It was the first day the University of Pittsburgh was in shoulder pads, but the Panthers won't be in full gear until Saturday afternoon when the split squads will come together as well. As far as the first-team players were concerned, the defense dominated during the 11-on-11 and 9-on-9 drills where no wideouts and no cornerbacks were used.
"It's obviously our first day in pads, at least shoulder pads, so we were able to do some inside runs and contact stuff that we needed to do,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "And I thought it was good. The first thing you can see is that the depth on our defensive line has shown up.
"The first week in pads, the defense should be ahead of the offense, and that's been the case here. The timing is off a little when things go for real. We had some pressure on the quarterback and some guys were turned loose. So, that's what I saw out there.''
It had to be painfully obvious for the offensive coaches, too. There was one sequence when outside linebacker Adam Gunn knifed through the line into the backfield twice to stop LaRod Stephens-Howling for three-yard losses. Middle linebacker Scott McKillop also was strong on some runs up the middle, for the most part, and he received praise from Wannstedt along with the D-line.
"Gus picked up right where he left off in the spring, and so did Joe Clermond,'' Wannstedt said. "I think Scott McKillop did a nice job taking charge on defense and getting everybody lined up. (And) from an offensive standpoint, the most underrated player in the Big East has to be LaRod Stephens. That guy, he makes things happen.''
While Stephens-Howling was unable to get started several times due to linemen and linebackers in the backfield, he looked great on a couple screen passes where center Chris Vangas keyed a pulling line that moved out quickly to pick off the charging linemen and linebackers.
Sophomore Jason Pinkston had a solid first couple days, but he had a rough day Thursday, as fifth-year senior defensive end Chris McKillop took him to school a couple times. He got off the ball quickly and blew past Pinkston and nailed Stephens-Howling in the backfield. On a sweep to the right side a few plays later, Pinkston got his helmet knocked off. So, it was just a tough day all around for Pinkston.
Senior Darrell Strong got some time with the first team at tight end and had two nice catches, including one where he reached up and snagged a ball that appeared to be overthrown. It was nice to see him giving a maximum effort on the play despite the chance that he could have taken a shot from a defensive back afterward.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Greg Romeus still had trouble with left tackle Jeff Otah, for the most part, because brute strength just isn't enough to move him from side to side to get to the passer. But Romeus displayed the tremendous athleticism that has line coach Greg Gattuso salivating on one play in particular.
Wideout Marcel Pestano lined up wide right, but took off toward the backfield when the ball was snapped and took the handoff from quarterback Bill Stull. Pestano was in full stride in a step or two, but he barely got to the corner because Romeus played off his block and ran him down for little to no gain.
When asked what he thought about that play, Wannstedt replied: "I think we need to recruit more players who can run like that.''
There weren't any injuries in the morning session, but fullback Conredge Collins took a serious shot. Collins banged up the middle for about a 10-yard gain behind Vangas. He made a nice spin move to get extra yardage, but took a ferocious hit on the play from Scott McKillop and Eric Thatcher. After the ensuing play, Collins had to be walked off the field as he weebled and wobbled around for several seconds. He returned a few plays later, though, after shaking the cobwebs and finished practice.
In the special teams portion, place-kicker Conor Lee made several field goals, including one from 44 yards out from the left hash. While Lee was lined up for a 40-yard attempt, holder Lucas Stone took the snap and took off for nice a first-down gain.
The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to their practice home due to poor weather in Latrobe. They worked out at 1 p.m. for a couple hours, which caused Pitt to delay its afternoon practice indoors.
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