Spring Practice Notebook: Pick up the Slack

PITTSBURGH -- While a quarterback always plays an important role in a team's offense, it won't likely be a focal point for that unit at the University of Pittsburgh this season.

Arm's Race

That's because Dave Wannstedt, entering his third season coaching his alma mater, realizes that the quarterback who starts when the Panthers open against Eastern Michigan at home on Sept. 1 will be inexperienced.

So, either junior Bill Stull, redshirt freshman Kevan Smith or incoming recruit Pat Bostick will be asked to manage the game instead of going out to win it, at least early in the season.

"To have the success that we expect to have, the mistake would be to put it all on the quarterback,'' Wannstedt said before Thursday's practice at the UPMC Sports Complex. "We always have to stop and look and say, 'We have two young quarterbacks. Where can we pick up the slack?

"Where can we balance this out a little bit?' It's going to have to be at receiver, at tight end, at running back. All those guys are coming back.''

While Bostick's arrival certainly will be highly anticipated at training camp this summer, Stull and Smith are working hard and will be ahead of him by then. In fact, the two are pretty close through the first half of the spring workouts, but there's still a couple weeks to go to make an impression.

"Billy's probably a little bit ahead right now because of the experience of being in all the drills last year and sitting in on game-plan meetings, but Kevan's got a lot of ability,'' Wannstedt said.

But don't expect a starter to be named after the annual Blue-Gold game April 14. Wannstedt said he probably won't do that until a week or 10 days prior to the opener against Eastern Michigan.

Charting Pitt's Depth

While the defensive line has taken several serious hits due to injuries and offseason surgeries, the front wall has some experience with fifth-year seniors Chris McKillop and Joe Clermond at ends and juniors Rashaad Duncan and Gus Mustakas at the tackle spots.

Redshirt sophomores Craig Bokor and Derrell Jones, redshirt freshmen Greg Romeus and Ty Tkach and freshman Justin Hargrove (recently moved up from linebacker) are among the backup defensive linemen, but redshirt sophomore Doug Fulmer, sophomore John Malecki, redshirt sophomore Mick Williams and redshirt frosh Jared Martin have had limited duty. Malecki, Fulmer and Williams had offseason surgery, while Martin's right shoulder popped out last week. Fulmer also re-injured his right knee and remains on crutches, even though Wannstedt didn't believe it was too serious. The sling came off Martin Thursday, but he isn't ready to return just yet.

The linebacking corps consists of redshirt juniors Scott McKillop and Adam Gunn in the middle at one outside spot, while redshirt sophomore Shane Murray is on the other side. Redshirt freshmen Nate Nix and Dan Loheyde and redshirt sophomore walk-on Brian Kaiser are backups. Another redshirt frosh, Greg Webster, had an excused absence Thursday. Sophomore Dorin Dickerson had a boot on his right foot after an injury late Tuesday.

"It's a shame because he'll be slowed up for a day or two because he and (OL Jason) Pinkston were the two guys that come to mind, as far as guys making progress about as fast as you can,'' Wannstedt said.

"For not playing linebacker ever, (Dickerson) did a couple of things in Tuesday's practice that you don't coach. And I'm always trying to recruit guys who do things that you don't have to coach.''

The secondary consisted of sophomores Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel at the cornerback spots, while fifth-year senior Mike Phillips and redshirt junior Eric Thatcher are the safeties. Chappel moved up to the first team because fifth-year senior Kennard Cox has had an excused absence all week. Senior Lowell Robinson and sophomore Elijah Fields are backup safeties, while redshirt junior walk-on Julius Eggleston is a backup corner. Fields didn't appear to make any glaring mistakes Thursday and actually made a couple nice plays using his strength and athleticism, while Eggleston made two huge stops in single coverage on wideout Cedric McGee in the flat on two consecutive plays during an 11-on-11 drill.

The offensive line remains solid with fifth-year senior Chris Vangas at center, junior C.J. Davis and sophomore Joe Thomas at the guard spots, while sophomore Jason Pinkston and senior Jeff Otah are the tackles. Pinkston has gotten an opportunity to play more with the first team since fifth-year senior Mike McGlynn had left shoulder surgery this week. McGlynn showed up with his arm in a sling, but said he would be ready for summer camp. Redshirt sophomores John Bachman and John Brown are a backup center and guard, respectively, while redshirt juniors Dom Williams and Chase Clowser are a backup guard and tackle.

The backfield has consisted of juniors LaRod Stephens-Howling and Conredge Collins at tailback and fullback, respectively, while sophomore Kevin Collier and redshirt sophomore Shane Brooks are the backups.

The wide receiver group is deeper than ever with senior Derek Kinder and redshirt sophomore Oderick Turner starting ahead of sophomore T.J. Porter, redshirt sophomore Marcel Pestano and redshirt junior Cedric McGee.

The tight end position might be the deepest on the team with senior Darrell Strong, sophomore Nate Byham and redshirt sophomore John Pelusi all battling for playing time. All three likely will play, as Pitt will use two- and three-tight end sets on occasion with Byham sometimes splitting wide.

Looking Ahead

The Panthers will scrimmage again Saturday at 10 a.m. at the UPMC Sports Complex, and a large contingent of blue-chip recruits are expected.

"We're going to have some of the student body here and parents,'' Wannstedt said. "We had about 75 plays last Saturday, and I would expect to go close to 100 this Saturday. ... The only change is that we might incorporate a two-minute drill at the end.''

Quick Slants

The action wasn't as hot and heavy Thursday as it was in the previous practice, but 11-on-11 drills were spirited nonetheless. And in a practice-ending goal-line situation, the defense won the first two plays, but the offensive finally scored on third down.

On first down from the 3, Brooks was nailed for no gain, as the line collapsed. Brooks lost five to the 8, as Duncan blew up the second-down play. But on third down, Stull connected with a wide-open Collins for the score.

In other action, Collier got drilled in the backfield on one play, and Nix recovered. ... Brooks made a nice cutback in the backfield to avoid a big loss, but he still was topped behind the line by an aggressive front group. ... Strong made a leaping catch on a pass down the middle from Stull. ... After getting handled during Saturday's scrimmage by Pinkston, Romeus was able to get around him a couple times Thursday. The two were pretty even Tuesday. ... And Berry drilled Collins, despite a considerable size difference, to make an open-field tackle.

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