The bad news is that senior receiver Derek Kinder is out for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, an injury suffered in Saturday’s practice. The good news is that Kinder is a candidate for a redshirt this fall and will be eligible to return in 2008.
The absence of No. 81 adds intrigue to the competition at receiver. A first-team All-Big East selection, Kinder was locked in as the starter at flanker, but there was a fierce battle at split end. Now, both jobs are wide open, with seven candidates.
Redshirt sophomore Oderick Turner is the frontrunner at split end, although there has been a rotation at work with the first-team offense. Redshirt junior Marcel Pestano would likely be next in line to replace Kinder, but sophomores Cedric McGee and T.J. Porter and redshirt junior walk-on Austin Ransom will contend, along with true freshmen Maurice Williams and Aundre Wright.
“They responded,” receivers coach Aubrey Hill said. “Those guys all were very emotional when it happened. They came out to practice today with that mission in mind. I didn’t even have to say anything and they responded already.”
* More welcome news was the return of junior quarterback Bill Stull, who needed five stitches to repair a crescent-shaped cut on the underside of his thumb on his right (throwing) hand after hitting it off a helmet.
“It was a little too sore yesterday to grip the football and take some snaps, but today I went out and played through a little pain,” Stull said. “As long as I can grip a ball, take snaps and throw, I can definitely do it with stitches in. A couple ibuprofen and I’ll be fine.”
Stull pulled a Ben Roethlisberger, wearing a glove on his throwing hand, and participated in both non-contact individual drills and full-contact drills in 11-on-11 play.
“It’s obviously a lot different throwing with a glove on,” Stull said. “The grip is actually a little bit better. Throwing, I had to get used to real quick but it actually worked out pretty good today.”
Stull showed little sign of trouble gripping the ball. He threw a deep ball intended for Turner, but Kennard Cox made a nice play in coverage, batting the ball away. Stull resorted to improvisation during practice, throwing several passes sidearm and even one underhand.
Stull completed one of them to LaRod Stephens-Howling in traffic on one play, then an underhanded pass to Kevin Collier as the pocket collapsed. A second sidearm pass sailed out of bounds, however, and a third was intercepted by outside linebacker Adam Gunn.
* There was movement of players working in with the first team. Defensively, junior Rashaad Duncan was at nose tackle, ahead of sophomore John Malecki, and redshirt freshman end Greg Romeus replaced fifth-year senior Chris McKillop (hamstring). Offensively, LeSean McCoy split reps with LaRod Stephens-Howling at tailback.
The biggest adjustment for McCoy is translating what he learns in classroom chalk-talk sessions onto the playing field. Hopeful to make an immediate impact, he’s still picking up the offense and trying to learn his place in it.
“I’ve got to get all that stuff mastered first before I worry about playing time,” McCoy said. “That’s something I obviously think about – playing early – but I’ve got to wait my turn.”
McCoy also is showing no signs of trouble after twisting his left ankle in Thursday’s afternoon practice, which caused him to miss Friday’s session. McCoy did admit that he had a flashback to his senior season at Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School, where he suffered a compound fracture of his right ankle in 2005.
“I just turned on it, and it felt horrible,” McCoy said. “Everything came in, all these thoughts, because I broke my ankle before in high school and it took me forever to get back. I’m finally healthy, so those thoughts run through your mind.”
* The center-quarterback exchange issue continued, as John Bachman and Bill Stull botched one and Greg Gaskins and Spencer Whipple fumbled another. Bachman later took reps at right tackle, with walk-on Alex Karabin moving from left guard to center.
* Three Central Dauphin juniors visited Pitt Sunday: defensive end Jack Lippert, quarterback Justin Shirk and kicker Dan Fisher.
Forgot to mention that Pitt had several visitors Saturday, including two players verbally committed to the Panthers: Wilmington tailback Chris Burns and Hopewell tackle Ryan Turnley.
Also in attendance was Thomas Jefferson DeCicco’s brothers, senior receiver Zach and junior tight end-defensive end Brock, the younger siblings of Pitt freshman safety Dom; and Johnstown Bishop McCort tight end Mike Cruz, who verbally committed to the Panthers in April and then reneged three weeks later.