John Bachman has been a valuable backup and spot starter at offensive guard and tackle throughout his Pittsburgh career, but his attempt to play center last spring and in the preseason failed due to problems with some snaps. Those issues have arisen again this year, as the football ended up on the ground three times during the third spring practice Friday afternoon.
"That thing is driving me crazy,'' Wannstedt said, "but ... we'll get that solved, one way or another. John is a smart guy that's played for us, and he's got to be able to do it. If he can't, we will not put the ball on the ground with a quarterback exchange. I promise you that. That's one thing I will promise you.''
Bachman even spent some time on the sideline with quarterback Bill Stull after consecutive muffs, but it happened again later in the practice when he replaced Houser for a series.
After two practices in shorts, the Panthers donned full pads Friday and looked ... like it was their first day in full pads and just the third practice overall.
"(The) first day in pads, I thought there was some good individual efforts, and the enthusiasm was what I expected,'' Wannstedt said. "The execution was not. We've got a long ways to go, as far as putting the whole thing together, from a total offensive standpoint and a total defensive standpoint.
"I think, as a coach, you'd like them to think that they're a little farther ahead than what they really are. But that's why we have 12 more days to practice. We're going to need every one of them, and we'll come out (Saturday) and improve on the things that we weren't sharp on today.''
Pitt's defense appeared to get the upper hand on the offense in the 7-on-7, 9-on-9 and 11-on-11 sessions that were extensive after the opening hour of special teams and position work. The defensive line gave fits to its counterparts on the offense, even when two guys sat out during the 9-on-9 portion.
Whether it was ends Doug Fulmer, Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard or Justin Hargrove, or tackles Mick Williams and Rashaad Duncan, as well as some others providing the pass rush, the offensive line struggled to contain them. And if the running backs happened to get past the line, Pitt's linebackers were there.
"Nate Nix had two good days,'' Wannstedt said. "I'm very encouraged. Nate had a great offseaon, and I'm very encouraged where Nate's at right now. But the three young kids that we have, Tristan Roberts, Brandon Lindsey and Max Gruder, those guys can fly. ... They're the fastest guys back there.''
Tailbacks LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling had a few good runs each, and even redshirt sophomore Kevin Collier -- who suffered a season-ending hand injury the last day in training camp in 2007 -- made some plays.
But what had to be encouraging to Wannstedt and his staff were the performances by backup fullbacks Shane Brooks and Henry Hynoski. Senior starter Conredge Collins was "banged up a little'' Thursday, Wannstedt said, and sat out Friday's practice. So, redshirt junior Brooks and redshirt frosh Hynoski got a lot more work.
"We can't rotate three fullbacks,'' Wannstedt said, "but it's nice to have three guys there who you're confident can play.''
The receiving corps got a boost when Mo Williams returned to practice Friday after completing his academic issues. Wannstedt said that Tommie Duhart will return Saturday after missing the first three practices for academics as well.
Junior tight end Dorin Dickerson had a solid day with just one drop and several big gainers on sideline and crossing patterns as opposed to the usual dump-offs. ... The practice-ending goal-line drill, with the offensive coming out, ended badly for that group. On consecutive third-and-short plays from the 10, Sheard and safety Elijah Fields intercepted passes and returned them for scores.
There was one other injury. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Myles Caragein "twisted an ankle,'' Wannstedt said, "but it's nothing serious.''
Notes: Incoming recruit Cam Saddler attended practice Friday with former Gateway (Monroeville, Pa.) teammate Corey Brown. ... TE Mike Cruz from Bishop McCort HS (Johnstown, Pa.) also stopped by. ... Other prospects there were Jack Lowney from Archbishop Carroll, Sto-Rox sophomore Pat Jones and junior tight end Adam Bostick, Pat's brother. ... Abdul Smith from the Perkiomen School, Aliquippa's Juantez Hollins and Jonathan Baldwin, Thomas Jefferson's Brock DeCicco and Lucas Nix, Pittsburgh Central Catholic's Tino Sunseri, Hopewell's Ryan Turnley and Saddler are all expected to attend practice Saturday.
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