Spring Practice Notebook: New Attitude

PITTSBURGH -- Maybe it was being outside for the first time and all the energy was pent up after holding the initial workouts at the indoor facility, but the University of Pittsburgh had its most spirited practice thus far in the spring Tuesday afternoon at the UPMC Sports Complex.

Turn The Heat Up

Temperatures were rising at spring practice. There were several tussles between players on the field, along with a couple heated discussions, as the Panthers reached the midpoint in spring workouts. The sessions end with the annual Blue-Gold game April 14.

Freshman CB Aaron Smith and senior WR Derek Kinder mixed it up after colliding in a one-on-one drill, and they had to be separated. ...

Junior DT Rashaad Duncan and senior OT Jeff Otah also pushed each other around a while before being pulled apart. ... And after a technique drill, sophomore CB Aaron Berry was chastised by Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. Berry, who wanted to make a tackle on the non-contact drill, had a response for the coach and was asked to leave the field. ... After pacing for a few minutes to cool off, redshirt junior safety Eric Thatcher tried to set Berry straight, but the two exchanged words on the sideline for a brief time before cooler heads prevailed. ... Berry returned to his starting CB spot on the next series.

Upon Further Review

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt spent the weekend watching video from Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage and was pleased with the performances by quarterbacks Bill Stull and Kevan Smith. Usually, quarterbacks are off-limits during practice, but the Pitt coaches have decided to let them be hit.

"We weren't real fancy on offense, but it all starts with our quarterbacks,'' Wannstedt said. "And both quarterbacks were very efficient.

"We didn't come out and try to throw it 100 times, but the numbers, as far as completions, were very good for the first time out of the box with everything being live. I thought that they made good decisions, both of them, and that was a very encouraging part of the scrimmage.''

Wannstedt also noted that the Panthers' priorities this spring are their run defense and running the football on offense, and those two areas of our team are much improved. But more time will be allotted on and off the field.

Wannstedt believed that several individuals stood out with their performances in the scrimmage. Sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry and redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop were cited for strong play.

"(McKillop) is probably further ahead than what I gave him credit for, to be quite honest with you, when we started,'' Wannstedt said. "For a guy who hasn't played much and just played behind H.B. (Blades), I think he's been paying attention and learning in just the limited time he's had.''

Two players who changed positions in the spring to outside linebacker, sophomore Dorin Dickerson and redshirt sophomore Shane Murray, were also noted for their steady improvement this spring. On the offensive line, redshirt sophomore John Bachman and sophomore Jason Pinkston, at center and tackle, respectively, impressed Wannstedt as well.

Pinkston has been backing up fifth-year senior Mike McGlynn at right tackle since moving from the defensive line in the fall, but the veteran had surgery Tuesday to repair damage to his left shoulder and will miss the remainder of the spring. So, Pinkston will be the starter for now.

"Mike should be back and ready to go when we start (training camp in August), but this gives Jason an opportunity to work with the first group,'' Wannstedt said. "And he took advantage of it. ... Jason went into the spring feeling like he's competing for a starting job, no matter where it is, so he's just trying to be one of the five best.''

Walking Wounded

Along with McGlynn, DE Joe Clermond (left knee), DT Jared Martin (right shoulder) and DE Doug Fulmer (right knee) are being held out of practice. ... Fulmer is still on crutches. ... Fifth-year senior CB Kennard Cox missed the workout with an excused absence. ... Other DL on limited duty are sophomore John Malecki and Mick Williams due to offseason surgery. So, redshirt sophomore Craig Bokor was moved to defense to provide depth.

Defensive Line Woes

With various injuries to Clermond, Martin, Fulmer, Malecki, Williams and redshirt freshman Ty Tkach, Wannstedt has been a bit concerned with depth on the defensive line this spring. But he didn't waver when asked about the unit's status for the fall. "We'll be OK, but most of these guys are all young guys,'' Wannstedt said. "So, they need the practice time, but we're bringing (recruit) Tommy Duhart in for the fall. So, we'll be all right, but we're just trying to keep enough guys healthy to get some good work this spring.''

Quick Slants

Sophomore safety Elijah Fields, now wearing No. 4, returned to practice this week after serving a suspension for violating team rules to open the spring. He still appears to be lost in the secondary, but he had excellent coverage on redshirt sophomore wideout Cedric McGee during a team drill. ... Sophomore TE Nate Byham made a nice catch in the flat and fought for some extra yardage, but sophomore CB Jovani Chappel nailed him to force a fumble and then recovered it. ... Chappel also nailed tailback Kevin Collier on a sweep to his side. ... Thatcher blitzed and appeared to have LaRod Stephens-Howling trapped in the backfield, but the junior tailback bolted past him and raced untouched into the end zone for a long TD run.

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