Pitt Spring Practice No. 7

The Pitt football team has reached the midpoint during spring practice sessions and got ready for its initial intra-squad scrimmage with a nearly three-hour workout Friday afternoon on its outdoor turf field.

Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt noted that the Panthers likely will adhere to a similar schedule to last year's initial scrimmage where the first- and second-team players will go some 30-35 plays, while the third-team will get about 20. And after this scrimmage, the eighth spring session of 15, maybe a depth chart can be worked up.

"I hope so,'' Wannstedt said. "As a coach, when you come out of spring practice, the quarterback position can be wide open or the tailback can be undecided. I'd rather someone step up and pull ahead to earn the job, and the best way to do that is to have everything live.

"So, we'll have a full crew of officials, and we'll let them spot the ball and make the calls. If there's penalties, then there are penalties, but we'll let the kids play. We'll get everybody off the sideline and turn 'em loose.''

To prepare for the scrimmage, Wannstedt put the Panthers through quite a demanding practice for a non-pad workout the night before a first scrimmage.

"We needed to go over a lot of situations that we just haven't covered,'' Wannstedt said. "When you have a new offensive coordinator, there's going to be an adjustment period. So, we needed to spend a little more time on it.

"And this is the time to do it. We took the pads off, but everything was full speed without tackling. The intent was that we've been pretty physical every day, so we wanted to give them a chance to be successful in the scrimmage.''

Fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull had mixed reviews working with the first-team offense Friday. He threw a touchdown to Oderick Turner on one play, finding the fifth-year senior wideout in the back of the end zone between a couple defenders.

On the next play, however, Stull tossed a fade pass to freshman wideout Jonathan Baldwin in the left corner of the end zone, but he didn't throw the ball high enough. Baldwin did get his hands on it, but senior cornerback Jovani Chappel was able to punch it away.

Stull rolled right on the next play and kept rolling as he threw it away. He didn't do too well on the following play, either, as the entire linebacking corps blitzed in to provide excessive pressure.

On another occasion, Stull had no time to breathe. Tackles Miles Caragein and Mick Williams buried center Robb Houser and guard Chris Jacobson back into the quarterback, and all three offensive players ended up on the ground.

Redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri took a step forward Friday, working primarily with the second team, and fired two touchdowns in a three-pass sequence.

"Tino worked with the second team, and he's getting better,'' Wannstedt said. "I think he's starting to gain some confidence, so we'll see how he does (Saturday). The scrimmage will be live, but I'll control the quarterbacks. Live to the whistle, and they better hope I have a quick whistle.''

Sunseri connected with wideout Aaron Smith in the end zone on a quick toss to the short side off a rollout. Then, he found redshirt freshman tight end in the back of the end zone. Cruz made an excellent catch despite being banged a bit by sophomore safety Andrew Taglianetti.

Cruz is getting a lot of work at tight end with classmate Justin Virbitsky behind senior Dorin Dickerson. Seniors Nate Byham and John Pelusi are sitting out after offseason shoulder surgery.

"Mike Cruz had an outstanding day,'' Wannstedt said. "I'm almost afraid to say much about it so I don't jinx him, but he really has done well. He's gotten an opportunity with Pelusi and Byham not out there, so he's getting all the second-team tight end work.''

Freshman tailback Dion Lewis needed just two moves to break away for a 36-yard touchdown run. His first burst got him past the line, and a little shake split the linebackers. Another juke and speed burst got him past the secondary and on his way to the end zone. The entire sequence took about five seconds.

"(Lewis) is a very mature kid, and he's handled things pretty well,'' Wannstedt said. "He's made some big plays out here, and I'll be real excited to what our backs do (in the scrimmage). That's one position I'll be tuned into and focused on to see how they do.''

As far as young defensive linemen go, redshirt freshman end Shayne Hale and redshirt sophomore tackle Caragein have shown continued improvement this spring and have made some big plays.

"Physically, (end is) Shayne's best position now,'' Wannstedt said. "He's got to want to do it, and if he continues to improve he'll be a good player for us for a long time. He has to want to put the effort into it, but I couldn't be more pleased with Shayne's progress. He's getting better every day.

"(And) Miles is playing well, too. We've got some depth there. We've got some cordwood stacked up there. Gus Mustakas and Greg Romeus aren't even out here. And Jabaal Sheard wasn't out here. He's back in Miami with his family. He'll be gone a few days for personal reasons and won't be at the scrimmage.''

Caragein and redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Jordan Gibbs battled after one play, and the two ended up wrestling on the ground. Gibbs apparently had his helmet knocked off by end Tony Tucker, and Caragein stepped in after Gibbs expressed his displeasure with Tucker.

While Gibbs has the size at 6-7, 280, Caragein is 6-2, 270 and also was a wrestler at Keystone Oaks High School. So, in hand-to-hand combat, he could have an advantage, but the skirmish was broken up fairly quickly.

One player who has missed the past couple days with an apparent knee sprain is senior right offensive tackle Joe Thomas. Wannstedt said he's being held out for precautionary reasons, but if the Panthers were playing an actual game (Saturday), then he'd play. Wannstedt said it's nothing series, but he's limited until he can get healthy.

Another player who has been out the past few days is fifth-year senior defensive end Doug Fulmer, and the news isn't promising.

"Aaaah, Doug wants to go, and his mind's telling him to go,'' Wannstedt said. "But whether physically he'll be able to do it, there's still some question. We're not holding him out. We'd like him to be out here. He came out and worked a couple days and had a little bit of swelling, so he's still not right.''

On the recruiting front, Pitt expects about 30 prospects to be in town for blue-chip day Saturday to watch the scrimmage. Kevin Haplea, the 6-4, 230-pound tight end from North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, N.J., got in early and watched practice intently with his family. And not surprisingly, he kept a close eye on Pitt coach Brian Angelichio and the tight ends during individual work.

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