Here are some notes from Pitt’s Wednesday afternoon practice.
*** Once again, defensive end Greg Romeus missed practice with “stiffness.” He hasn’t practiced since Saturday. He walked around the field and seemed to be moving well. Romeus, one of 36 candidates for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, also lifted weights, his busiest day so far. He is expected to return to practice today, according to coach Dave Wannstedt. Other players who didn’t practice include Andrew Taglianetti (groin), defensive back Derrick Burns (leg) and running back T.J. Peeler.
*** With Romeus out, Shayne Hale got most of the work with the first-team at left defensive end.
*** Sophomore Ryan Turnley, who is battling with Greg Gaskins for the starting job at right guard, missed the majority of practice after sustaining a shoulder injury during field goal protection drills. The 6-foot-6, 305-pounder from Hopewell received treatment on the shoulder and watched the rest of practice without pads. The injury is not believed to be serious, but it does set him back a little bit in his bid to win the right guard job.
*** The Panthers worked in full pads for the first time and the result was the most-spirited practice of the five-day old training camp. Middle linebacker Dan Mason got the action started right away, taking down Dion Lewis after a short gain along the sideline on the first play of 11 on 11 drills. Mason jumped up after the hit and informed Lewis that stiff-arms wouldn’t work against the Penn Hills product.
*** Another Penn Hills product and training camp phenom, freshman defensive tackle Aaron Donald, showed he can dominate the first-team Panthers offensive line, also. Donald got a handful of reps with the first team defense during inside running drills and on his first play, he burst into the backfield and stuffed Ray Graham. Later in practice, Donald literally ran over Fernando Diaz en route to the blocking dummy on one-on-one pass rush drills.
Donald continues to draw comparisons to Mick Williams, the 2009 Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m going to change his number of 95,” Wannstedt said referring to Williams’ old number. “I think I called him Mick three times today.”
*** A handful of true freshmen seem to have worked their way into the two-deep depth chart. Defensive ends T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy, DT Donald and cornerback K’Waun Williams all took significant snaps with the second-team defense.
*** The practice ended with a fourth-down drill, with the losers having to do up-down drills. On the first play, Dion Lewis was stopped about two yards short on a fourth-and-five. On the next play, cornerback Ricky Gary helped break up a pass attempt to Jon Baldwin in the right corner of the end zone.
*** The Panther defense forced at least five turnovers, with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Pat Costello and Jason Hendricks had interceptions during goal-line drills (sorry, I didn’t see the other pick), and Max Gruder and Marco Pecora recovered fumbles.
Wannstedt is unconcerned that the offense isn’t quite as sharp as the defense right now.
“I would be very disappointed (in the defense) if we’re out there with a new quarterback, three new offensive linemen, a new tight end, a new starting wide receiver and we’re moving the ball up and down the field,” he said.
*** In the one-on-one pass rush drills, Myles Caragein tossed Chris Jacobson to the ground on his way to the blocking dummy. Jacobson may have just lost his balance, but Caragein keeps proving that he’s tough to control with just one blocker.
*** Sophomore running back Ray Graham had one of the nicest runs of the day, juking Saheed Imoru in the open field.
*** Back-up defensive tackle Tyler Tkach hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention, but the fifth-year senior absolutely destroyed second-string center Jack Lippert, a redshirt freshman, with a bull rush during red-zone drills.
*** Tino Sunseri was on-target for most of the day (two of the three interceptions were with freshmen QBs Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez on the field). He was harassed by the Pitt defensive line for much of the day, but showed good decision-making getting rid of the ball in the face of the rush.
*** Defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who had been working a lot at right defensive end in Romeus’ absence, was back on the left side Wednesday. He had another productive day, most notably stripping the ball from Sunseri and disrupting a screen play that he read perfectly.
*** Freshman Drew Carswell had the catch of the day, showing great concentration to haul in a ball after it hit his hands, was tipped up by a defender before being pulled in by the former Sto-Rox star.