Short Passing Game Sharpened

With about a half dozen players missing in action due to a makeup class and a few others banged up with various injuries, the Pitt football team decided to utilize a short passing game and work on red-zone drills during Saturday morning's spring practice at the UPMC Sports Complex.

Pittsburgh has exactly three weeks remaining with Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday workouts the next two weeks, as well as a Friday practice April 9 at 4:15 p.m., before the final week. The Tuesday and Thursday sessions begin at 2:45 p.m., while the Saturday, April 3 and 10 scrimmages begin at 10 a.m. The annual Blue-Gold Game is Saturday, April 17, at 2 p.m. at Heinz Field.

"Spring practice is a time to teach and develop fundamentals, and we're working on different things in each practice,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "But there also was a makeup class from a winter snow day. We had about a half dozen guys (there) and a few more banged up. So, that changed it a bit.''

Redshirt freshman Devin Street (class) and Ed Tinker (left hand surgery) missed Saturday's practice, while redshirt sophomore Mike Shanahan (mononucleosis) and junior Jon Baldwin (ankle) were limited. Shanahan is feeling better and should be able to practice on a full-time basis next week.

However, the Panthers were a little short-handed in the passing game Saturday and had to adjust their game plan. But it certainly wasn't noticeable, as the offense moved the ball and did not appear to be hampered too much.

"I think our offense, I don't know if we were behind (this spring), to be honest with you,'' Wannstedt said. "(And) I think they picked up right where they left off. We had some guys make some plays. (Running backs) Ray Graham and Dion Lewis, they haven't missed a beat. (And) I'll tell who had a nice day today.

"Jason Douglas did some nice things, and Cam Saddler did some good things. (Defensively), Dan Mason's improving. And Chas Alecxih showed up and made some plays. So, I'm very encouraged with the progress that we're making. I know we're taking it one day at a time, but the guys are working hard.''

Both Pitt quarterbacks were sharp when they had time to pass, but the Panthers appeared to blitz on defense nearly every play to give the offensive line fits. Running backs Dion Lewis not only ran hard again and hit the holes quickly, but they also were successful picking up blitzing linebackers.

Due to the blitzes, Tino Sunseri had to take some sacks and throw the ball away on occasion as well, but their passing was fairly sharp from short- to mid-range. Sunseri threw the only pick when Saddler couldn't handle a toss across the middle, and linebacker Max Gruder collected the deflection. It wasn't exactly behind him, but it appeared to be thrown a little too hard.

A swing pass from Bostick to Saddler went for 30 yards, as the redshirt sophomore speedster turned it upfield and quickly hit a seam. Bostick also found Saddler open in the corner of the end zone during a red-zone sequence, and the ebullient Saddler high-fived the referee after he signaled a touchdown.

Redshirt junior fullback Henry Hynoski also contributed in the passing game. Graham took a toss on a sweep left and lofted a left-handed pass to Hyno in the end zone for a touchdown during the red-zone period. He also took a swing pass in the flat from Bostick and was drilled by junior cornerback Antwuan Reed.

Sure, Hynoski carried him a couple yards, but Reed came up quickly from the secondary to supply a big hit and eventually got the big fullback on the turf despite giving up some 70 pounds.

"Henry is a guy who is a better player with the ball in his hands that maybe anybody gives him credit for being,'' Wannstedt said. "And with Dorin and Nate gone, we've got to find some ways to get the ball to some other people.

"They know we're going to throw the ball to Baldwin, so there's going to be three guys covering him. That means we'll need to do some other things with the passing game, and Henry is capable of giving us another weapon.''

All in all, it was a good workout for the Panthers, but the action should pick up considerably during the second half this spring, as the weather is expected to improve considerably and Pitt gets to practice outdoors.

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