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Inside the Ropes with Pitt football

Spring Practice No. 4

&#149 Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said he was pleased with how the Panthers have played through the first three practices, although he has tempered his expectations because of the inexperience of players competing for starting positions.

“As a head coach, you want to see the big picture,” Wannstedt said. “I have to keep reminding myself that Dorin Dickerson has not played linebacker; neither has Shane Murray. Let’s not get ahead of the game. This is a time for fundamentals and basic teaching.

“As a head coach, I want to see how our whole offense works. I want to see us head up and down the field and score touchdowns, and we’re not there yet. That’s probably the biggest challenge for me, is to say, ‘Slow down. We have to be patient with these kids. We have to develop them, and then we’ll get the results we want.’”

&#149 Thursday’s practice was a costly one, as three Pitt players were left with injuries. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jared Martin injured his right shoulder, redshirt sophomore Doug Fulmer injured his right knee and fifth-year senior right tackle Mike McGlynn injured his left shoulder.

To compensate for the lack of depth on the defensive line, the Panthers moved redshirt sophomore Craig Bokor from offensive guard to defensive tackle. Bokor practiced in a white No. 57 jersey but wore an orange helmet cover.

Sophomore Jason Pinkston replaced McGlynn, and had his way with All-Big East defensive end Joe Clermond. Fulmer was replaced by walk-on David Pels.

&#149 Reason No. 1 to stay healthy: Strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris made the four players who had off-season surgery and can’t participate in contact drills – defensive linemen John Malecki and Mick Williams, linebacker Jemeel Brady and safety Irv Brown – wear weight belts with an elastic band attached to a sled loaded with weights. They spent practice pulling it back and forth along the track, with Malecki lapping his mates.

“I looked up and made a joke to (Kennard Cox) when I saw them pulling those sleds,” senior safety Mike Phillips said. “I was like, ‘I’m happy here in my uniform. I don’t want to be over there at all.’ That’s a big message being sent.”

&#149 The Panthers are already testing the durability of tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling. The 5-foot-7, 175-pound junior was on the receiving end of back-to-back big hits in 9-on-9 drills. First, defensive end Chris McKillop hit him in the backfield for a loss; moments later, defensive tackles Rashaad Duncan and Gus Mustakas beat left guard C.J. Davis and left tackle Jeff Otah to stuff Stephens-Howling.

&#149 Although the Panthers defenders aren’t going full-contact in live drills, Marcel Pestano got alligator arms on a Bill Stull pass when he heard the footsteps of Phillips. Good thing the safeties weren’t hitting when Stull connected with Cedric McGee on a skinny post, as McGee had to extend his arms to haul in the pass. Safety Eric Thatcher, who had devastating hits against Virginia, Cincinnati and Toledo last season, was in full pursuit but pulled up and let McGee go.

&#149 It was an animated afternoon for defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads and new secondary coach Chris Ball, who took turns chastising their players. Rhoads barked at Duncan when his helmet was knocked off for a second time in practice: “Tighten up that chin strap!” When Stull tried to throw a pass out of bounds under pressure and it floated toward the sideline, Ball bounced downfield and yelled to cornerback Aaron Berry: “You’ve got to pick that off!”

&#149 Sophomore tailback Kevin Collier had the run of the day, slipping through a hole and bouncing to the outside for a long gain along the left sideline. It was a rough day for Collier’s main competitor for the backup job, redshirt sophomore Shane Brooks. He fumbled in the backfield (recovered by walk-on Ross Ventrone); was dropped for a loss by redshirt sophomore linebacker Shane Murray; and was stopped cold by redshirt freshman defensive end Greg Romeus, who shed senior tight end Darrell Strong’s block.

&#149 Gadget play that shouldn’t have worked: Stull threw a pass in the left flat to Oderick Turner, who attempted a cross-field pass that floated straight into the air but was caught at 1 by Stephens-Howling, who stepped across the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown.

“It slipped,” Turner joked, “but it still went for a score.”

&#149 Both quarterbacks finished drills with a touchdown: Smith fired a bullet to Pestano, while Stull faked a handoff to Stephens-Howling and ran a naked bootleg.

&#149 Pitt is playing host to a coaches’ clinic and will practice at 4:15 p.m. today. Wannstedt said the Panthers will scrimmage when they practice at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

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