Pitt Blue - Gold Preview

The University of Pittsburgh football team will hold its annual Blue-Gold Game this Saturday at Heinz Field. PantherDigest.com Senior Writer Dale Grdnic previews the game and talks about the former players and recruits that will attend this weekend.

Pitt spring football notebook

By Dale Grdnic

PantherDigest.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh woke the echoes for its football program with former Panthers Al Romano, Russ Grimm and Foge Fazio attending practice Thursday afternoon at the UPMC Sports Complex.

Grimm, the Pittsburgh Steelers assistant head coach, addressed the team prior to the workout. Fazio, a former Pitt head coach, has been watching practices to gain insight that he can provide during the annual Blue-Gold game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.

FSN Pittsburgh will televise the game on a tape delayed basis next Saturday, April 22 at 1 p.m. and repeat the showing Wednesday, April 26 at 1 p.m. FSN anchor Rob King will handle the play-by-play, while Fazio and second-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt will provide analysis.

"We're going to go out and go ones against ones,'' Wannstedt said, referring to the first-team players. "We'll do a little bit of kicking to start it off, a little bit of individual work for the fans, and then we'll start the scrimmage and move the ball.

"There won't be points or a score or anything like that, but it'll be the best against the best. And I think that's what the fans want to see. The guys are going to be excited, but you have to watch what you do because a lot of our opponents will be in the stands watching it.

"So, you've got to keep it a little more basic than normal, but we're going to play,'' Wannstedt added. "We're going to let the kids go out there and have a good, fun afternoon. ... It's been a good spring, but it's gone by too quickly. I'd like to have another 15 days.''

While the Panthers have given a nod to their past with some former players attending practice on a regular basis, they also have made a strong effort to work on the future. And the Blue-Gold game will be no exception, as several dozen prospective recruits will be in attendance.

"It'll be the who's who of Western Pa. recruiting,'' Wannstedt said.

Some of Pitt's incoming recruits -- current high school seniors like West Allegheny's Dorin Dickerson, Duquesne's Elijah Fields, Baldwin's Justin Hargrove and Jason Pinkston, Gateway's Dan Loheyde and Franklin Regional's John Malecki -- also have regularly attended practice sessions this spring.

"I think they understand that there is an opportunity here, but nobody's going to be given anything,'' Wannstedt said. "But they know there's some opportunity, because we've got to build up our depth and build a good foundation. And I think they understand that.''

Wannstedt was hopeful that the Panthers would put on a little show for the fans by making some plays, and he didn't care who made them. "I just want somebody to make some plays,'' Wannstedt said.

Redshirt freshman Doug Fulmer, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defensive end from Syracuse, N.Y., and sophomore Tommy Campbell, a 6-2, 190-pound linebacker from Aliquippa, Pa. have earned an opportunity to make some plays when they share playing time with the first team Saturday.

This is significant because both changed positions during the spring. Fulmer is a former linebacker, while Campbell was a safety.

"I can cover, and I can blitz,'' Campbell said. "I'm fast enough to cover a receiver and still strong enough to rush the passer, so I like the situations that I'm put in now from a weak-side linebacker spot.''

Wannstedt also lauded the outstanding performances by starting quarterback Tyler Palko and top tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling.

"On offense, you definitely would have to say that LaRod Stephens is a much better player than he was a year ago,'' Wannstedt said.

"And Tyler Palko, these last couple scrimmages, he's been very efficient just running the team and not trying to force things. He just needs to manage things, play efficient and kind of be a coach on the field.''

Another starting position up for grabs on offense is the spot alongside last year's leading wideout Derek Kinder. Wannstedt believed that Joe DelSardo, who Kinder replaced as a starter last season, had an inside track. Redshirt sophomore Marcel Pestano and redshirt frosh Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee also are vying for playing time at receiver.

"There's ways that we can use Joe to help us win games every week,'' Wannstedt said. "So, Joe's going to be an integral part of it. Kinder has been steady, but we're still looking for that one guy to step up and take it to the next level. We've experimented around with pretty much everybody that we have, but we've still got work to do there.''

The Pitt coaches have been pleased with the Panthers' overall work this spring, and the head coach praised his staff as well.

"We're further along from the standpoint that we know what we're capable of doing and what we have to do to win games,'' Wannstedt said. "Bill Parcells used the old expression that you have to understand what can beat you before you can start talking about what you need to do to win.

"So, we have a lot more knowledge about our guys and what we can and can't do. And that's good, because at least we know what we're dealing with. That wasn't the case when we got here at this time last year. And the attitude's been great. It's been very serious, but very focused.''

The most-maligned area entering this spring, as well as last season, was the defensive line. Wannstedt has not been displeased this spring.

"Rashaad Duncan, Mick Williams, Chris McKillop, Doug Fulmer, I feel good about the group,'' Wannstedt said. "I'm still waiting for a couple guys to separate from the pack. But I like our group of guys more than I have.

"So, we've improved there. We're making some plays on the defensive line, and we're rushing the passer better. So, all those things are positive, but we're still a work in progress there.''

Notes: Admission to the Blue-Gold game is $5, and parking in the adjacent lots is $5 as well.


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