By Dale Grdnic
PantherDigest.com Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh football team is at the midpoint of its spring practice sessions and capped the annual coaches' clinic with an intrasquad scrimmage.
"The effort's been good, which you would expect, but we have a ways to go,'' second-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I love that expression; I think Bobby Knight used it. It's not how many plays you can run, it's how well do your players play. So, that's about where we're at right now.''
The first-team offense had some success moving the ball during an intrasquad scrimmage that capped the annual coaches' clinic, but the second team struggled, at times, due to inconsistent play. However, some players stood out, according to Wannstedt.
"The difference in what happened in this scrimmage was that Conredge Collins broke some tackles,'' Wannstedt said. "LaRod Stephens broke some tackles. Cedric McGee made a little step today. The quarterbacks, both Tyler and Billy, did a great job of not forcing things. They managed the game.
"Tyler's really getting himself into more of a comfort zone from the standpoint of not just understanding the offense, but understanding the philosophy of the offense. (That's) who can do what and what we're capable of doing. So, I really like the way he's progressing.''
On defense, two veterans continued to impress Wannstedt, but two younger players also caught his eye.
"Defensively, the guys that stepped up were Mick Williams with the defensive line,'' Wannstedt said. "He's coming on and probably made as big plays as anybody. Chris McKillop continues to play well. So, I was real pleased with those guys, and Clint Session we've talked about before.
"There's no comparison to where he's at mentally compared to where he was a year ago. And (Doug Fulmer), he's an ex-linebacker playing defensive line that can run fast and has a lot of instincts. So, every day's an adventure out there. ... But he is making progress.''
Williams and Fulmer are redshirt freshmen expected to contribute to the defensive line this season after sitting out last fall.
The offensive line had some young players step in last season, and now they mix with the veterans to comprise a cohesive group.
"If we're going to be a good football team, those guys are going to have to pick up where they left off last year,'' Wannstedt said. "And that group probably made as much improvement, as the year went on, as any (group) last year.
"But we need them to pick up where they left off. ... I would expect our entire offensive line to be improved for two reasons, because they've played together now. And, for the most part, they were young.''
Fifth-year senior Joe Villani returns at center, but he was a first-year starter last fall. Senior John Simonitis is a four-year starter at right guard, and he provides stability to that side with redshirt junior tackle Mike McGlynn.
"We're doing a lot better, John and me, and we've been working harder on our twist games on the line,'' McGlynn said. "Hopefully, it turns into some big plays and no dumb mistakes. But we're working hard and getting better all the time, so I think we'll be pretty good when the season starts.''
The left side has sophomores C.J. Davis at guard and John Bachman at tackle. Davis recorded starts in the final six games, while Bachman did not debut until Game 6 and was the main backup to senior Charles Spencer.
"I feel a lot more comfortable with the offense this year, and everybody's coming together around me,'' Simonitis said. "So, I expect us to be better this season. When you get new guys in there, it's tough to make all the calls. But me and Mike have played together for three years now.
"So it's helped us a lot. And we're on the same page, pretty much, on every play. ... I think we'll have a good line no matter what, but John Bachman is a young guy with a lot of potential. I think he's doing all right, but he's working hard. So, he'll do well, and we'll be all right as an O-line.''
Pitt is still thin on both lines now and will rely heavily on its incoming freshman class to provide depth. Bachman nearly redshirted last season, but he was pressed into action and now he's the starter. At center, redshirt junior Chris Vangas -- Villani's backup -- suffered a twisted knee at midweek and has not yet returned. So, Davis and McGlynn got some work at center.
"It helps us because you really need a third guy to be ready anyway and not have to rely on a freshman,'' Wannstedt said. "But we need linemen, so the freshman will get an opportunity.
"At tackle, (6-7, 340-pound redshirt sophomore) Chase Clowser's doing a nice job, but big Jeff Otah will be thrown into the mix right away. And he'll create some havoc, just because he's 6-6, 350.''
Otah played last fall at Valley Forge Military Academy and is the recruit most likely to make an impact immediately on the line. He joins three other offensive line recruits. Pitt also will bring in seven defensive linemen.