Pitt Spring Practice No. 3

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt wanted his football team to display physical toughness when it practiced for the first time in pads this spring, and the Panthers complied from start to finish Saturday at the indoor field.

After individual work and group teaching early on, Pittsburgh opened the live portion with an inside running drill. The Panthers pounded each other from both lines, as every runner struggled for yardage.

During one early play, walk-on redshirt junior fullback Joe Capp from Frisco, Texas drilled redshirt sophomore defensive end Justin Hargrove. There also was a play in the passing drills when redshirt freshman linebacker Jonathan Taglianetti nailed redshirt freshman wideout Caleb Wilson.

And at and the end, during a goal-line drill, fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull called his own number and rolled right toward the goal line. Redshirt sophomore weak-side linebacker Max Gruder and fifth-year senior middle linebacker Steve Dell collided with him at the 2 to knock him back. Both sides piled on, as Pitt's third spring practice came to an end.

"The quarterbacks weren't live, unless they made it live,'' Wannstedt said. "And he made it live. That was his call. You know, you don't become a physical football team the third week of the season, and you don't become a physical football team the last day in training camp.

"This is when you do it. We've talked about being a physical football team. You talk it. You think it, and then you go out and practice it. And that's what we're going to do.''

Pitt was supposed to be outside Saturday, but low temperatures early kept them indoors. The Panthers will try again Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with another practice in pads.

"I wanted to be outside; I really did,'' Wannstedt said. "But we came in early today, 6 a.m., and as I was driving in it was 23 degrees. And it was supposed to get up to 40 with a wind chill in the 30s and with all these recruits coming, we decided to stay inside.''

There were some local juniors in attendance, as well as a few seniors who could walk-on in the fall. Prospect Miles Dieffenbach from Fox Chapel, Pa. High School watched practice. Dieffenbach has one offer so far, and it's from Pitt.

Also, 2009 signee Juantez Hollins from Aliquippa, Pa. HS was there. He attended with linebacker Pete Riggins, a linebacker who will be a senior this fall with the Quips after transferring from a school in Charlotte, N.C.

A group from Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio -- TB-DB Karrington Griffin, QB-DB Alex Zordich and WR-DB George Lyras. And then there's Austin Gray, a linebacker from Fitzgerald HS in Warren, Mich. Gray likely received an offer from Pitt Saturday.

The recruits were especially interested in watching the full-contact drills, and they appeared to enjoy the few big hits. There also were some nice passing plays, including a long pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Tino Sunseri to senior wideout Greg Cross. He catches the ball into his chest, as opposed to just with his hands, but Cross has held on to most everything thrown his way so far.

Redshirt freshman Mike Cruz had another solid receiving day from his tight end spot. He has been getting increased reps due to the absence of injured seniors Nate Byham and John Pelusi. And with two senior cornerbacks, the younger players -- like sophomore Antwuan Reed -- are working for depth chart spots.

"It was good,'' Wannstedt said. "I liked the energy, and we got a lot of reps. For the first day (in pads), it was very encouraging. From a defensive line standpoint and with the inexperience that we played with at linebacker last year, with Greg Williams, Nate Nix, Max Gruder, Tristan Roberts, all those guys are so much further ahead.

"Elijah Fields, he's had three good days playing that weak-side (free) safety where Thatcher was at. He continues to make progress, so I feel real good about that. So, overall, after the first day, our defense definitely got the upper hand. (But) I expected our defense to come out and be strong, and they did not disappoint me.''

The defensive line, fifth-year senior Mick Williams, in particular, was dominant. The running backs had a tough time finding yardage inside.

"The first day, I thought all (the running backs) were OK,'' Wannstedt said. "I didn't think anybody really stood out. I was pleased with Dion Lewis for his first day. ... Shariff Harris, Chris Burns and Kevin Collier, they just need to get some reps to get back into it.

"We've got some talent (at running back), but it will be interesting to see if anybody breaks away from the pack. If not, it might have to be running back by committee, but we'll see what happens.''

Pitt practices a fourth straight day Sunday and then takes Monday off before returning to a regular weekly schedule of Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There will be scrimmages March 28 and April 4, and the annual Blue-Gold game is April 11 at 2 p.m. at Heinz Field.

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