Pitt FB training camp from Wednesday

The University of Pittsburgh held their second official practice on Wednesday. PantherDigest.com senior writer Dale Grdnic was in attendance. Dale has a number of news and notes concerning the Pitt football team. Read on for details.

PITTSBURGH -- All University of Pittsburgh football coach Dave Wannstedt could do was stand there and smile while watching training camp practice Wednesday at the UPMC Sports Complex.

That's significant, because that facial expression was missing from his face during his initial training camp at Pitt last season. And it's even more meaningful because Wannstedt was observing the freshmen defensive linemen working through some individual drills in the afternoon session.

"We're a little bit faster than we were before on the defensive line,'' Wannstedt said. "Guys like McKenzie Mathews, those guys can all run. We've got some athletes over there. It's just a shame that we're pressing them so much as freshmen, but it is what it is. And we are what we are.''

* Along with Mathews (6-2, 225) from Christian Brothers Academy, N.Y., the Panthers are loaded up front on defense for the future with Jared Martin (6-2, 290) from Western High School, Fla.; Greg Romeus (6-5, 230) from Coral Glades High, Fla.; Tyler Tkach (6-3, 230) from Northern Lehigh, Pa.; Jason Pinkston from Baldwin, Pa. and John Malecki (6-3, 270) from Franklin Regional, Pa. Redshirt sophomore Corey Davis (6-2, 290) from Pittsburgh Peabody High is also working with the young players.

"We have a good group there,'' Pitt defensive tackles coach Greg Gattuso said. "Some are going to have to play this year, but we should be strong up front on defense for the next few years to come.''

* Pinkston is just as special as advertised. He arrived at practice Wednesday for the first time due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues that ended after just one day. Pinkston was tough to handle by two blockers, at times, and should be even more exciting to watch when the Panthers put shoulder pads on Thursday and remaining gear Saturday.

* Freshman Aaron Smith from Gateway High was also able to practice for the first time Wednesday after the NCAA Clearinghouse cleared him.

* Redshirt freshman wideout Oderick Turner has an inside track to start at the starting split end spot next to junior flanker Derek Kinder after his performance in the spring, and Turner has not done anything to diminish his solid standing after the opening practice sessions.

* Turner just needs to be more consistent. He has the talent and speed to be a homerun threat for Tyler Palko and already has hooked up with the fifth-year senior quarterback several times in camp. Turner also is working hard on his blocking and got in a little tussle with Jovani Chappel when the freshman cornerback believed that he maintained contact a little too long.

* The first practice scuffle took place early on and not surprisingly was among the players in the trenches. But fifth-year senior guard John Simonitis was not involved. Not known for diplomacy, Simonitis has been involved in several camp fracases over the years.

"Maybe the guys are staying away from me,'' Simonitis said. "I don't know, but we'll see what happens when we put the pads on.''

* This time, fifth-year senior defensive tackle Vernon Botts got entangled with fifth-year senior center Joe Villani. The two traded shoves, and Botts clocked Villani after the incident appeared to be over. They were quickly separated after that with, ironically, Simonitis as the peacemaker.

* Freshmen wideouts T.J. Porter from Pahokee, FL and Dorin Dickerson from West Allegheny are working with the veterans in the morning sessions. Also, junior-college transfer Jeff Otah, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound offensive tackle who played recently at Valley Forge Military Academy, and freshman OL Joe Thomas from Cleveland St. Edward competed with the varsity.

* Two prospective recruits from the 2007 class, Chris Jacobson from Keystone Oaks and John Fieger from Upper Perkiomen, attended practice.

* Freshman linebacker Dan Loheyde from Gateway suffered a ligament tear in his left knee during a special teams drill Tuesday afternoon, and Wannstedt said he would have surgery as early as next week. His status will be determined sometime afterward.

* Veteran University of Pittsburgh assistant football coach Bob Junko was forced to take a leave from his on-field responsibilities to continue to recover from offseason heart surgery, Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt announced Wednesday.

Junko underwent surgery in February and worked on a limited basis the past six months. Although he will step away from his day-to-day coaching, Junko will continue to serve the program in administrative capacities. He was switched to recruiting coordinator after working with Pitt's defensive tackles since returning to Pitt in 1997. He also was an assistant coach from 1982-85 and was the Panthers chief recruiter in Western Pennsylvania.

Wannstedt also announced that veteran coach Charlie Taaffe (pronounced Taff) would replace Junko and work with the offense.

* Wannstedt cited the play of quarterback Tyler Palko and safety Mike Phillips in the morning for their outstanding work, while frosh cornerback Aaron Berry from Bishop McDevitt had several interceptions in the afternoon to earn the coach's praise with tight end Nate Byham from Franklin.


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