Pitt Spring Game Preview

With 14 spring practices sessions in the books, the Pitt football team only has one more workout before breaking for the summer: the annual Blue-Gold game Saturday at 2 p.m. at Heinz Field.

Basically the third intra-squad scrimmage this spring, it should rank about equally with the other two for grading purposes with the Pittsburgh coaches. However, Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt believed that several players already have secured starting spots with their spring efforts.

That group -- sophomore wideout Jonathan Baldwin, redshirt sophomore weak-side linebacker Max Gruder, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Myles Caragein and redshirt junior free safety Elijah Fields -- did not necessarily have starting jobs when spring practice began March 19. But they were given every chance to earn the spot and and clearly have seized that opportunity.

"We weren't sure where Max would fit in, but he's done a nice job,'' Wannstedt said. "And so has Myles at defensive tackle. Right now, as long as everything goes good, Elijah Fields is there, too. Also, I think that we still have some battles going on with our offense.

"And we've got some good ones on the offensive line and at the running back position. Our receiver group pretty much is intact. We've got Jonathan Baldwin (at split end), and I think we've really got two starters in Cedric McGee and Oderick Turner. Both those guys are more than qualified.''

While those aforementioned players certainly solidify Pitt's lineup a bit there still are some areas that Wannstedt needs to keep a close eye on during the Blue Gold game because those positions are still up in the air.

Wannstedt believed that the situation at running back with redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris, redshirt freshman Chris Burns and freshman Dion Lewis battling for the starting spot and depth-chart positioning would be interesting to watch. Also, with senior starter Aaron Berry suspended for violating team policy, three young players get a chance to show what they can do at cornerback.

"(Sophomore) Antwuan Reed, (redshirt freshman) Jarred Holley and (redshirt sophomore) Buddy Jackson, he's really come on,'' Wannstedt said. "Those three guys are right there, ready to make a contribution.

"Then, there's the offensive line scenario. How does Alex Karabin work out? Does Lucas Nix step it up again? He's made a lot of progress, he and Chris Jacobson, but can they take another step forward? So, it's been a good spring. It really has, but we have to finish strong, regroup and go from there.''

Karabin, a redshirt junior walk-on, has been battling senior incumbent Robb Houser for the starting center spot. Nix, a sophomore who played sparingly last year, is ahead of senior incumbent Joe Thomas at right offensive tackle. A redshirt sophomore, Jacobson has been starting at left guard this spring after four-year starter C.J. Davis graduated. The right guard is senior second-year starter John Malecki.

Wannstedt believed that all three quarterbacks -- fifth-year senior Bill Stull, junior Pat Bostick and redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri -- have improved from the start of spring practices until now.

"Billy, probably in the last couple practices, he's gotten closer to where he was before he got hurt last year,'' Wannstedt said. "You can see the improvement and the confidence.

"Pat's getting the ball out faster, and if you really look at the numbers -- (with) completion percentages and interceptions -- Pat probably has been the most consistent of all the quarterbacks.

"And Tino, as a freshman,'' Wannstedt added, "he might have as much or more ability than any of them. So, I like where we're at right now with the quarterback position. It's probably about where I would have hoped it would have been before we started.''

Wannstedt said that the same format will be used for this year's Blue-Gold game with the offense facing the defense and both units able to score points. The offense uses the regular scoring system, while the defense gets points for forcing turnovers and possession changes.

Notes: Redshirt sophomore fullback Henry Hynoski (turf toe) is the lone player who practiced this spring who is questionable for the game. ... Pitt's first, second and third groups are expected to get from 35-40 plays each. ... There will be field-goal kicking and some punting, but no kickoffs. ... There will be a brief halftime. ... Officials will be used to call penalties and spot the ball. ... The game will be televised by WPCW, Pittsburgh's CW, with FSN's Rob King calling the play-by-play and Wannstedt handling commentary. Foge Fazio and KDKA-TV's Jory Rand are sideline reporters. ... Heinz Field gates open at noon so fans can prepare for Pitt's inaugural Spring Football Festival that includes an on-field young clinic put on by the Panthers and a Chalk Talk for adults with Wannstedt and his coaches. Both begin at 12:30 p.m.

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