Pitt Spring Practice No. 11

The Pitt football team's 11th spring practice session Friday afternoon was a no-frills event, considering the Panthers wore just uniform tops and shorts with no pads and worked out indoors due to rain showers and wind, but that doesn't mean things weren't accomplished.

Pittsburgh conducted a two-minute drill where the Panthers began each series at their 45-yard line with 35 seconds on the clock and attempted to get into field-goal range or score a touchdown before time expired.

Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett discussed the practice afterward. Head coach Dave Wannstedt was unavailable due to a guest appearance at a banquet that benefitted Mel Blount's Youth Home.

"We got some good work at the end there,'' Bennett said. "We made some plays on defense, but the offense also did a few nice things. So, it was a good day for both sides, but we'll see if the same thing happens during (Saturday's) scrimmage when we have pads on.''

Quarterback Pat Bostick was forced to connect with tight end Mike Cruz underneath and on a short crossing route for a first down. Third down was a swing pass to tailback Dion Lewis, which didn't get much yardage, and the clock was winding down. So, he had to spike the ball to stop the clock with four seconds remaining. Bostick went for the end zone with the final play, but wideout Greg Cross couldn't beat double-coverage from cornerback Antwuan Reed and safety Andrew Taglianetti.

Quarterback Bill Stull ran the two-minute drill better. He completed a short pass on first down, but he had to spike the ensuing play to allow for one more play to get into field-goal range. Stull connected with tight end Dorin Dickerson inside the 30, beating Taglianetti, and a timeout was quickly called to set up the kick.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri's first pass was a dump-off for short yardage, but his second one was to wideout Michael Shanahan for 20 yards to move the sticks and get to the 23, easily in field-goal range, which ended the drill. Shanahan beat safety Ronald Hobby on the play.

Bennett also noted that the defense was "tweaked a bit'' this spring, and one new wrinkle included a formation with three safeties. Taglianetti basically replaced Max Gruder at weak-side linebacker in a nickel formation, as he joined free safety Elijah Fields and strong safety Dom DeCicco.

Gruder returned for the next play and knocked down a swing pass from Stull to Kevin Collier, who was in an up-back position. ... Sunseri fired a pass to wideout Aaron Smith on a sideline pattern, but Reed read the play well and knocked it down before Smith could corral it. ... Hobby stepped into a lane and picked off Sunseri. It was tough to tell if it was just a poor pass or bad route, because no receiver was close. ... And strong-side linebacker Greg Williams stepped in front of a Stull pass toward Dickerson and picked it off.

"It looks like we're going to be strong again up front, and ... if we handle it right, last year's issues might turn out to be a blessing with our linebackers,'' Bennett said. "The first couple of games, we really didn't know what we had. We went to ground zero, but we built from there. It helped us that we had a good D-line, and we had a guy named Scott McKillop.''

Bennett lauded the play by defensive linemen Tony Tucker, Shayne Hale, Chas Alecxih, Craig Bokor, Myles Caragein and Justin Hargrove this spring, as offseason surgery to Greg Romeus and Gus Mustakas has provided more reps for some guys. Bennett said that redshirt sophomore Brandon Lindsey is getting a look as a defensive end now after two years as a linebacker.

The linebacking corps was buoyed by Adam Gunn's return this spring, but improved play from Williams, Gruder and Tristan Roberts has strengthened the position as well.

Max was in for 20 plays a game, and he's a different player right now,'' Bennett said. "Tony Tucker's a different player, and one of the biggest plays in the WVU game was by Justin Hargrove, who made a big third-down stop on Noel Devine.

"So, we've raised the bar for those guys. Their role is different now, so we expect more. And we believe they're ready to give us more. A guy like (Elijah Fields), it's his time. And if it's not, it's only one person's fault. And that's his.

"Also in the secondary, I think we've got three proven corners (Jovani Chappel, Aaron Berry and Ricky Gary), but he's out (knee sprain),'' Bennett added. "So, guys like Antwuan, Buddy Jackson and Jarred Holley have gotten more reps.''

The younger players will be tested for the second time this spring with an intra-squad scrimmage Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

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