Spring Practice Note Book: The Home Stretch

PITTSBURGH -- With two-thirds of spring practice sessions complete at the UPMC Sports Complex, the University of Pittsburgh football team is getting closer to setting its initial depth chart.

However, the Panthers aren't likely to settle anything until training camp gets under way this summer.

"I think we can wait until August,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said, when asked if any starting positions will be determined this spring. "I don't think it's necessary right now.

"We're not playing a game until September. A lot of things can change, and everybody needs to feel like we've improved coming out of spring. But, at the same time, it's not the same in the spring as it is in the summer.''

Wannstedt noted that several players are frontrunners for some positions, while others are pushing for more playing time.

"We're going to look at John Bachman a little bit more at center, mixed in with (Chris) Vangas, with the first group,'' Wannstedt said. "Defensively, probably Aaron Berry continues to be a good player. He's been working with the first group at cornerback and has played well.

"I think T.J. Porter, Marcel (Pestano) and Oderick Turner, we're going to alternate with those three guys. They're very close right now for the guy to go with Derek Kinder. T.J. and Marcel have had a good spring to catch up with Oderick, who started with Derek last year, but they're all playing well. So, our receiver position is going to be solid.''

Wannstedt added that while the team is making progress so far in the spring, the coaches also have targeted certain individuals who have shown progress as well. However, it should be noted that the offense, as a whole, was strongly chastised by Wannstedt for a lackluster performance Tuesday and forced to run eight 100-yard sprints after practice.

"We have a pretty good idea who is making progress individually, who's learning not just on the football field, but who's paying attention in the meetings and who's starting to grasp what we're doing,'' Wannstedt said.

Wannstedt also cited the play of redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop for proving "that's he's a better player than I've given him credit for. ... He's made plays, and he's taken a leadership role on defense.''

Wannstedt also believed that sophomore safety Elijah Fields continued to "do some good things,'' despite only practicing for one week. So, "the next two weeks will be very critical for his progress.'' The spring workouts are also important for a player like Kevin Collier. The sophomore tailback has been backing up starter LaRod Stephens-Howling, but he can earn more playing time with a good spring, Wannstedt said. Collier get any snaps Tuesday, however, but the reason was unknown.

While a depth chart is being formed now, Wannstedt added that some freshmen and junior-college transfers will make an impact on it once they arrive in the summer for training camp. That group includes, but is not limited to freshmen like quarterback Pat Bostick, tailback LeSean McCoy, defensive lineman Myles Caragein, safety Dom DeCicco and wideout Aundre Wright and JC defensive lineman (with three years eligibility) Tommie Duhart.

Practice Notes

The offense's poor performance during the live-action portion at Tuesday's practice began immediately. Wannstedt criticized their effort, but it just appeared as though the Pitt defense was on top of its game.

The offense needed nearly a dozen running plays before it gained even a yard. Finally, Stephens-Howling broke loose around the right end for about 30 yards. the next play, however, he was dropped in the backfield for a two-yard loss by defensive tackle Rashaad Duncan.

"We had a tough day today on offense,'' Pitt wideouts coach Aubrey Hill said. "The defense got the upper hand, but we've had better days before this one. And we'll definitely have better days ahead.''

The Panthers have five more spring practice sessions, including the annual Blue-Gold game Saturday, April 14, at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.

Quick Slants

Wideout Robert White, formerly from Pittsburgh Peabody High School and currently Hargrave Military Academy, attended practice Tuesday. He is expected to walk on to the Pitt football team this summer. ... The wideouts had the best and worst plays in a two-play sequence. Pestano made a nice move and 25-yard catch on a pass from Bill Stull, but after taking a pass from Stull, Kinder's attempt at a forward pass was pitiful. ... The worst thing was that nobody -- not cornerback Aaron Smith or wideout Austin Ransom -- caught the wounded duck. ... CB Jovani Chappel made a quick break on Porter and picked off Stull. ... TE Darrell Strong got the inside track on Fields and beat him for about a 20-yard gain off a pass from Stull. ... The defense crashed into the backfield to force a fumble, and safety Lowell Robinson recovered it. ... OT Mike McGlynn began a rehab assignment with Buddy Morris Tuesday. He's working on his leg strength, while his left arm is still in a sling. ... Other injured players OLB Dorin Dickerson (left ankle) and DE Doug Fulmer (right knee) are still on crutches and not close to getting back on the field.

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