Pitt Practice Update : Let The Season Begin

We're in the bridge between the end of training camp, and the start of the regular season slate of practices. Sunday's practice can be classified as a prep for Utah. Dave Wannstedt talked about having the extra week to prepare for an early Thursday night tilt, while reflecting on some of the camp heroes and camp surprises.

Right now, the two biggest concerns on anyone's minds are Ray Graham and Greg Romeus. Wannstedt expects Romeus to be in order for the Utah game. Graham's status might be a bigger question, but tomorrow stands as a litmus test, for where Graham's health is at right now.

"I expect (Romeus) to be fine," Wannstedt said. "Ray is running straight ahead right now. Tomorrow is the first day he'll start making cuts. We don't want him to do anything faster than what we hope."

Position-wise, Wannstedt is still concerned about his offensive line. He's confident in the three-returning spots--Jason Pinkston, Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix, but there's still some concern in his voice, when it comes to breaking in two new starters.

"I guess we'll find out at Utah, to be honest with you," Wannstedt said. "We'll find out where we are, defensive line and offensive line."

Any time there's a Thursday night game, it cramps everyone's schedules. Instead of having the full week to practice, players get two days, a travel day Wednesday, then game day Thursday. The great thing about opening this season on the road at Utah, is that Dave Wannstedt can start his game preparations this week, and ease the players into it.

"It's very nice," Wannstedt said, of not having to cram a full week's worth or work, into two days like there usually would be for a Thursday night game. "That's why I was all for moving this game to the opener. It made sense, with the travel. Obviously, it's a top team, top 25 team in the country. The extra time, the few extra days will be used wisely."

Since it's still the bridge between training camp and the regular-season practice schedule, Wannstedt took time to reflect on training camp. The schedule he puts the players through is one of the more demanding ones in the country. Between position meetings, team meetings, and the occasional two-a-days, players are at Pitt's UPMC South Side practice facility for anywhere from 12 to 15 hours a day.

This year's schedule was a little lighter than year‘s past. He changed the setup of the final scrimmage to just a regular practice, and he pushed back another practice (Monday, August 16) to an evening practice, giving player's a breather during the afternoon. After the team's final scrimmage on Wednesday, players were given another night off from meetings.

He recognized that it's one of the more demanding, and more physical practices around. At the same time, he feels the players have always gotten the most out of it, and feels there's no need to change things.

"I think every coach would like to stand here and say, ‘this was the most physical camp we had,'" Wannstedt said. "I don't know. The faster that you get, and the stronger that you get, for some reason, the practices become more physical."

With the expectation of this year's team, especially the level of expectation of some players that are on the respective watch list for their position, the physicality of the training camp practices assures that these players at least get off on the right foot. Coming off 1,799 yards rushing as a true freshman, the entire nation is expecting Dion Lewis to rush for at least 1,800 yards. Similar expectations are put on players like Jon Baldwin, Jason Pinkston and Jabaal Sheard just to name a few.

There's the superstar level that these players have higher expectations placed on their shoulders, because of the level of play they exhibit. There's also a certain leadership expectation these players must demonstrate as well. Wannstedt felt all these players performed to expectation, through camp. With that kind of demand and physicality, sure it adds to the pressure, but the tight camp schedule also allows players not to slip.

"I saw Dion do what he needs to do," Wannstedt said. "I saw Baldwin do what he needs to do. Sheard, Jabaal, do what he needs to do; Pinkston do what he needs to do. I think from a standpoint of our older players we're counting on, we're playing at a higher level."

Then, there's a level of players Wannstedt didn't have pegged into a big role. At the start of camp, there were a few players--either in their fourth or fifth year on the team--that could have gone either way. At the end of camp, Wannstedt labeled them as the three surprise players of camp--Justin Hargrove, Tyler Tkach and Ricky Gary. Tkach and Gary bolster an already seasoned senior class.

"With the Ricky Garys of the world, Ty Tkachs, Justin Hargroves, we probably have four or five or six guys that are four- or fifth-year players that had very good camps that will help us this year," Wannstedt said. "Hargrove was a name, was a guy; third-team, we weren't really talking about him that much. Ty Tkach, kind of in the same category. Now, I would expect they'll both play some capacity in that first game."

Pitt will practice tomorrow afternoon at Heinz Field. Again, practice is closed to the general public. The players will take part in the annual Fan Fest, which will run from 6 to 8 p.m. All players will be available for autographs, starting around 6:15 p.m. Admission is free, and parking in the surrounding lots is $10.


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