By Dale Grdnic
PantherDigest.com Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH -- Darrelle Revis has built a solid relationship with his teammates since the University of Pittsburgh returned from holiday break, and the junior cornerback believed the Panthers are better off this season.
"We're together all week, every day, from 7 o'clock in the morning (at breakfast),'' Revis said. "And it's real fun. You can tell that this football team is a lot closer than it was last year.
"There was a lot of pointing fingers and stuff (last season), but this year everybody helps each other up if they have a bad play or anything. So, we're a lot closer, and we're a better team for it.''
Revis, an All-America candidate and defensive leader, won't guarantee a level of success for the Panthers this season. However, he's certain that the way things were last fall -- the first for Wannstedt, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and a few other coaches -- cannot be repeated.
"I think we were one of the worst teams with that last season,'' Revis said. "Guys just weren't focused on the big picture. Guys were not communicating right, and there was just a bad vibe throughout the whole season. And we couldn't get a feel for each other. That made it tough.''
Coach Dave Wannstedt believed that any problems, whether they were a direct result of Pitt's 1-4 start or not, were resolved in the final games by the Panthers. Pitt had a chance to secure a winning record and be bowl eligible with a win at West Virginia, but suffered a lopsided loss instead.
"I think we addressed a lot of it as the season went along, and as we pulled out of it we had a chance to do something to the very end,'' Wannstedt said. "Now, if it had ended the way that it started, then I think there would have been more issues. But that wasn't the case.
"And as the adjustments took place, we got the thing going in the right direction. And it picked up in the offseason. I think we had a good offseason, and we're having a good, solid spring. No one needs to be reminded of last year. Our players know, and no one is taking anything for granted.''
Revis confirmed that while things have turned around, the Panthers are mindful that last season's transgressions were detrimental to the team's performance and eventually its level of success.
"I think we came to a sense of it, but this year we're focusing on other things, more positive things,'' Revis said. "Last summer, it wasn't that they were negative things, but some people did what they wanted to do and not what they were supposed to do. And that wasn't right.
"It wasn't the right thing to be doing at the time. It was more individual. There was a lot of stuff going on, but this year we got a better feel of Coach Wannstedt and the other coaches he brought in, Coach Cavanaugh, we get a good vibe now. So, it's better, and we're going to roll with it.''
And that should make the Panthers more successful this season.
Movin' on up
Wannstedt noted that several players have switched positions this spring, while redshirt frosh wideout Cedric McGee earned more playing time.
"Cedric has probably played the steadiest of all the receivers, so we're going to give him a chance to move up the depth chart,'' Wannstedt said. "I know we don't play Virginia tomorrow, but ... in all fairness to the team, we need to give a guy a shot if he performs at a high level for a few days.''
Wannstedt said senior outside linebacker Clint Session deserves to be in during nickel (passing) situations. The top position change was by sophomore Tommy Campbell from safety to weak-side linebacker.
"Tommy will get all the work with the second group at (weak-side) linebacker,'' Wannstedt said. "Now that he's moved to linebacker, your first reaction might be that he's not big enough. But he played extremely well.''
Wannstedt said in the most recent scrimmage that Campbell had a sack, knocked down a pass and made four or five tackles. He also cited the strong play of redshirt freshmen Mick Williams (DT), Irvan Brown (moved from CB to safety) and Shane Murray (moved from QB to safety).
Quarterbacks better off
Even though Tyler Palko struggled, at times, with the new system last season Wannstedt believes that the fifth-year senior quarterback has made tremendous progress since then.
"I feel better about our quarterback position than I did at any point last season,'' Wannstedt said, as Pitt's spring practice sessions moved past the midpoint. "Both Tyler and Billy Stull both grasp what we're trying to get done on offense, and that gives us a real good chance to score points.''
Pitt averaged just xx points per game last season.
Sophomore left tackle is all right
Sophomore John Bachman from Moon will get competition from incoming recruits this summer, but for now he has secured the starting spot at left offensive tackle.
"John Bachman, the past two weeks, has really made some strides at the left tackle spot,'' Wannstedt said. "And that's real encouraging to see. With Jeff Otah coming in, it's going to take time for him to adjust, so it's real encouraging to see John stepping up and making progress.''
The 6-foot-6, 340-pound Otah played at Valley Forge (Pa.) Military Academy last fall and at the very least provides depth on the offensive line.
Wannstedt noted that while competition is heavy at every position, the biggest battle is on the defensive line. ... Safety Mike Phillips, missed half of last last season with a broken ankle, is close to being ready. But he is being held out for precautionary reasons. ... Wannstedt expected 23 incoming freshmen to enroll in summer school to train with their future teammates. ... The Ambridge High School football team with head coach Don Yanessa attended practice Thursday afternoon. ... Two recruits in attendance were Mo Williams from Erie Strong Vincent, a quarterback who probably will play receiver in college, and Cameron Heyward from Whitefield Academy near Atlanta, Ga. The 6-7, 277-pound lineman is the son of former Pitt and NFL star running back Craig "Ironhead'' Heyward.