AROUND THE PANTHERS
On the eve of Pitt’s first scrimmage, the Panthers held a spirit afternoon practice on Friday that featured Tino Sunseri’s best day of training camp and – once again – no Greg Romeus.
*** Romeus missed his sixth consecutive day of practice with back spasms. The reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year did some weight lifting. Coach Dave Wannstedt said he is hopeful Romeus, who has one full day of practice in the training camp, will take part in today’s scrimmage. At this point, they might as well hold him out of the scrimmage. No point in risking injury if there’s any chance of aggravating it.
*** Defensive end Shayne Hale (ankle) also sat out practice and cornerback Antwuan Reed was excused from practice for personal reasons. Starting weakside linebacker Tristan Roberts sat out the second portion of practice with a minor ailment, allowing two-year starter Greg Williams to take a number of reps with the first team for the first time in training camp.
*** The star of the day was Sunseri. Counting all of the drills, the first-year starter threw only a handful of incomplete passes. One of them was a drop by redshirt freshman Devin Street. Another was misfire to Cam Saddler on a 20-yard out – it looked like a miscommunication as Saddler went to the harsh mark and Sunseri threw to the sideline.
Another incompletion came when defensive end Jabaal Sheard knocked down a pass (something Sunseri has avoided in recent days after having at least six balls knocked down early in the week).
Sunseri’s only other miscue was an interception during the two-minute drill. Under pressure, he forced a pass and safety Jarred Holley intercepted it. But overall the performance was a marked improvement from a shaky practice earlier in the week.
“Tino was sharp today,” Wannstedt said. “The best part about today was that he bounced back and corrected some things that he didn’t do very well two days ago and got better.”
*** The most interesting – and controversial – moment of practice came in the final minutes when the first-team units ran a live goal-line drill. With the losers facing 10 up-downs, energy was high as they lined up on the two-yard line.
On one of the first runs, Ray Graham appeared to bull his way into the end zone over the left side. But equipment manager Tim Enright, who was standing at the pylon, signaled no touchdown. The offense went berserk, led by Tino Sunseri and fullback Henry Hynoski. At least four members of the media, myself included, felt Graham had clearly crossed the line before his knee touched. But Enright had the final say.
It didn’t matter in the long run, as the Pitt second-and-third team offenses could do nothing against the Panther back-up defense, and the offense did its up-downs.
*** Wide receiver/kick returner Cam Saddler had an outstanding day, catching at least four balls, while getting open and showing good hands during 7 on 7 drills. He also showed good focus when he held onto a sharp pass as safety Jason Hendricks arrived.
*** Wide receiver Greg Cross made a nifty one-handed catch on the sideline and hauled in a deep pass from Pat Bostick for a 40-yard gain. Bostick also made a nice throw to Devin Street on the two-minute drill, threading the needle between multiple defenders for a 30-yard score.
*** Jarred Holley and Todd Gilchrist had interceptions and Aaron Donald and Kolby Gray recovered fumbles.
*** The offensive line doesn’t win many battles on the one-on-one blocking dummy drill, but freshman Brandon Sacco took care of defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell during their match-up.
*** Coach Dave Wannstedt said plans are to run about 75 plays at Saturday’s scrimmage. He said each player will get roughly the same amount of reps, about 20-25. Dion Lewis, who looks to be in mid-season form, will probably only carry about “six times,” Wannstedt said.
Officials will work the scrimmage.
“It won’t be your typical Saturday all-day scrimmage with 120 plays,” Wannstedt said. “But we will get enough work. We are still evaluating and that’s the No. 1 purpose behind this.”
The scrimmage will help to clear up some training camp auditions on first and second team at offensive line, linebacker and cornerback. Pitt also has scrimmages set for Wednesday and Saturday, Aug. 21.
“We’ve still got a lot of positions undecided,” Wannstedt said.