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Inside the Ropes with Pitt football

Spring Practice No. 2

* Redshirt freshman defensive end Greg Romeus continues to impress, using his 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. Romeus has leapfrogged Joe Clermond, a second-team All-Big East selection, and is taking reps with the first-team defense.

“I don’t know how we keep that kid out of the lineup, the way he’s playing,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.

* After finding himself in Wannstedt’s doghouse last season, sophomore receiver T.J. Porter is showing signs of maturity with the way he carries himself in practice. Porter took reverse handoffs, turned a swing pass into a big play and stretched out for a pass in the end zone.

“He has grown up a lot,” Wannstedt said. “He still has a ways to go. Am I encouraged with where he’s at right now? Yeah. Is he where he needs to be for us to line up and win? No. But I hope, and I believe that he’s headed in the right direction because he’s got the ability to make a play.”

* It’s only been two practices, but sophomore Nate Byham appears to be the frontrunner to start at tight end. He made a pair of circus catches Sunday, hauling in one in triple coverage over the middle and another in double coverage on the sideline and drew praise from Wannstedt.

* The signing of highly touted tailback LeSean McCoy has lit a fire under incumbent LaRod Stephens-Howling. Wannstedt raved about the work ethic of the junior tailback, who rushed for 893 yards and 9 TDs last season.

“LaRod had a great off-season,” Wannstedt said. “LaRod’s ready to play right now. LaRod is one we can count on. The only thing with LaRod is he gets banged up a little bit. He’s not a 220-pound tailback.”

* Aaron Smith, a freshman from Gateway who enrolled in January, switched from receiver to cornerback in the middle of Sunday’s practice after redshirt freshman Ricky Gary was sidelined. Wannstedt hinted that if Smith performs well, the move might become more permanent.

“We may take a look at him because of our depth,” Wannstedt said. “Ricky Gary was limping around a little bit because of an ankle, so we were short at the corner position. We put Aaron over there and we’re going to look at that.”

* Remember this name: Ross Ventrone. The 5-9, 170-pound walk-on safety from Chartiers Valley broke up several deep passes. Although he’s small in stature, Ventrone has impressed coaches with his fearlessness and could become a special teams standout. His brother, Raymond, starred at Villanova and recently signed with the New York Jets after two seasons on the New England Patriots’ practice squad.

* Looking for a leader? Senior cornerback Kennard Cox is the most vocal player on Pitt’s defense, and he backed up his talk by making a big play when he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown during 7-on-7 drills.

* You might not recognize redshirt sophomore Derrell Jones after he lost 42 pounds in the off-season. Still listed at 6-2, 320, Jones has lost considerable girth and is making the switch from offensive guard to defensive tackle.

* Three Class of 2007 recruits, quarterback Pat Bostick, offensive tackle Dan Matha and receiver Maurice Williams, attended Sunday’s practice. Several high school prospects also watched from the sidelines, including Central Catholic quarterback Tino Sunseri (son of former Pitt All-America linebacker Sal) and tight end-defensive end Quentin Williams (brother of Northwestern linebacker Nate).

* One newcomer to the Pitt football team is fullback Adam Atiyeh, a 6-foot, 240-pound fullback from Allentown’s Parkland High School and the son of former Panthers defensive lineman Dennis Atiyeh.

* Here’s a tidbit on Clint Session that might have helped his NFL stock at Pitt’s Pro Day on Friday: The former Pitt linebacker reportedly recorded 36 repetitions at 225 pounds on the bench press and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, for one, mentioned that Session made a strong impression.

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