Pitt opened its football training camp Tuesday morning at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side under a haze from the high humidity.
Per NCAA rules, players aren’t permitted to wear pads until the third day of practice, so they wore only helmets and could not participate in full-contact drills.
The Panthers started with some special-teams work, with Aaron Berry, T.J. Porter and Lowell Robinson practicing fielding punts. Berry is the front-runner to handle those duties, but Porter also showed some pizzazz.
In a pursuit drill where four defenders tried to stop a return man, Porter juked Kevin Collier, causing the sophomore tailback to fall down. In fairness to Collier, Pitt was practicing on its new synthetic surface practice field, which isn’t entirely settled and is still slippery.
The first-team offense consisted of quarterback Bill Stull, fullback Conredge Collins, tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling, receivers Derek Kinder and Marcel Pestano and tight end Nate Byham, with Jeff Otah at left tackle, C.J. Davis at left guard, Chris Vangas at center, Joe Thomas at right guard and Jason Pinkston at right tackle.
Collier and Shane Brooks were the second-team running backs, with Porter, Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee at receiver. Three freshmen linemen worked with the second unit: Chris Jacobson at left guard, Greg Gaskins at center and Jordan Gibbs at tackle.
The first-team defense had one surprise, as John Malecki replaced Rashaad Duncan at nose tackle next to defensive tackle Gus Mustakas. They were flanked by ends Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop, with Scott McKillop at middle linebacker, Shane Murray on the weak side and Adam Gunn on the strong side. The secondary consisted of corners Berry and Kennard Cox and safeties Mike Phillips and Eric Thatcher.
The second-team defense included ends Greg Romeus and Tyler Tkach, tackles Duncan and Tommie Duhart, linebackers Dan Loheyde (middle), Dorin Dickerson (strong side) and Jemeel Brady (weak side) with corners Robinson and Ricky Gary and safeties Jovani Chappel and Dom DeCicco and Irvan Brown.
The highlight of seven-on-seven drills came when Stull held onto the ball a bit long and his pass intended for Byham was broken up by Cox. It was that kind of day for the defense.
Despite the no-contact policy, Stull was under considerable pressure in 11-on-11 drills. He rolled away from Chris McKillop to complete a pass to Byham, who made a fingertip catch. Later, both Malecki and Mustakas and then Duncan and Romeus pressured Stull with Gaskins at center.
After moving into the starting lineup with a strong spring, Murray continued to impress, making a nice play by leaping to tip away a Stull pass intended for McGee.
Walk-on quarterback Andrew Janocko took some reps and, as expected, struggled to adapt. He threw a flare to McGee in the left flat that fell behind the line of scrimmage. Gary scooped up the ball and scored.
A wobbly pass by Stull was intercepted by Robinson. The Panthers are breaking in new footballs, but Stull declined to use that as an excuse. Afterward, however, he asked punter Dave Brytus and kicker Conor Lee to kick the new balls to get some of the coating off.