Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff continually got on the Panthers in the early going, primarily in the drills, as they looked somewhat lethargic. But that changed at about the midpoint, and the action picked up.
"I was a little bit concerned early, because we started a little slow with the first day in (shoulder) pads, and 85 degrees,'' Wannstedt said. "So, it was a little warm. (But) as practice went on, I thought the players adjusted to the heat and adjusted to the pads, and the tempo got better.
"I thought that all the quarterbacks threw the ball well, and I got that feeling because I only saw one dropped ball by our receivers. I thought we caught the ball pretty well today, and as long as we keep making plays like that we're going to have a chance to score some points.''
If it wasn't hot enough for Pitt's offense, its nationally-rated defense put the heat on the quarterbacks just about every play. Fifth-year senior Bill Stull probably had his best completion rate, and he got more repetitions than either junior Pat Bostick or redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri.
"Defensively, those two defensive ends, Sheard and Romeus, both came out of the gate strong today,'' Wannstedt said. "I think they're both very focused. They had good offseasons, and they both have something to prove. But they both have gotten off to a good start.
"(And) I think we're going to have a good problem with our kickers, Dan Hutchins and Kevin Harper both kicked the ball well today. It's going to be a tough decision, but it's going to be a good one either way, because we've got two good guys who can do it.''
Sunseri appeared to get more with the second team, but he and Bostick split reps overall as the backup quarterbacks. Sunseri was intercepted by fifth-year senior outside linebacker Shane Murray. It was a nice play by the veteran, who had appeared to be a step slow the first couple days. But he's coming around. It was the first pick thrown by any of the top three quarterbacks.
There were two key moves to the depth chart, as sophomore Andrew Taglianetti and redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson were with the first team at free safety and left offensive guard, respectively. Taglianetti replaced redshirt junior Elijah Fields, while Jacobson was ahead of senior Joe Thomas.
"There was a little bit of an internal issue that came up (Wednesday), but Elijah will be back (Friday) working with the first group,'' Wannstedt said. "(But) he hasn't started and hasn't done anything yet, so we'll see how that goes. We're being very demanding on these players, and it's not just what happens on the football field.''
Freshman Dion Lewis continues to get first-team reps with the tailbacks, but redshirt frosh Chris Burns had another strong performance and could move in front of redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris. While much initial talk about freshmen tailbacks centered around Lewis and Ray Graham, speedy Jason Douglas has moved up the depth chart a bit and has played well.
"It's going to be so important for these kids to make the most of their opportunities,'' Wannstedt said. "There's only so many plays in practice, so it's probably going to come down to the one guy who has the one fumble or the one mental mistake. He's going to eliminate himself.''
Harris is more the power back of the group, so it's a good bet he'll have a role this season. On one play Thursday, he slashed through a crack in the line only to meet fifth-year senior middle linebacker Steve Dell. The collision was loud, but neither budged until the other defenders helped push Harris back.
What Burns has flashed the past two days has been the speed and cutting ability that was evident at this time last year. This was not part of his game in the spring, for some reason, but it clearly has returned. Burns has made good decisions, runs a lot harder than before and is so quick. He can cut on a dime and not decrease his speed. And once he gets in the open field, whether it's running or catching passes in the flat, he can run away from any linebacker.
Douglas is amazing to watch. He's so small, but is so quick and shifts gears so fast that it's a wonder he doesn't lose a shoe. On one play, Douglas ran out of a tackle by Myles Caragein in the backfield and then ran away from Murray and safety Irvan Brown in the open field. Brown appeared to have an angle, but he lost it pretty quickly.
Wideout Michael Shanahan used his size and strength to pull in a pass from Sunseri with Ricky Gary in the coverage. Gary read the play perfectly, but still couldn't make the play since Shanahan is eight inches taller and 45 pounds heavier. Against Aaron Smith, who is more his size, Gary made the same read on the same pass and was able to knock the ball away.
Another guy who seems to be progressing each day is senior tight end Dorin Dickerson. He is used as an H-back, fullback, regular tight end and split wide and has made plays at every spot. He is strong, athletic and fast enough to make plays in the passing game, but his blocking has improved enough that he doesn't have to come off the field at all.
One period was spent with the offensive line attempting to block the defensive line in one-on-one competition, and it was intense to watch:
Mustakas made two nice moves, on Thomas, but he was strong enough to keep the defender away from the quarterback until the end.
End Tony Tucker, however, got around left tackle Jordan Gibbs, and tackle Craig Bokor handled center Alex Karabin on several rushes. Karabin got one back at the end of the drill, though.
Left tackle Jason Pinkston had a decent practice, but he could not handle end Greg Romeus. Tackle Dan Matha got one back for the O-line on frosh Jack Lippert, who is quick, but wasn't strong enough once Matha locked up.
Center Jared Martin fought hard with Bokor, but the defense won again as Bokor pushed Martin back into the quarterback. Brandon Lindsey put another one on the board for the defense with a quick move around frosh Ryan Schlieper.
Freshman Juantez Hollins has had little trouble with Bernardo Nunez thanks to a size and strength differential, and Lucas Nix made it two straight for the offense with a great job against Jabaal Sheard. The collision was mighty, but Nix got the initial shot in and held him off.
There was even a bigger collision when Mick Williams and John Malecki were matched. The initial blast went to Malecki, but Williams' quickness and strength helped him spin off and make a play.
The D-line future was on display as well, as Myles Caragein bull-rushed Houser and even though both are strong the difference was quickness by Caragein.
Pitt has another three-hour practice in shoulder pads Friday and then adds full gear for a Saturday afternoon workout that likely will include a live period.
Pitt's Thursday Practice
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