Pitt football--Saturday scrimmage

The University of Pittsburgh held their 12th official spring practice on Tuesday. During that time the Panthers conducted a hard hitting scrimmage. 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.

Pitt football--Saturday scrimmage

PITTSBURGH -- University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko hasn't been particularly sharp during the first two weeks at training camp, but the fifth-year senior appears to be much more comfortable with his receivers.

This was most evident during the Panthers' second intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at the UPMC Sports Complex.

"We've been able to work a couple weeks together now in camp, and we have a couple more weeks until the season starts,'' Palko said. "So, it's one of those things that just based on timing. We're starting to develop a relationship, and we just have to keep moving forward all the time.''

* Second-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt listed junior Derek Kinder, the team's leading returning pass-catcher with 37 receptions and three scores, redshirt sophomore Marcel Pestano, redshirt freshman Oderick Turner and freshman T.J. Porter as the Panthers' top four wideouts.

* Palko was 10-for-19 for 115 yards in the scrimmage, while backup Bill Stull connected on 12 of 19 passes for 145 yards. Palko was intercepted by end Charles Sallet off a deflection, while cornerback Jovani Chappel picked off an overthrown Stull pass with ease.

* Tight end Darrell Strong led all receivers with seven catches for 95 yards and a long reception of 33, while Turner tallied four for 59, but one went for 37 yards. Freshman Kevan Smith completed just three passes, but one went for a 10-yard touchdown to third-team fullback Chris Bova.

* Starting tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for 42 yards and one touchdown on seven carries with a long run of 17 yards. Frosh Shane Brooks and Kevin Collier added 29 and 27 yards, respectively with one score each.

* So, the offense moved the ball well, but couldn't punch it in too often once it got in the red zone. That made for mixed reviews from Wannstedt.

"I was real pleased how we moved the ball,'' Wannstedt said, "but the disappointing thing was that we turned it over when we had opportunities to score. But you have to give the defense credit for that, too.''

* Stephens-Howling fumbled when outside linebacker Clint Session drilled him and stripped the ball. Middle linebacker H.B. Blades fell on the ball.

* On a third down play, Stull's arm appeared to get hit, but he completed a pass to wideout Lowell Robinson. He ran to the goal line, but lost the ball after a Jameel Brady hit and it rolled through the back of the end zone for a touchback. Robinson also fumbled a reverse when defensive end Doug Fulmer stayed home for a big hit. Linebacker Adam Gunn recovered.

"We had some turnovers, and that's great for a defense,'' Blades said. "It's especially good when they're driving the ball, and it's something we need to do more of this season. We didn't do a good job of it early last season, but we've been working hard in this camp to create turnovers in different ways.

"We have terrific speed at linebacker and also our DBs and defensive line. We've not an oversized defense, but we're fast. We can get to the ball. We take great angles and make tackles. We make plays, and that's what it's all about on defense, just going out and making plays.''

* Defensively, sophomore outside linebacker Tommie Campbell led the way with seven tackles, including three solo, while redshirt junior backer Derron Thomas added six stops with two solo and one behind the line. Campbell replaced Thomas at starting weak-side linebacker two days ago.

"Tommie makes plays, and his playmaking ability shows up at times and in places that you don't expect,'' Wannstedt said. "On the long run, he makes the tackle 25-30 yards downfield. And he's just going to get better. Think about it. It's just his first year playing linebacker.''

* Freshman Dan Hutchins was Pitt's only available place-kicker since redshirt sophomore Conor Lee has been out with a strained hamstring and fifth-year senior David Abdul (heart condition) has not yet been cleared medically to play. Hutchins was 1-for-2 on field goals in the scrimmage. He made an 18-yarder and missed from 37.

* Blades wasn't pleased with his defensive front's performance last fall, but he had a lot of good things to say after the scrimmage.

"They're doing real well,'' Blades said. "I'm very pleased with Corey Davis' progress. He's come a long way and is playing terrific football right now. John Malecki has come in and played real well.

"Gus Mustakas, all those guys, collectively as a group, they're doing a great job getting into the backfield and making plays. Last year, it was kind of like they were getting used to everything, but now they're comfortable. You can see that by the way they go out there and play.''

* Palko continues to contend that Pitt's offense is more West Coast-style than anyone wants to believe.

"We've never been short of talent,'' Palko said. "We, obviously, don't have any Heisman Trophy winners, but we've got guys who can play. And when we get guys in the right position. They know what they're doing, and everybody knows their assignment, it's hard for (a defense) to beat you.

"That's what this offense is designed to do. It's designed for the quarterback to make good decisions. ... It's an offense that's supposed to continuously move methodically down field. We can take shots downfield when they're there, but it's an offense that's disciplined just like our defense.''

* Newcomers Kevin Collier, Nate Byham, T.J. Porter, Jeff Otah, Jovani Chappel, Aaron Berry, Joe Thomas and Lowell Robinson were second-teamers.

* Eric Thatcher started for Mike Phillips (ankle) at safety, and Reggie Carter replaced Darrelle Revis (hamstring) at cornerback.

* The walking wounded also included DB Kelvin Chandler (ankle), WR Cedric McGee (hamtring) and DT Mick Williams (concussion).

* Freshman CBs Ricky Gary and Aaron Berry got some work with the first-team defense. On one play, Gary ran stride for stride with Porter, and the wideout couldn't separate enough to make the catch.

* Redshirt junior Mark Yezovich was the first-team fullback, primarily because sophomore Conredge Collins has battled injuries this past week.

* Collier had a slick 18-yard run for a first down where he needed several jump-cuts at full speed to get into the secondary.

* Stull connected with WR Brandon Ballard for a first down, but the fifth-year senior was straightened up by Gary and drilled by freshman safety Elijah Fields. The hit knocked off Ballard's helmet and adjusted his attitude.

* QB Kevan Smith connected with Byham for a first-down pass. Smith later overthrew Byham, and freshman LB Greg Webster should have intercepted it. But the pass was dropped.

* More than 100 former players returned for Pitt's alumni weekend.

* Coach Wannstedt and his wife Jan have donated $250,000 to a new athletic scholarship initiative to endow football scholarships at Pitt.

Panther More Top Stories