Pitt opens spring football practice

The University of Pittsburgh football team kicked off spring practice on Sunday. PantherDigest.com senior writer Dale Grdnic was in attendance and talks about the Panthers first day of action. Read on for details!

PITTSBURGH -- With just two healthy tight ends participating in spring practice sessions, the University of Pittsburgh might open its offense a little more with three- and four-wide receiver sets, and fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Palko is looking forward to it.

Palko and the Panthers got an initial look at the offense Sunday as spring workouts began at the UPMC Sports Complex.

"Competition always makes you play better, and that's what we're experiencing now,'' Palko said when asked about the wide receivers. "We have a talented recruiting class coming in, but ... the guys that are here need to step up now while they have the chance.''

Just in case, West Allegheny's Dorin Dickerson, Duquesne's Elijah Fields and Gateway's Aaron Smith -- three wideouts from Pitt's 2006 recruiting class -- attentively watched practice with their future teammates.

The trio likely will make an impact as incoming freshmen in the fall, but they already appeared to be pushing the veterans.

"We've got some great competition going in a lot of spots, but at the receiver spot you have guys with experience like (Joe) DelSardo and (Derek) Kinder,'' second-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.

"Then, you've got (Marcel) Pestano, who played a little bit (as a redshirt freshman). And you've got Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee there. So, we've got some good competition at receiver.''

Kinder, who will be a junior in the fall, made eight starts -- including the final seven games -- and steadily improved throughout last season. He finished second to Greg Lee with 37 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns. But Lee left a large void at the split end spot when he declared for the NFL Draft next month.

DelSardo was replaced by the bigger, faster Kinder and had just 15 catches with no TDs after making 49 and four as a sophomore. The speedy Pestano had one catch for five yards, while Turner and McGee redshirted.

"We've got a group of guys here who are very capable of putting up a lot of yards, a lot of catches and putting the ball in the end zone,'' fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Palko said. "So, we're not going to rely on just the freshmen that are coming in. These guys are the vets. They've been here, and hopefully they'll (come through).''

Pitt basically has five practice sessions this week with its regular Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule, but also with one of two Friday nights on the docket. The Panthers will visit Center High School for a 7 p.m. workout this Friday and then travel to Thomas Jefferson April 7.

Walking Wounded

A handful of Pitt players worked primarily with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kent due to various injuries. Redshirt sophomores (DL) Nick Williams and (OL) Dave Weber were on crutches. ... Sophomore TE John Pelusi had reconstructive right knee surgery and is a long shot to play this season. ... Junior walk-on LB Kashif Henderson has a right knee injury. ... And redshirt junior safety Mike Phillips (ankle) and fifth-year senior LB Brian Bennett (knee) are limited after midseason injuries last fall. Bennett actually needed a second surgery in the winter to clean out the knee.

Pitt's Pro Day

Wannstedt used his NFL connections to showcase last year's seniors and a few from next season Saturday at the UPMC Sports Complex. The event wasn't open to the public or media, but more than 40 NFL people were in attendance with every team represented.

About two dozen recruits also were able to watch the workouts while they were on unofficial visits to Pitt.

On the move

There were several position switches noted in the initial practice session. Redshirt sophomore Kelvin Chandler, who was unable to crack the depth chart at wideout last season, moved to defensive back and switched from No. 82 to 19. Redshirt frosh Shane Murray, the No. 3 quarterback last fall, moved to safety. And sophomore Gus Mustakis, a strong contributor last season as a defensive end, moved to tackle this spring.

Waiting in the wings

Along with Dickerson, Fields and Smith, future Pitt freshmen Aaron Berry from Bishop McDevitt High School, Justin Hargrove and Jason Pinkston from Baldwin, Dan Loheyde from Gateway, John Malecki from Franklin Regional and Kevan Smith from Seneca Valley were in attendance.

Unlike his future teammates, Berry was unable to get a ride to Pittsburgh, so he took a bus from Harrisburg.


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