Practice Report : First Trip To Heinz

Pitt switched things up, as they always do after camp breaks, with one practice at Heinz Field. It always coincides with the annual Fan Fest. It might seem like a small thing, but Wannstedt puts an emphasis on getting used to the Heinz Field routine, and being ready for game day.

Pitt held a walk through on Monday, going over some special teams, some 7-on-7 passing, and some limited scrimmage in just shoulder pads and helmets. The main goal for Pitt on Monday was just to get used to being at Heinz Field. Even though six days of their whole year are spent at Heinz Field, Wannstedt places a great deal of emphasis on getting used to the Heinz Field experience.

It may only be six days a year, but the team's success--regardless of what they put in practice and in the offseason, is measured by what they do at Heinz Field, more than anywhere else.

"With 31 freshmen, we have a great group of kids, counting the walk-ons." Wannstedt said. "It was good for them to get in the stadium, get in the locker room, it was good."

Though he didn't practice, Ray Graham did some light running, as he works towards being ready for the opener at Utah next week. Wannstedt also challenged Greg Romeus, saying it's now a matter of him needing to be back next Thursday.

"We'll see how Ray progresses," Wannstedt said. "Ray ran today the best he's done since he's been hurt. He's not making the full speed cuts yet, but he was running pretty good straight ahead for the first time.

"Romeus came out and went through everything today. I expect him to be back, and he needs to be back by Wednesday. He's got to be ready Wednesday."

In Graham's place, Jason Douglas has been taking a lot of the second-team reps at tailback. One thing to keep an eye on with this running back situation is the number of carries each back could potentially get. If it's Douglas, and not Graham as the number-two back for the Utah game, expect Lewis to get the full workload. If Graham is back, expect Lewis' touches to drop a little.

In any event, Wannstedt has been pleased with what he's seen of Douglas. The question is, can he handle the workload that Graham would handle in that spot.

"He can make big plays," Wannstedt said of Douglas. "The biggest thing with Jason, is his dependability, day after day, play after play. He has shown that the last two weeks. He's been good. I hope he sees himself at a position where he does take advantage of that. He'll be ready to play."

One other interesting thing that Wannstedt touched on was the number of true freshmen that might see the field this year. In 2006, a number of true freshmen such as Nate Byham, John Malecki, Aaron Berry and Dorin Dickerson were forced into roles right away. In 2007, LeSean McCoy and Pat Bostick were much needed skill players that had to come in and play.

Now, Pitt is in a position where they don't need guys to come in. Instead, it's a question of playing a freshman who is ready physically, but wasting a possible redshirt year. Lucas Nix is an example of a guy who was needed at his respective position, but did not play enough to warrant burning his redshirt year. Dan Mason was a different situation--a player who did start a couple games, and was a valuable reserve. He also worked his way into some special teams.

Instead of having freshmen like the class of 2006 or 2007--players that were needed to fill some valuable roles, Wannstedt has to figure out if a freshman is going to be a Mason or a Nix.

"Things do happen," Wannstedt said. "Things change. I would expect we'd have two, maybe three of the freshmen play this year, and try to redshirt the rest.

"I would say right now Aaron Donald is a possibility (of playing) T.J. Clemmings is a possibility (of playing). (Bryan) Murphy was a strong candidate.

Aaron Donald is an interesting choice to play. There's no question he has shown the ability he can play. The question is, can he work his way into a rotation, where there's already four solid defensive tackles in the rotation. Wannstedt doesn't want to play Donald if he's going to end up like Lucas Nix--a player that was able to play, but wasn't used as much as he should have been, which burned his redshirt.

"(Donald) is a playmaker," Wannstedt said. "He's a mini-Mick (Williams). We'll see. There's no turning back. Once you play a kid, you force him in the line. He's getting reps. He's getting prepared to play. We'll see how things unfold."

Todd Thomas is in a similar situation, depth-wise. Right now, he's the sixth receiver. K'Waun Williams is in a different situation at corner, coming in to a position of need.

"Todd (Thomas), I don't know," Wannstedt said. "Right now, because of the depth, and a little bit more learning at receiver, but you don't know. (Williams), special teams, maybe a fourth or fifth corner."

Pitt players have the day off tomorrow, and will resume practice Wednesday and Thursday of this week, where they will begin their regular-season routine.


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