Pitt Practice Report Nine

On a hot Tuesday afternoon at Pitt's South Side practice facility, Panther coach Dave Wannstedt said he was looking for the offense to start making some strides forward. And after one of its better performances of the spring, it seems like maybe all the offense needed was some sun.

Pitt quarterbacks Bill Stull, Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith each did a solid job connecting with receivers in the intermediate pass game. Wannstedt said Smith, who has had limited snaps the past few weeks of practice, would be getting more reps from now on.

"The guy can move around [and] the guy has got a big-time arm," Wannstedt said of Smith. "After looking at it and talking about it, I think that Kevan needs to get some more reps with the better guys."

With Smith taking more snaps, the quarterback battle started to heat up on Tuesday. Smith presents toughness, mobility and a strong arm. He struggled last year at times, but looks more comfortable in the spring than he has been before. Greg Cross still took limited snaps, but is still in the running for a good amount of playing time because of his athleticism and mobility.

Even with Smith now in the mix, Bill Stull still took the most snaps Tuesday, continuing his work with the first-team offense. Stull looked strong, constantly connecting with receivers Cedric McGee and T.J. Porter across the middle and on quick out-patterns. McGee, a redshirt junior, is splitting time with T.J. Porter the first team.

"The one guy that has probably been the most consistent of all wide receivers is probably Cedric McGee," Wannstedt said. "[He's] about as close to taking a step forward as anyone on our team."

Another player who looks to be working hard and improving is running back Shariff Harris. Harris ran hard on Tuesday, putting his head down and delivering blows to the defense when he got the chance.

And as he has the entire spring, tight end Dorin Dickerson looked as good as anyone. Dickerson has been quite consistent, making plays catching the ball and also making good efforts down in the trenches. After playing linebacker last season, Dickerson has emerged as one of the top options in the passing game.

"I'm just working real hard every day," Dickerson said. "I feel real comfortable. It's still going to be a long process. I'm not where I want to be yet, [but] it feels good catching the ball again.

Wannstedt said he's been very happy with Dickerson this spring. But as much as the intermediate passing game was a success, the first-team defense still had the advantage. The Pitt offense couldn't get much going down the field in the passing game. Much of that was due to the strong play of the defensive secondary, where positions are still up for grabs. Wannstedt said Elijah Fields, who's fighting for a starting spot, has been quite impressive to him as of late. He also said Buddy Jackson, a redshirt freshman, has played great.

"Has so much ability he doesn't even know," Wannstedt said of Jackson. "The guy can run and jump and do it all. We've got some good competition going there. I like it. I feel like when spring is over we'll have three safeties that can line up and start for us."

Something making the job of the secondary easier is the play of the defensive line, which has emerged this spring as the strongest unit on the team. The line dominated during the inside running drills after two good runs by tailback LeSean McCoy. After McCoy broke loose on consecutive plays, the defensive line tightened up and plugged nearly every hole that opened.

Joe Thomas, making the switch from right guard to tackle, struggled early on to contain junior defensive end Doug Fulmer. Fulmer used his quickness and strength to push through Thomas, who's getting used to blocking quicker players without help on the outside. But after a while, Thomas started to pick up the pace and was able to contain Fulmer on a more consistent basis. On the other side of the line, Jordan Gibbs struggled to block Greg Romeus, but looked a little more comfortable as the practice went along.

"We're getting there," offensive line coach Tony Wise said.

Wannstedt said the past two weeks of practice and Saturday's scrimmage have really helped him and the coaches sort out a lot of things about the team. He also said there's been some more competition between the players, and he's happy with how hard they've been working as a whole.

"I'm real pleased with the progress that they've made in two weeks," Wannstedt said. "I wish we had six weeks of spring practice, not four."

Pitt continues practice on Thursday afternoon.


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