Notebook: Pitt Spring Practice 3/15

News and notes from the UPMC Sports Performance Complex in the South Side as Pitt began its 2016 spring practice schedule Tuesday morning.

Pitt began its second calendar year, so to speak, under Pat Narduzzi Tuesday with the morning's first practice of the spring. A few observations:

--  Perhaps the most important, and best, news for Pitt was that James Conner participated in this morning's practice. by all accounts, his treatment is going quite well. Conner warmed up with the team and took part in a few drills during the media's viewing period.

By the way, Conner underwent his eighth of 12 chemotherapy treatments yesterday according to family friend Mike Gallagher's tweet. 

Conner obviously won't be a full participant in these spring practices as he continues to receive treatment for Hodgkin's lymphona, however his presence on the field is certainly a good sign not only for the football team but also the 20-year-old's improving health. Back in December, Dr. Stanley Marks noted it would be good for Conner to maintain some level of physical activity to help with his treatment. And, along the same lines as laughter being the best medicine, one has to think the ability to play football has to do wonders for Conner's spirits at the very least. 

Also notably, Conner is now officially listed as a redshirt junior so he was granted an extra year of eligibility after he missed nearly all of last season due to a knee injury. 

-- Pitt released its official list of players ruled out for spring practice with six names on the list, with no surprises on the list. Linebackers Anthony McKee and Bam Bradley, wide receiver Zach Challingsworth, fullback Colton Lively, defensive end Rori Blair and center Alex Officer will all be inactive for spring drills. The only specification for the injuries provided was upper or lower body.

Of note, Alex Officer was seen walking with a boot on his right leg. Additionally, Tyrique Jarrett and Allen Edwards sported boots but since neither listed on the team's spring injury report they will likely be able to participate fully at some point this spring.

-- The Panthers enter the spring with a need for a few new starters on defense heading into the 2016 season. During the media's viewing period, the defense ran a few drills with starters grouped together. 

Nicholas Grigsby's departure vacated the starting Star linebacker job and redshirt sophomore Oluwaseun Idowu was running in drills with what looked like the first-team defense. Idowu was previously a defensive back and saw time on special teams in 10 games last season, but moved to linebacker this spring to provide depth.

Pitt also needs a new starting cornerback with the graduation of four-year starter Lafayette Pitts and while the new first-team corner opposite Avonte Maddox may not arrive until the fall, Phillipie Motley ran with the quasi-first team. Redshirt senior Ryan Lewis was also on the field in what could be considered the nickelback spot. 

The defensive line has an opening at tackle with the departure of seniors Darryl Render and Khaynin Mosley-Smith. Jeremiah Taleni and Justin Moody were grouped on the "first" team with Jarrett sidelined. Also of note, Dewayne Hendrix lined up at defensive end opposite Ejuan Price.

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