By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt believed Tuesday’s split-team practice sessions were a good indication about the disparity between the Panthers’ veteran players Tuesday morning and the underclassmen in the afternoon.
The Pitt starters and second-team players competed in the morning session, while all but two freshmen were in the afternoon. Tailback Dion Lewis and wideout Devin Street from the 2009 frosh class were in the morning.
“I would summarize Day 1 by saying that I was very encouraged this morning from an execution standpoint,” Wannstedt said. “It was very obvious this morning that we weren’t playing with a bunch of first-year players. The guys came out and were focused in all areas.
“And the execution, the only balls to hit the ground were by two freshmen. … The afternoon was not quite as sharp, but we had the freshmen and most of the first-year players. We tried not to alter our practice much, but this was a good opportunity for us to take a good look at these young guys.”
There weren’t too many surprises during Pitt’s initial camp football practice Tuesday morning. Fifth-year senior Gus Mustakas showed no ill effects from his offseason micro-fracture knee surgery and started next to Mick Williams as the starting defensive tackles. Senior Joe Thomas opened ahead of redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson at left offensive guard, but both got first-team reps.
While Lewis was the starter at tailback, redshirt frosh Chris Burns and redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris all got some time with the first team as well. And each had a share of some big runs by the offense.
Senior Dorin Dickerson was used a couple different ways, as a tight end and as a fullback or H-back guy, and he got passes thrown his way at every spot.
There were several offensive stars for the Panthers. Sophomore wideouts Aundre Wright and Jonathan Baldwin made some of the best catches. Wright tortured cornerback Ricky Gary a couple times, beating him with an inside move and hauling in touchdown pass from quarterback Pat Bostick.
Bostick actually had a pretty good morning session, connecting for a couple scores to Wright and showing good arm strength for square-outs and sideline patterns downfield. He had only a few incomplete passes.
Starting quarterback Bill Stull benefitted from having Baldwin as one wideout. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder stopped and leaped high in the air to pull in one ball, and he held onto a pass across the middle despite some tight defense by the Pitt secondary.
Baldwin almost made a spectacular one-handed grab down the right sideline, as he tipped a pass thrown behind him to the front and nearly pulled it in before Berry knocked it down.
Stull also had a problem with Pitt’s defensive ends, but it’s likely that most opposing quarterbacks will have the same issue. Greg Romeus, at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, and Jabaal Sheard, at 6-4 and 260 pounds, are pass-rushing nightmares for a quarterback but can cause problems by just getting a little pressure and extending their arms.
Each had a couple knockdowns of passes in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. That’s not to say that Pitt’s offensive tackles struggled. Jason Pinkston and Lucas Nix actually did all right, but when the ends force a quarterback to step up the Panthers have Mick Williams and Co. waiting for him in the middle. And Mustakas and Myles Caragein, the backup nose tackle, are just as powerful.
Street actually had a nice catch down the sideline, but while trying to get additional yardage had the ball stripped. That drew the ire of his teammates and coaches, and he had to do a drill afterward to teach holding on to the ball. It’s a good bet he won’t do it again.
In the afternoon session, Manny Williams showed no ill effects from his left knee injury in high school that required surgery. The redshirt freshman was the top weak-side linebacker in the afternoon practice session.
Redshirt freshman tight end Mike Cruz was used in the hybrid role that Dickerson used. The 6-5, 270-pound Cruz spent a lot of time in motion and in the backfield. He was used primarily in blocking situations, but he still displayed the soft hands that he had in the spring and caught a few passes as well.
The afternoon quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri, frosh Kolby Gray and redshirt sophomore Andrew Janocko were pretty good in the 7-on-7 portion, but the 11-on-11 was a different story. The trio was inconsistent, for the most part, but only threw one pick. Marco Pecora intercepted Janocko.
Sunseri benefitted from Greg Cross’ athleticism, as the senior wideout snagged a pass thrown a little behind him, juggled it and pulled it in quickly before he got hit. Cross actually appeared to run better patterns than he did in the spring, but he didn’t catch a lot of passes because he didn’t get much thrown his way.
Sunseri also overthrew redshirt sophomore Aaron Smith a bit, but he made a spectacular one-handed grab with Dan Cafaro nearby in decent coverage.
There were two position switches, as Kevin Adams moved to fullback. He is nearly 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. With Adams moving to fullback, for depth purposes, frosh Jason Hendricks moved to safety.
“(Adams) is pretty good with the ball in his hands,” Wannstedt said. “He’s bigger, and he’s a lot better athlete than we thought. … Brock DeCicco is a lot better athlete than people give him credit for, a guy who’s 6-6 … with his size, he made a couple plays today.”
Freshman tailback Jason Douglas opened the afternoon practice, ahead of Ray Graham, but Graham showed amazing quickness and vision. While he doesn’t have sprinter’s speed, Graham can make sharp cuts at full speed and seems to be a little tougher than one would think for a runner listed at 5-9, 185.
Redshirt freshman Shayne Hale and redshirt sophomore Brandon Lindsey, the starting defensive ends in the afternoon, showed great pursuit and even dropped into pass-coverage on occasion.
Dan Mason opened at middle linebacker in the afternoon, but Shane Gordon was a backup weak-side linebacker. It was believed that he would be in the middle.
It looks like redshirt freshman Jarred Holley is the fifth cornerback, and he displayed solid coverage skills in the afternoon. He could move up the depth chart if he gets some reps when the split squads merge.