Pitt Spring Practice No. 9

After its initial intra-squad scrimmage Saturday, the Pitt football team hoped for a strong finish during the second half of the spring practice sessions.

Instead, the Panthers came through with most assuredly their sloppiest practice this spring Tuesday afternoon on the outdoor turf, but Pittsburgh junior quarterback Pat Bostick believed that wasn't reason for despair.

"I think you need things like this to happen, and frankly I'm not surprised,'' Bostick said. "We put a lot of work in going into that scrimmage, and it meant a lot to everyone. So, it's no surprise that there was a letdown afterward. It also can be a good thing to have a day like this to force us to re-focus.

"So, we'll get in there and watch tape of this practice and try to improve from there. And that's the only way we can get better, really, is to learn from our mistakes. If we do everything right all the time, I'm sure it would make the coaches happy, but this way it makes sure that we have more work to do.''

After a relatively clean scrimmage, with few penalties other than three in one series, the Panthers had procedure calls in nearly every one Tuesday. There also were a couple bad snaps in shot-gun formations and several interceptions thrown by the quarterbacks, as safety Ronald Hobby, cornerback Jarred Holley and safety Elijah Fields all had picks.

One bright spot on offense, and his performance Saturday earned him first-team reps, was freshman tailback Dion Lewis. He had a couple more big runs during Tuesday's practice, and Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt was a little surprised by Lewis' performance.

"He's farther ahead,'' Wannstedt said. "I really didn't think he'd be in the mix as deep as he is, and I'm very encouraged by ... how he handles himself, his demeanor and how he learns in the classroom. Those are the things that have really given him an opportunity to be in it.

"(So), he'll be in the mix. There's no question. I would see a kid like him really improving this spring, because everything is new to him. (But) the more comfortable he gets and the more opportunities he gets, he's going to make plays. There's no question about that.''

Another player who has been a pleasant surprise is redshirt sophomore weak-side linebacker Max Gruder. He has had several big plays each practice and had another sack Tuesday.

"We're going to start off Shane Murray in the middle with Aaron Gunn, and you've got Dan Mason, the freshman, coming in,'' Wannstedt said. "And we also have Steve Dell and Brandon Lindsey, who's done a nice job. So, we're still unsettled a little bit at the middle linebacker position.

"But I think that Max really deserves an opportunity to be the starter, and he hasn't made many mistakes. He has played, and he's had enough experience, even though he's a (redshirt sophomore), he doesn't act that way because of the experience that he has.

"And with Tristan Roberts and Manny Williams,'' Wannstedt added, "we do have some healthy competition there. But Max had a good scrimmage and took a nice step forward. Manny's had a nice camp, and he's got a lot of natural ability. Manny's going to be a nice player for us.''

Along with Lewis' move to first-team tailback, sophomore Lucas Nix got a lot of reps with the first team at right tackle, while senior Joe Thomas returned from the sideline to be on the second team. Another switch had walk-on Alex Karabin at first-team center with Robb Houser moving to second team. And sophomore Antwuan Reed jumped into a starting cornerback spot, while senior Aaron Berry dropped to the second unit.

These might only be one-day events, but they were interesting nonetheless. And it shows that Wannstedt wants to get everyone ready to play just in case.

"Any time that guys are competing to play in the right fashion in practice and handling it the right way, players are going to get better,'' Wannstedt said "And when your players start to get better, your team is going to get better.

"We don't have the depth (2-3 deep) where I would like it in every spot, but we're a heckuva lot closer than where we've been the last couple of years.''

Pitt has six more spring practice sessions, including the annual Blue-Gold Game April 11 at 2 p.m. at Heinz Field.

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