Pitt wore pads for the first time Saturday — the third day of spring drills — but reporters were ushered out before the hitting got intense.
Later, coach Pat Narduzzi said the session was full of enthusiasm and passion, as you might expect he’d say. He also had praise for freshman offensive tackle Jerry Drake, an early enrollee. “He isn’t playing like a freshman,” Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi called practice a “thud” session in which they try to keep guys off the ground as much as possible. There will be plenty of time to hit for real later this spring and in the summer.
One observation (from me): Defensive end Dewayne Hendrix looks different. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds (same as last year), but he’s noticeably bigger and thicker (especially in the upper body). It looks like good weight, too.
With the loss of Ejuan Price to graduation, Pitt needs Hendrix to be great. Coaches were expecting that last season before his foot injury in the opener kept him on the sideline for the rest of the season.
Hendrix is limited now while coaches try to nurture him back to health, but he’s still suiting up and that’s better than spending time with the trainers.
The defensive end rotation includes James Folston and Rori Blair as bookends on the first team, with Allen Edwards and Kaezon Pugh on the second team.
All but Pugh are juniors and seniors; they’re older, but only Blair has logged significant playing time at Pitt.
In the middle of the line are senior tackle Jeremiah Taleni and Keyshon Camp, a redshirt freshman.
Elijah Zeise and Sean Idowu continue to man outside linebacker, with Saleem Brightwell showing his versatility and football sense by lining up in the middle.
Narduzzii said defensive end Patrick Jones and Pugh “showed some good things … Camp is really playing well. We have numbers at least, as long as we stay healthy.”
Pitt offensive line coach John Peterson continues to experiment. Saturday, it was redshirt freshman walk-on Jimmy Morrissey lining up with the 1s at right guard, with Connor Dintino at center and Alex Officer at left guard. Junior Alex Bookser is the starter at right guard, but Peterson needs to find depth up and down his line. Jaryd Jones-Smith was back at his accustomed right tackle spot after Tony Pilato spent some time there Friday.
Again (and I keep repeating this), that was only at the outset of practice in the viewing window (which stretched from the usual 30 to almost 45 minutes).
The development of players such as Morrissey and Pilato will be key if the line is hit with injuries during the season.
We did get to see the latest scholarship recipient Alex Kessman showing of a strong leg, hitting once from midfield, but also missing a few from shorter distances.
Big day for director of player development Bob Junko. Along with new director of player personnel Graham Wilbert and director of recruiting Mark Diethorn, Junko welcomed 19 high school prospects to practice. He said he plans to get about 19,000 steps on his Fitbit.
Among the been-there, done-that crowd were three Woodland Hills graduates in various stages of their post-Pitt life.
Lafayette Pitts is preparing for his second season with the Miami Dolphins, Price is back from the NFL Combine and getting ready for Pitt’s Pro Day on Wednesday and Mike Caprara is helping the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant.
It was interesting to see them standing together, watching practice.