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Notes from Thursday’s afternoon practice

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 Pitt finished its first two-a-day of training camp indoors at the South Side facility Thursday afternoon when rain storms moved through the region.

“Two very good practices,” coach Dave Wannstedt said. “The effort was good. We got a lot of reps. We got a little bit better today.”

Pitt, which on Saturday will have its first of three scrimmages, practiced with officials for Thursday afternoon’s practice.

“We’ve got to start getting the guys thinking about seeing (the officials) around and being conscious of doing things the right way,” Wannstedt said.

The most notable news might have been who didn’t practice in the afternoon rather than who did.

Jon Baldwin, Greg Romeus, Shayne Hale, Brandon Lindsey and Juantez Hollins, among others, missed the afternoon practice for a variety of reasons, including the sad death of a former Aliquippa teammate for three of them.

*** First off, let’s address Romeus. He dressed in full pads Thursday morning intending to practice, but, after agility drills, he felt more stiffness in his back and sat out the rest of the morning practice. He didn’t dress for the afternoon practice. That’s five days in a row without the All-America candidate.

“It’s muscle spasms,” coach Dave Wannstedt said. “He will be better tomorrow and we will just take it a day at time, but he’s fine.”

*** Baldwin, Lindsey and Hollins were excused from Thursday afternoon’s practice to pay their respects to former Aliquippa quarterback Stephen Hardy, 22, who was shot early Saturday morning in Beaver Falls. Hardy was a senior quarterback at Aliquippa in 2005, during Baldwin’s sophomore year. Wannstedt said Baldwin and Hardy were cousins.

  *** Defensive end Shayne Hale sat out afternoon practice after suffering an ankle sprain during Wednesday’s action. He was limited on Thursday morning.

*** Among the good news, right guard Ryan Turnley, who left Wednesday’s practice with a shoulder injury, returned for the afternoon practice after sitting out the morning work. Just for clarification, Ryan Schlieper was working with the second-team during Turnley’s two-practice absence, not Juantez Hollins, as I wrote in an earlier entry.

*** With three defensive ends missing from the afternoon practice (Hale, Lindsey and Romeus), fifth-year senior Nate Nix took almost all of the first-team reps. Wannstedt praised the Thomas Jefferson product, who has gone from special teams star to working with the first team.  

“Nate Nix is a guy who comes here as a linebacker,” Wannstedt said. “Probably not quite speed-wise where the other guys were at. He commits to special teams and is voted (Pitt’s) special teams player two years in a row. We ask him to go to defensive end. He puts 20 pounds on and lines up in the spring and makes plays. Now Nate’s in there with the first group making plays. That’s a neat success story.”

*** Draft guru Mel Kiper released his first 2011 Big Board for the next NFL draft and Baldwin is listed as the No. 14 overall pick. Baldwin is seen as the No. 2 wide receiver on the board, behind Georgia’s A.J. Green.

*** Chris Muller, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive tackle from Boyertown, attended Pitt’s morning practice on an unofficial visit. He has offers from Rutgers and Temple.

PRACTICE NOTES

Here are some notes from Thursday afternoon’s practice, which featured a lot more individual, special teams and one-on-one positional drills than 11-on-11 work.

*** Redshirt freshman wide receiver Devin Street was working mainly with the first-team during Baldwin’s absence and made the most of his chance. On the final play of practice, with the offense working out of its own end zone, he outjumped 5-9 Ricky Gary and pulled in a 30-yard pass from Tino Sunseri. Street continues to be one of the stars of training camp. He has definitely made more big plays than 5-7 Cam Saddler, who has a different role than the rest of Pitt’s tree-tall receivers.

Wannstedt made a point of mentioning Street early in his post-practice press briefing.

“You like to see guys like that, that nobody is talking about, starting to make a move a little bit,” Wannstedt said. “That was encouraging.”

*** Right guard Greg Gaskins, who is getting a serious push from Turnley for the starting job, hasn’t been a camp standout. But he made an excellent blitz pickup on middle linebacker Dan Mason during 11 on 11 drills, giving Tino Sunseri enough time to throw deep to Street. The 6-4 Street had a couple of steps on Jarred Holley, but the ball glanced off his outstretched fingertips, falling incomplete.

*** The defense forced at least four turnovers (three interceptions and one fumbles). Safeties Kolby Gray and Jason Hendricks and linebacker Carl Fleming had interceptions, and Chas Alecxih recovered a fumble.

*** Gray, the converted quarterback, jumped a route and picked off a Pat Bostick pass for a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.

*** Hendricks made the nicest defensive play of the practice. During 11 on 11 drills, he wrestled the ball from Brock DeCicco just as it arrived over the middle and took off down field. It was tough to say whether it was an interception or if DeCicco had control and Hendricks stripped him. Either way, it was an impressive feat. We’ll call it a pick. Hendricks nearly had another pick when Bostick overthrew his intended target, but the ball hit Hendricks hard in the facemask and fell to the ground.

*** On the fumble, Tristan Roberts made a strong play to strip the ball from Mike Shanahan and Alecxih pounced on it.

*** Jason Pinkston mauled the right side of Pitt’s defense to spring Dion Lewis run around the left end.

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