Pitt Spring Practice No. 10

Pitt's 10th spring football practice Thursday afternoon was an improvement over the previous one, but all the Panthers had to do was take the field and that would have been enough to take a step forward.

After its first intra-squad scrimmage this past Saturday, Pittsburgh really had a rough workout Tuesday when its two hours on the field were marred with sloppiness from the outset. The ensuing session was much more crisp and a good practice to build on going into the Panthers' second scrimmage Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on the outdoor turf.

"The spring is when you really get a chance to evaluate your freshmen,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Mostly, these kids come in and right off the bat you ... say they're going to be redshirted. They have to play on the scout team, so they're kind of on their own in terms of development until the spring.

"So, this is the time of year when you really look at your freshman class from the last year and say 'this guy can help us and this guy can fit in here or this guy needs work in a certain area.' ... Spring is the best time for that.''

There are two examples on offense this year for Pitt. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and tailback Chris Burns, two second-year players, are competing for starting jobs after basically sitting out their freshman seasons.

"Tino was a scout-team player,'' Wannstedt said, "but now we're getting a true idea of what he can do and where he might fit in, his strengths and what he needs to work on. So, it's an exciting time for the underclassmen moreso than the older guys. There's still that unknown of what they're capable of doing other than what we've seen from their high school tape.

"(And) I thought Chris Burns, the last couple of days, has taken some steps forward. (But) I would expect a good competition all the way through camp and throughout the season. And when you run the ball the way we do, we'll need all the backs we can get. Obviously, somebody needs to start, but I probably won't declare a starter at running back until a week before the opener.''

The quarterbacks have continued to put in additional work with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti before and after practice. The trio of Bill Stull, Pat Bostick and Sunseri had a better practice Thursday to show for it. All three running backs also had big plays Thursday.

Shariff Harris had a huge run against the second-team. He blasted off the right side through a big hole, shredded two attempted tackles and steadily pulled away into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown. He also ripped off about 15 yards toward the left side later in the team portion of practice.

Dion Lewis has had at least one long run each practice, and that trend continued Thursday with a double-digit burst late in the team session. He started off-tackle, but bounced completely outside for about 12 yards.

And then there's Burns. Maybe not as fast as Lewis, but a little shiftier, Burns also is big enough to hammer between the tackles -- a Wannstedt staple -- which he displayed several times Thursday.

One of the better passing plays was from Bostick to backup wideout Aundre Wright. The speedy redshirt sophomore caught a pass in stride on a crossing pattern for about 12 yards, but he was able to turn the corner thanks to a nice seal block by fellow wideout Michael Shanahan and go another 20 yards.

Despite missing Tuesday's practice with an illness, tight end Mike Cruz came back Thursday and made a couple nice catches. On one, the 6-5, 270-pound redshirt freshman actually laid out for a grab across the middle.

Defensively, senior tackle Tommie Duhart, redshirt freshman outside linebacker Manny Williams and redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Tristan Roberts made a few nice plays each. Roberts banged Harris on a swing pass from Bostick that was low and behind him a bit. Bostick also had a tipped pass intercepted by junior safety Dom DeCicco.

The final four series were split 2-2 between the offense and defense. If the offensive unit could move the chains, then the defense would have to do a series of 10 up-downs. If the defensive stuffs them, then the offense would be forced to do the punishment.

As expected and has been the case several times this spring, the defense came up with the big play at the end, as the line held strong with Mick Williams and Myles Caragein in the middle making a surge.

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