And during the afternoon practice Thursday, the offense came alive, according to Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt.
"The last two days, our offensive line, we ran the ball the best the past two days that we have all camp,'' Wannstedt said. "And you've got to give credit up front. I think we're starting to come together. I like the timing and progression of everything.
"The defense started out strong, but now the offense is coming on. We hit a couple creases running the ball, and the protection is a little bit better when we're not blitzing. The strides have been slower for the O-line, but at least they're moving forward.''
Senior center Robb Houser has been inconsistent the first couple weeks, but he had a solid afternoon session. On two occasions, including a beautiful downfield block to spring wideout Aundre Wright for 20 yards on an end around, O-line coach Tony Wise ran up field, praised Houser and then gave him a fist bump.
Dion Lewis also had a couple nice runs, including a 35-yarder where he hit the hole, broke a tackle and pulled away for the long gain. If Lewis opens the season as Pitt's starting tailback, it will only be the third time that happened since Tony Dorsett in 1973. The next time occurred 25 years later (1998) when Brandon Williams was the starting tailback.
Williams later moved to linebacker and actually became a starter. The last time it occurred was when Ray Kirkley opened against East Tennessee State in 2001. The way Lewis is going and with how physical camp has been, it's going to be difficult to unseat him. But Chris Burns and Ray Graham are right behind him.
"This is probably the most hitting,'' Wannstedt said. "A couple coaches have told me that this probably has been the most live work that I've done since I've been here. This is the most physical work. Our first scrimmage of the year last year was about 50 plays.
"This year, it was nearly 100. And we've tried to do something live every day, but controlled. Why? The only way to make a decision on running backs is to try to tackle them and knock the ball out. So, you have to do things differently when you're trying to solve some issues on your football team like we are.''
The quarterback situation has not really changed. Bill Stull and Tino Sunseri have taken the majority of the reps and shared time with the first team, while Pat Bostick has not taken any first-team snaps and half has many total.
Stull was the quarterback for six possessions, including four with the first team, while Sunseri got seven series with four as the first-team quarterback. Bostick was the quarterback on four possessions. There were some big plays on offense and defense.
Bostick was picked off by freshman middle linebacker Dan Mason, who promptly returned it for a touchdown. Mason also came up a couple times to fill a gap on running plays. He has been the second-team Mike backer all week.
"Mason made a couple nice plays today,'' Wannstedt said. "He showed up and is making progress.''
Redshirt junior linebacker Nate Nix had a nice day with a couple big tackles and a batted down pass against Sunseri. Safety Dom DeCicco had a rough afternoon, though, missing an interception and getting beat a couple times.
Fifth-year senior Craig Bokor had a shot at another camp interception, but he dropped one that was right in his hands.
Sunseri fired a pass to Oderick Turner in the seam for a first down.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Jarred Holley has played well enough that the Pitt coaching staff has played him at backup safety with Elijah Fields (foot), Irvan Brown (calf) and Marco Pecora (ankle) missing a few days each.
Gus Mustakas had the afternoon off and was replaced by Myles Caragein. Jabaal Sheard (knee) also sat out, and Brandon Lindsey replaced him. Lucas Nix (leg) missed another day, and Greg Gaskins replaced him. Greg Williams (shoulder) missed Thursday's sessions, and Shane Murray took over for him. Dorin Dickerson (foot) also remained out, and Mike Cruz was the backup tight end.
Sophomore cornerback Antwuan Reed picked off Stull again and batted down a psss, but the fifth-year senior quarterback came back with a big pass to wideout Jonathan Baldwin. He beat Jovani Chappel and DeCicco to the post, went up and made a great catch. Baldwin also pulled in a one-hander from Stull on the next play.
"Jonathan Baldwin and our receivers made some plays today,'' Wannstedt said. "I was very disappointed in their performance this morning, so I liked the way they responded as a unit. Dion Lewis continues to make guys miss in the open field and make plays. I like the progress that he's making.
"Defensively, if we went 60 plays, on 55 they were right on. But at the end they gave up a big run and a couple big pass plays. So, it's a constant reminder that it's a 60-minute game. But we had two, competitive practices in pads and got a lot of work done, so that was good.''
Another wideout, Aaron Smith let a long touchdown pass from Sunseri go through his hands, but the redshirt freshman quarterback came back to lob one over an unsuspecting Aaron Berry to Cam Saddler for a 42-yard scoring play.
Kevin Harper came on in a hurry-up situation at the end and kicked a 32-yard field goal.
Pitt practices once Friday and then has its second intra-squad scrimmage Saturday at 10:15 a.m.
Pitt's Thursday Afternoon Practice
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