By Dale Grdnic PantherDigest.com Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH -- Even though the University of Pittsburgh football team had a quick turnaround from a late Friday night practice, intensity remained high for Saturday morning scrimmage at the UMPC Sports Complex.
"We got back to the facility at 11 o'clock last night, and a couple coaches actually slept here,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We watched the tape, and we were back at it at 6 (a.m. Saturday). So, it was a quick turnaround, but we got a lot done.
"We scrimmaged a hundred plays. So, we had a good, extensive scrimmage, and everybody got a lot of work. Even after one week, some guys have separated themselves a little bit.'' There also was a solid showing of recruits at both events. Even though Penn State held its junior day Saturday, Center High School offensive lineman Evan Blankenship and Aliquippa running back Brandon Lyndsey attended the Friday night workout at Center's Sarge Alberts Stadium. Blankenship, 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, has received offers from Pitt, Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Kentucky and Penn State.
And Saturday, big offensive linemen Stefen Wisniewski (6-4, 275) from Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Chris Jacobson from Keystone Oaks attended the scrimmage. Jacobson has already committed to Pitt, while Wisniewski has received an offer from Pitt with strong interest from Boston College, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Penn State.
Depth chart shapes up
The offense has a number of returning starters, including fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Palko, sophomore tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling, junior wide receiver Derek Kinder and fifth-year senior tight end Steve Buches. Conredge Collins, a special teams performer as a freshman last season, moves into the top fullback role, while senior Joe DelSardo is holding down another wideout spot for now.
Wannstedt praised Palko for the way he managed the offense in the scrimmage. (Palko) made some good decisions and had a good day, he said.
Redshirt sophomore Marcel Pestano and redshirt freshmen Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee are battling for time at receiver, while junior Darrell Strong is a contributor at tight end. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Mason and redshirt frosh Shane Brooks are backup tailbacks.
"Shane Brooks, (Friday) night (at practice), he showed up and carried it over to today,'' Wannstedt said. "He's going to be in the mix. He's got the toughness that you're looking for, but also he's got more run after contact maybe than any back we've got. So, he's been a real bright spot thus far.''
The offensive line appears to be set with sophomores John Bachman and C.J. Davis at left tackle and guard, respectively. Second-year starter Joe Villani, a fifth-year senior, is the center, while four-year starter John Simonitis and redshirt junior Mike McGlynn are the right guard and tackle, respectively. Redshirt sophomore Dominic Williams was a part-time starter with Davis at left guard, while redshirt frosh John Brown is the backup left tackle. Redshirt junior Chris Vangas is the backup center.
"I thought the offensive line did a good job,'' Wannstedt said. "We started off real fast, defensively, but as the practice went on our offensive line came together and took some steps forward, so that was encouraging.''
Defensively, the Panthers are somewhat inexperienced across the line and extremely young at tackle. The ends are redshirt junior Chris McKillop and fifth-year senior Charles Sallet. Both were first-year starters last fall. Sophomore Rashaad Duncan had two starts at tackle last season, while redshirt frosh Craig Bokor worked with the scout team.
Other tackles who certainly will play include redshirt sophomore Corey Davis, who had one start, redshirt sophomore Nick Williams and redshirt freshman Mick Williams. Nick is rehabbing a knee injury this spring. The other ends include sophomore Gus Mustakas, who also is out after shoulder surgery, redshirt junior Joe Clermond and fifth-year senior Vernon Botts.
The linebacking corps is solid with seniors H.B. Blades in the middle and senior Clint Session on the strong side. Redshirt junior Derron Thomas is the weak-side linebacker, while former starter and fifth-year senior Brian Bennett rehabs from offseason knee surgery. Redshirt sophomores Scott McKillop and Adam Gunn are backups in the middle and outside, respectively.
The secondary has All-America candidate Darrelle Revis at one corner spot, but fifth-year senior Reggie Carter, redshirt junior Kennard Cox, frosh Javoni Chappel, an early enrollee, and redshirt freshman Irvan Brown -- a converted tailback -- are the other cornerbacks.
Last year's starting strong safety, redshirt junior Mike Phillips, is rehabilitating his ankle after midseason surgery. And fifth-year senior Sam Bryant, who took over in the fourth game, is holding down the starting spot. The other safety spot is open with redshirt sophomore Eric Thatcher and sophomore Tommie Campbell trying to earn the starting role.
The place-kicking duties will be handled by either fifth-year senior David Abdul, a starter early in his career, or redshirt sophomore walk-on Conor Lee. Senior Adam Graessle is the punter. Chappel and Revis are punt returners, while Stephens-Howling will return kicks with Pestano.
Former Pitt quarterback Joe Flacco, who could start at Division I-AA Delaware State this season, still has not been released from his scholarship with the Panthers. So, even though he redshirted last season, his parents must continue to pay for him to go to college. Wannstedt would not comment on the situation, but both Flacco and his coach, K.C. Keeler, had a lot to say in an article in the Delaware State News.
"They didn't recruit him,'' Keeler said, referring to Wannstedt's staff. Flacco was brought in under Walt Harris' regime. He was the No. 3 quarterback until second-stringer Luke Getsy transferred to Akron.
"I just think it's horrible what the University of Pittsburgh has put this kid through,'' Keeler added. "There's really no reason.''
Flacco clearly wasn't too happy, either.
"I have no idea why they're doing that,'' Flacco said. "It's not like I had a bad relationship with them when I was there. I wish Delaware scheduled a game against Pittsburgh.'' Flacco will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.