Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt mused during the Panthers’ opening practice session the benefits of the newly installed Sportexe synthetic practice field, especially the possibility of practicing in the rain instead of indoors.
After the veterans endured a humid morning, Pitt’s newcomers spent an hour practicing in a light drizzle.
Much to Wannstedt’s delight.
“If we didn’t have it, you know where we would have been? We would have been inside. And we were inside yesterday for media day for pictures, and it was humid. It was close,” Wannstedt said. “Normally, you don’t want to be on the grass field when it’s raining because you tear it up. … We got use out of it on day one, so that was a good decision.”
Prized quarterback recruit Pat Bostick, who left camp “to deal with a personal issue,” wasn’t the only player to miss practice. Receiver Aundre Wright was sick, and walk-on defensive back Jeff Stewart of Bethel Park elected not to play. Although Stewart was a walk-on, he played quarterback in high school and could have provided an extra arm in camp in Bostick’s absence.
That left redshirt freshman Kevan Smith and walk-on Spencer Whipple to take the snaps. Smith ran strictly with the first team; Whipple with the second. Another walk-on quarterback Steve Malinchak took reps as a receiver.
Cornerback Aaron Smith and tailback LeSean McCoy fielded punts, and McCoy, Shariff Harris and Greg Williams then took turns flashing fancy footwork in a pursuit drill. Harris, in particular, outran the containment of four defenders, using an inside jab step, then breaking toward the sidelines. Their success infuriated Wannstedt, but the defenders were almost all newcomers or walk-ons.
Although McCoy was the most heralded running back recruit, and performed as such, Harris showed surprising burst all day and might have been the most impressive offensive player. He broke through the line of scrimmage, running with power and slapping away arm tackles.
The first-team offense consisted of quarterback Kevan Smith, fullback Chris Bova, tailback McCoy, receivers Austin Ransom, Maurice Williams and Francis Johns alongside tight end John Pelusi, with a front of left tackle Chase Clowser, left guard Alex Karabin, center John Bachman, right guard Dom Williams and right tackle Frank Kochin. Whipple, fullback Henry Hynoski and tailbacks Harris and Williams also rotated in.
The first-team defense included ends Myles Caragein and Justin Hargrove, tackles Craig Bokor and Mick Williams and linebackers Steve Dell (middle), Nate Nix (strong side) and Brian Kaiser (weak side), with Sherod Murdock and Aaron Smith at corner and Shawn Besong and Michael Toerper at safety. Caragein later rotated in at tackle.
Early on, Kevan Smith once again had some difficulty handling the exchange from Bachman, but they found a rhythm by seven-on-seven drills. Smith, however, threw three interceptions. The first was a deep pass that floated into the hands of Aaron Smith. The second was a read by safety Elijah Fields, who returned it for a touchdown. The third was a deep pick by freshman corner Buddy Jackson.
Smith had more success on short throws, connecting early with McCoy across the middle. Whipple, a left-hander, was more erratic. Linebacker Brandon Lindsey batted down a pass intended for Hynoski, and Murdock knocked away one thrown to Williams on the sideline.
In 11-on-11 drills, Smith found Pelusi on the right sideline for a 20-yard gain. Another highlight came from Harris. Under pressure from freshman defensive end Jabaal Sheard, Smith lofted a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage and over the head of Harris, who had the wherewithal to catch it on the bounce and start running.