Pitt's indoor practices at the South Side's UPMC Sports Performance Complex can become awfully gray. Between the walls and artificial lighting, the mundane atmosphere may dull emotions experienced even when playing a game with the inherent intensity football possesses.
Saturday was a gray day too, with light rain sprinkling in the afternoon, but there was no monotony for the Panthers.
The third practice of the spring was the the first in pads with full contact. If the chance to hit wasn't enough to spur the team, Pitt also went through its drills on its home grass at Heinz Field.
Whether it was because of the change in venue or the first day in pads, head coach Pat Narduzzi noticed a definite uptick in energy between Saturday's practice and the previous two.
"It’s hard to tell the attitude because I think they were just fired up," Narduzzi said. "We went a live period really right after about a 10-minute warm-up period just to get it going. There was a ton of enthusiasm there so you couldn’t tell if it was just Heinz or they were happy to get out of shorts and tag/flag football."
Pitt was unable to practice at Heinz Field last spring due to construction occurring at the stadium and only practiced twice on the North Side during the fall training camp. Even then, the Panthers couldn't tackle because of concerns over tearing up the field.
This spring, Pitt will practice four times at Heinz Field on each Saturday of the spring, finishing with the Blue-Gold Spring Game April 16. The practices on the North Side serve to not only to help the Panthers become more comfortable playing there, but to instill an attitude of playing their best in the stadium and protecting their home field.
"There’s got to be a different attitude when you walk into this place as opposed to the indoor [field] and you hope you have that attitude when you practice," Narduzzi said. "However when you come in here, you better be ready to go."
A side effect of the additional energy was a lowered attention to detail with Narduzzi pointing out a few missed tackles, but also calling Saturday a "normal" first practice in pads.
"The offense had some big plays that you don’t want to give up on defense but you’re fired up as a head coach to see those," Narduzzi said. "Then there’s some turnovers and some sloppiness, so a sloppy first day in pads. But you like to hit and [have] a lot of contact, they had fun today."
-- Narduzzi singled out Quadree Henderson and Tre Tipton as two players who made big plays in Saturday's practice. Henderson in particular had a long run that came on the type of sweep play that is similar to the many ran for Tyler Boyd last season. Henderson showed he can be dynamic with the ball in his hands and if that kind of play is installed for him it shows a commitment from the coaching staff to get it there.
Henderson and Tipton are both vying to help contribute toward replacing Boyd's production in 2016. More on them from earlier this week.
-- Dontez Ford wore a yellow non-contact pinnie over his jersey during practice Saturday and was sidelined, at least during the window open to the media. Narduzzi said after practice the senior wideout "tweaked" something going up for a pass earlier this week, likely Thursday as Ford was a full participant two days ago, but expects Ford to be fine.