Pitt Spring Practice No. 1

Dave Wannstedt began his fifth spring practice session Thursday with as much enthusiasm as when he returned to his alma mater after the 2004 season, and the Pitt football team appeared to be just as excited as the head coach.

Pittsburgh, coming off a 9-3 regular season and the first bowl appearance under Wannstedt, practiced for the first of 15 spring sessions that conclude with the annual Blue-Gold game April 11 at 2 p.m. at Heinz Field.

The Panthers practice without pads Friday as well and then pick things up Saturday and Sunday for four straight workout days.

"The enthusiasm was good, but you know how I am with practicing without pads,'' Wannstedt said. "It's good from an enthusiasm standpoint, but there's always a few players that you're uncertain about until the pads come on. And that's when it really counts. So, this is a learning time for us, and it was good.

"(But) this is a defensive lineman's nightmare, practice's like today in no pads. You tell them not to be too aggressive, because you don't want to get anybody hurt, but at the same time you want to get something out of them. But it was good. I was pleased with the effort and pleased with the focus.''

Wannstedt made a point to say there was only one fumbled snap, an apparent miscommunication between third-team center Wayne Jones and fourth-team quarterback Andrew Janocko). But that's not too bad for the first practice.

In all, Pitt's four quarterbacks -- fifth-year senior Bill Stull, junior Pat Bostick, redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri and Janocko -- got in some good work. There were good passes, along with some bad, and a few drops here and there as well.

Sunseri throws a nicer pass than the rest and appears to have the strongest arm, but he needs work on close-range passes. Bostick clearly worked on his conditioning, delivery and arm strength and didn't do too badly. Stull appeared to be stronger, but still had some accuracy issues.

"I thought all of them did a good job,'' Wannstedt said. "Billy threw the ball well, and so did Pat. Tino got some reps, and so did Andrew Janocko. So, for the first day, and I will say this as a positive today. We did make plays in the passing game. That's all the quarterbacks and receivers.

"Jonathan Baldwin looked like he never missed a beat. He had a great start today. I was impressed with Mike Cruz today. He did a nice job with the tight ends. So, I thought all the quarterbacks played well, and we threw the ball pretty good. The running game, it was a good start.''

New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti used a particularly hands-on approach to his work with the quarterbacks, working with the group, as well as individual teaching with each player on the field.

"I saw some very positive things out of every young man, and the negatives -- from my standpoint -- were all correctable,'' Cignetti said. "Throwing the ball late down the field. Instead of doing that, take off and scramble. (But) walking off the field today, I saw a lot of positive things from each quarterback.

"In the classroom, it all starts there. You've got to train them to run the offense there, and then you need to work on the fundamentals when you get them out on the field. Today, we worked on some upper body mechanics, but a lot of it was training the feet in the timing and rhythm of the passing game.''

Wannstedt preferred to wait until the Panthers put the pads on this weekend before evaluating the running backs, but it appeared that redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris and redshirt freshman Chris Burns -- to no one's surprise -- were going to get the best shot to replace departed LeSean McCoy. Freshman Dion Lewis, who enrolled early this past January, was praised by Wannstedt.

"Little Dion Lewis, I'm glad he's here early,'' Wannstedt said. "This spring will really benefit him, and he's got a chance to help us as a freshman.''

Wannstedt also mentioned former quarterback, senior Greg Cross.

"I told (wideouts coach) Bryan Bossard that after watching Greg Cross at receiver for the first day, he did not look out of place,'' Wannstedt said. "And he's really not sure what he's doing yet, but I think he's got a chance.''

With senior T.J. Porter out on a disciplinary suspension, senior Aaron Berry, redshirt freshman Cameron Saddler, redshirt sophomore Aaron Smith and walk-on Jeremiah Davis from Toledo, Ohio, Technology Academy handled the punt-return duties. In one drill, the returner has his back to the ball, has to turn around while it's in the air, pick up its flight and catch it one-handed. It was an excellent timing drill that all four guys performed perfectly.

A group of 2010 recruits from Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pa. made the short trip after school. The four were FB-LB Delbert Tyler, WR-CB Dayonne Nunley, WR Brendon Felder and CB-RB Orne Bey. Middle linebacker Jamal Hunter from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia also was there. Along with Pitt, North Carolina State and Rutgers are showing interest.

There also was a special visitor. Former Pitt linebacker and current Pro Bowl linebacker Gerald Hayes from the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals was back in town to watch a Panthers practice for the first time. All his other trips to the area were business trips since he was drafted by the Cardinals in 2003. He's entering his seventh NFL season. Wannstedt interrupted a linebackers drill to introduce Hayes to Pitt coach Joe Tumpkin and the current Panthers backers.

Brandon Lindsey worked out exclusively with the linebackers, even though he was listed on the initial roster as a fullback. Lindsey was a MLB Thursday.

Two 2009 freshmen recruits -- Tyrone Ezell from Steel Valley HS in Munhall, Pa. and Ed Tinker from Brashear HS in the Pittsburgh City League -- watched practice. Tinker appears to be in good shape, but is still upset that he was not approved academically by the NCAA in time to register for classes in January and be eligible for spring ball. However, he'll get a chance in the fall. Ezell appears to be physically ready to play right now. He reportedly slimmed to about 255 pounds (15 pounds lighter) to wrestle this past winter, and it looked like Wannstedt wanted to put him in a few DL drills immediately.

The defense had an edge during the initial spring practice, at least the Pitt coaching staff felt that way, because the offense did a series of up-downs afterward while the blue shirts walked to the side to stretch.

Friday's practice will be the same format -- group work, conditioning, individual session and team drills -- beginning at 4:15 p.m. at the indoor field. The grass fields are too soft to practice on them despite the warm weather.

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