graduate assistant to Jackie Sherrill before he rejoined the program last year, to focus his energies on recruiting.

Speaking of running backs, that young group will be under increased scrutiny this season, but Chryst is currently pleased with a rotation led by junior Isaac Bennett, who is preparing for his first full season as a probable starter.

“I thought he did some good stuff. He missed a couple cuts. He’s working and I like his approach. That part I do like,” Chryst said. “We’re working on getting guys reps to see what they can do. We’ll have practice tomorrow and work on it some more. This is only the second day of pads, so we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Stay tuned to SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, your flagship home of the Panthers, for the latest.

(Contact me at mpopchock@kdka.com and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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