Pitt Spring Practice No. 2

Any progress Pitt's offense made as the opening spring practice progressed, it settled back in Friday, and Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt let the group know it immediately after the workout ended.

Pittsburgh practiced without pads Thursday and Friday indoors, but will move outside -- weather permitting -- and add protection Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10:30 on the grass fields.

"I think it's early, and we have a few new things going on, so there's going to be a little bit of a learning curve,'' Wannstedt said. "So, there's going to be some missed assignments. I expect that, and I can deal with that this early in the spring. But I cannot and will never tolerate a guy putting the ball on the ground.

"And when the ball hits a guy's hands, even if he ran the wrong route, he better catch it. So, we had some opportunities to make some more plays that we made (Thursday), but we left them out on the field (Friday).

"I can't tell them enough that we only have 15 days (spring practices),'' Wannstedt added, "and we can't get this one back. So, we've got to make sure that we keep a sense of urgency every day to get the most out of it.''

There were some offensive highlights, as redshirt freshman tight end Mike Cruz continued to make plays for Pitt's passing game, including several medium-range tosses from the Panthers' quarterbacks. He already has been singled out for a solid performance by Wannstedt.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull fired a 40-yard bomb to sophomore wideout Jonathan Baldwin, who beat cornerback Ricky Gary badly on a post route. Baldwin was wide open, but Stull hit him in stride.

Also, redshirt junior tailback Kevin Collier displayed some elusiveness during a 60-yard run with a swing pass, but cornerbacks Antwuan Reed and Gary eventually ran him down. Freshman tailback Dion Lewis might be on the small side, but he's flashed some serious speed once he got into the open field on several occasions. Lewis is still pushing three players -- redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris, redshirt freshman Chris Burns and Collier -- for playing time.

Senior Greg Cross is getting a lot of work as well. Senior Greg Cross, spending a second day at wideout, made a few more plays Friday. However, he also dropped some easy short tosses by trying to turn up-field too soon. But the staff isn't regretting the move there from quarterback instead of to safety.

"(Cross) has been around our offensive system for a year, and he has not been around our defense,'' Wannstedt said. "And, from a depth standpoint, since we use three receivers, he could get into the two-deep somewhere.

"On defense, he wouldn't be. And third, he's got good hands and some skill running with the football. So, putting him at receiver allows us to take advantage of that, and that's what went into the thinking there.''

Wannstedt didn't rule out some snaps at quarterback for Cross, either, but he'll continue to get all the work at wideout for now. He also worked with the punt-returners a bit Friday.

Defensively, Wannstedt praised the linebackers.

"Max Gruder is doing a nice job,'' Wannstedt said. "He's playing the weak-side spot, and he's handling things real well. (But) I'm pleased with our whole linebacker group. Thinking about where we were a year ago and what happened early last season, we're much further ahead now.

"And they're all young kids, too. So, that's what really is encouraging. (And) we've got three talented kids coming in, so we're going to be in good shape at linebacker for the next few years here.''

In other spring notes, sophomore offensive tackle Lucas Nix was supposed to battle redshirt sophomore Jordan Gibbs for the starting spot on the left side while Jason Pinkston is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. However, Nix has only taken a few snaps as the starting left tackle during the opening two practice sessions Thursday and Friday, and the player fondly known as the Undertaker by his teammates has gotten the majority of the work.

Also, Gary and senior Jovani Chappel have split time as the first-team boundary cornerback opposite senior starter Aaron Berry at field corner. Redshirt freshman Jarred Holley has gotten limited work behind them, while Reed has backed up Berry. Redshirt sophomore Buddy Jackson is the No. 3 field corner.

But don't get hung up on a depth chart just yet, Wannstedt noted, because the staff won't concentrate on it until after the first scrimmage March 28.

The Panthers will be in pads Saturday and Sunday with 10:30 a.m. sessions both days on the outdoor fields, weather permitting. Then, after four straight practice days, Pitt will take a day off.

"I want to see physicalness,'' Wannstedt said about the first days in pads. "I want to see guys hold on to the football, especially after contact, and I want to see good tackling on defense. We're going to keep it as basic as can be, but ... I want to see individuals make some progress.''

The quarterbacks won't be live this weekend, but they will be during the scrimmages. Situation work Saturday will include a two-minute drill, while a red-zone drill will highlight Sunday. And something will be added each day.

Panther Digest Top Stories