Spring Practice No. 14
• The Panthers conducted their final spring practice Thursday at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex indoor facility, and will end spring drills with the annual Blue-Gold Game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.
Admission to the Blue-Gold Game is $5, although it is free to staff and students (with identification) and to children 2 and under.
The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Radio 970, and also can viewed live via video streaming on www.pittsburghpanthers.com for free. To watch the video, click on the All-Access button, then click on “Click here to view free content;” then click on “Sign up Now;” select a password and click “Sign Up;” then click “Live Events.”
• The Panthers will liven up the spring game by using a scoring system that rewards both the offense and defense points for making plays. Here it is:
The offense gets six points for a touchdown, three for a field goal and two for a two-point conversion, plus one point apiece for each converted first-and-10, for a run of 12 yards or more or a pass of 1 yards or more.
The defense gets 12 points for an interception or fumble returned for a touchdown, five for a fumble recovery or an interception, three for blocking a field goal or a missed field goal or for stopping a fourth-and-one behind the 50, two for a sack, an unsuccessful two-point play or a fourth-down stop inside the 50 and one for forcing a fumble, a tackle for a loss or a blocked point-after kick.
If the score is tied at the end of regulation, there will be a playoff at the goal line.
• A spring scrimmage is generally viewed as a reward, for both the players who get to see live action at Heinz Field and the fans seeking entertainment value. Coaches, however, are cautious not to show too much of their playbook or take too much from players’ performances.
Wannstedt said the Panthers won’t reveal many of the wrinkles they added this spring. When asked about his expectations were for the Blue-Gold Game, this was his response:
“I’m looking for guys who make plays,” Wannstedt said. “We’re looking for a clean game – by clean, I mean no penalties or turnovers – and we’re always looking for guys who play the game full-speed. There’s no substitute for being out there in a stadium with nobody around you and having to make the play, make the tackle or make the catch. That’s what spring games and scrimmages do for you.”
• Although many of the spring stories were about players fighting for starting positions – and Wannstedt is encouraged by the progress of his young players – he noted the play of two veterans: junior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas and left tackle Jeff Otah.
“A lot of times, older players get overlooked,” Wannstedt said. “Gus Mustakas and Jeff Otah are probably the two most improved players on our football team. When you have an upcoming senior and upcoming junior who’s been a starter making that type of improvement, that makes you feel good.”
• Wannstedt said redshirt sophomore defensive end Doug Fulmer had surgery on his injured right knee this week. Fulmer broke his left ankle against The Citadel last season. Now, he’ll miss the early part of this season. “It’s a shame but the reality is because of missing half the year, he’s a young player that can’t afford to miss,” Wannstedt said. “He needs reps. He needs practice time. He needs to play the game. It’s unfortunate that he’s missed all spring and he’ll be slowed up in the fall. He’ll be back next season, but it’s going to take a little bit of time and a lot of rehab.”
• Speaking of injuries, senior safety Mike Phillips returned to practice after his collision with fullback Conredge Collins on Tuesday turned out to be a stinger.
“It’s just a pinched nerve,” Wannstedt said. “He’s good.”
• In Fulmer’s absence, redshirt freshman Greg Romeus has emerged as a viable candidate for a starting position at left defensive end.
Although Romeus has worked in with the first-team defense most of the spring, he played exclusively with the ones in the final practice while seniors Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop rotated on the right side.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Romeus is still very raw but flashed his exceptional athleticism several times. The most impressive came when Romeus chased down Marcel Pestano on an end around to the opposite side.
In the two-minute drill, he beat right tackle Jason Pinkston and Collins, then grabbed quarterback Bill Stull by the jersey and sacked him. Another time, Romeus thrust his arms into the air and knocked down a pass intended for Tamarcus Porter on an underneath route.
• Wannstedt reiterated that Stull is ahead of redshirt freshman Kevan Smith in the quarterback competition, but that the Panthers are nowhere near ready to name a starter.
“If we were playing a game tonight, Billy Stull would start because he can run the offense,” Wannstedt said, “but we have a long time before we play a game. We have all summer and training camp.”
This echoed what offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said on Tuesday, although Wannstedt appears more inclined to give incoming freshman Pat Bostick a realistic shot in the quarterback competition. Bostick, by the way, is expected to enroll in May, along with tailback LeSean McCoy, receiver Aundre Wright and defensive lineman Tommie Duhart, who attended practice.
• Another notable at practice is Pitt graduate Ken Macha, a Monroeville native who is a former manager of the Oakland A’s. He watched from the sidelines while talking to Pitt athletic director Jeff Long.
• A new twist to the secondary was that senior Lowell Robinson appears to have moved to cornerback for good and split second-team reps with Aaron Smith. Robinson made a nice play on a toss sweep to his side, when he spun off a block and tackled tailback Kevin Collier.
Robinson also worked on special teams as the kick return specialist (alongside Porter), but doesn’t appear to be a candidate to return punts. Those duties were handled by Aaron Berry, Smith, Porter and Ricky Gary.
• One of the players to have a strong, but subtle spring was sophomore Jovani Chappel. He’s playing second-team cornerback behind Kennard Cox, and could push Cox for the starting job this fall. When the first-team defense lined up in the nickel package, the hard-hitting Chappel was the extra defensive back.
• Here are some 11-on-11 highlights:
Stull made some nice passes, connecting with Derek Kinder on a sideline play and threading a bullet between three defenders to Oderick Turner for a touchdown. In goal line drills, Stull scored on a naked bootleg.
Kevan Smith answered with a nice play-action rollout to the right, firing a laser to Cedric McGee for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
Collier took a handoff up the middle, then bounced outside for a breakaway run. Later, in goal line drills, he broke a tackle on the goal line to score a touchdown.
Another overlooked player is redshirt sophomore tight end John Pelusi, who redshirted last season while recovering from a torn ACL. If it wasn’t for sophomore Nate Byham, Pelusi would have been a star of spring drills. Pelusi had several nice catches, including one on the sideline where he slipped through Aaron Smith’s grasp and then knocked over more players in trying to score.
Shane Brooks is fitting into the “ultra back” role nicely, especially when he hangs onto the football. If not for his fumbling, Brooks would be the backup tailback. He scored twice in goal line drills, once on a dive on third-and-2 and once after bouncing outside and following a big block by walk-on fullback Chris Bova on Robinson.
• Spring drills ended with some fun, as video coordinator Chad Bogard and equipment manager Tim Enright both attempted point-after kicks off a kicking holder. Enright had the better form but missed wide right, while Bogard’s attempt was just inches wide.