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Inside Pitt Football Camp – Day 8 Scrimmage No. 1

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Now that the Pat Bostick Watch has ended, we can finally concentrate on football and not the sideshow that his departure from training camp had become.

For the record, Bostick returned this afternoon, attended meetings and threw passes in quarterback drills while wearing a helmet but no other equipment. He did not participate in the scrimmage, but will practice Wednesday.

Although Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt isn’t receptive to discussing a player who has missed 10 practices, he didn’t rule out the possibility of Bostick playing this season.

“I think we’ll just take it one day at a time and consider where he’s at,” Wannstedt said. “If he has a good week – and I expect him to scrimmage Saturday – we’ll see where he stacks up and where he’s at.”

If first impressions mean anything, Bostick looks the part of a quarterback, although he often stood alone or away from his teammates during the scrimmage. He does have an unusual delivery, though, and will have to work hard to regain the trust of his teammates.

“Pat’s a freshman. He’s 18 years old,” Wannstedt said. “We’re just going to support him, get him back on his feet and get him going.”

• That said, after watching the Panthers’ first scrimmage, they could use another diversion. As expected, the defense outplayed the offense. Then again, Wannstedt would have been overly concerned if it hadn’t.

One twist to the scrimmage was that simulated crowd noise was played over loudspeakers set up on the sidelines, where there were plenty of onlookers for atmosphere. Although it was a controlled scrimmage, Pitt also used officials to monitor infractions and throw penalty flags.

“The more game-like situations we can put our football team in,” Wannstedt said, “the faster we’ll come along mentally and respond to those situations before they become real.”

• The first-team offense, under the direction of junior quarterback Bill Stull, didn’t score on its first four series. The Panthers didn’t try to convert on fourth down, but it took 10 plays to merit a first down.

The first drive saw a three-and-out, with only a 3-yard gain by tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling as positive yards. The second drive ended in an interception by middle linebacker Scott McKillop on a pass intended for Stephens-Howling. The third fared better, as Stull connected with Cedric McGee for a 21-yard gain to the 19, but ended when defensive tackle Gus Mustakas dropped fullback Conredge Collins for a loss on a dump pass on third-and-11 at the 20.

The second-team offense took over, and its first two series ended in three-and-outs, as well. After overthrowing Oderick Turner on a deep sideline pass, redshirt freshman quarterback Kevan Smith completed a 12-yard pass to Turner for a first down. But Dorin Dickerson sacked Smith on a blitz, and a third-and-17 pass to tight end Nate Byham went for only a 5-yard gain.

The first-team offense returned, and finally found its rhythm. Stephens-Howling had a 15-yard gain, took a play-action pitch for 3 yards on third-and-inches and turned a screen pass into a 17-yard gain thanks to the downfield blocking of right guard Joe Thomas. Stephens-Howling led all rushers with 32 yards on seven carries.

Stull used a play-action fake to roll right and complete a 10-yard pass to Byham for a first-and-goal at the 5, but the offense failed to score. Stephens-Howling was stopped for no gain by defensive tackle Mick Williams, Stull threw an incompletion on a miscommunication. On third down, safety Eric Thatcher drilled Collins.

The eighth series, involving the second-team offense, was cause for concern. Linebacker Nate Nix sacked Smith for a 7-yard loss to force a third-and-15, but Smith completed a 16-yard pass to Marcel Pestano for a first down. Smith then found Darrell Strong, but the 265-pound tight end was tackled by 175-pound (dripping wet) corner Ricky Gary in the open field. Smith then fumbled the exchange with center Alex Karabin to end it.

Smith redeemed himself on the next series, throwing an 11-yarder to T.J. Porter on third-and-8 for a first down. On third-and-13, Pestano pulled in a high pass, dodged Dickerson and Gary and raced 56 yards for a touchdown.

“Defensively, I like where we’re at right now,” Wannstedt said. “We should be that way. If we walked off the field after giving up four touchdowns, we’d be feeling good on offense but I promise you we’d be sticking our head in the sand concerning our football team.”

• Near the end of the scrimmage, Pitt worked on an overtime drill, starting each drive at the 25.

On the first, Stull directed a scoring drive, completing passes of 7 and 8 yards to Turner for a first down. McCoy ran for a 1-yard gain, then took a toss left and outraced Thatcher to the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown. Conor Lee’s point-after kick, however, went wide left.

On the second, nose tackle John Malecki sacked Smith, who picked up 5 yards on third down. But Lee’s 38-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by defensive tackle Tommie Duhart.

On the third, Stull found Strong for 8 yards, then Pestano for 11 and a first down. After a 3-yard run by McCoy, fullback Shane Brooks scored on a 3-yard run. This time, Lee converted the extra point.

The defense then came up with a pair of big stops against the second-team offense. Senior corner Lowell Robinson intercepted a Smith pass intended for Porter on first down. Then the defense recovered a Porter fumble inside the 10 to end the second drive.

Robinson’s play drew praise from Wannstedt and, after playing receiver and safety last season, Robinson appears to finally have found a niche outside returning kickoffs.

• Stull completed 15 of 21 passes for 115 yards with an interception, but avoided being sacked. Smith was 12 of 16 for 138 yards with a touchdown and an interception but was sacked five times.

“I feel good about Billy Stull,” Wannstedt said. “Kevan has had good days. Today, the pass rush on defense I think was better than our protection with the second line, so he didn’t have much of a chance.”

• Pestano and Turner lined up as the starting receivers, then rotated with Porter and McGee. Turner had a team-high six receptions for 40 yards, while Pestano had five catches for a team-high 93 yards and a touchdown. Porter had three catches for 19 yards, McGee one for 21.

“I thought Oderick and Marcel made some plays today when they were called on,” Wannstedt said. “That was encouraging to see those guys step up.”

• Defensively, ends Chris McKillop and Greg Romeus did not practice, pushing redshirt freshman Ty Tkach into the starting lineup opposite Joe Clermond.

Scott McKillop and Gary were the leading tacklers, with seven apiece, followed by walk-on linebacker Brian Kaiser (six), who has played well in practice and has a chance to become a special teams demon.

• Rashaad Duncan started ahead of John Malecki at nose tackle, next to Mustakas. But Wannstedt praised the play of Malecki (three tackles and a sack) and Mick Williams (three tackles), saying the second-teamers “made as many plays as the group with our front-line guys.”

Williams, who has been beset by health problems the past two seasons, might be moving up the depth chart faster than anybody on the team.

“Probably, if you were going to point one guy out that made more plays than anybody,” Wannstedt said, “it might’ve been Mick.”

That’s not to say sophomore Tommie Duhart is falling into obscurity. Duhart split reps with Williams and finished with four tackles, two sacks (for minus-14 yards) and a blocked field goal.

“It’s not easy for a junior-college player to make that transition into college this early,” Wannstedt said. “I was very pleased with Tommie Duhart today. He made some plays.”

The defensive tackle position, for the first time in a long time, has some real competition. That’s a nice problem for the Panthers to have.

• Wannstedt called the special teams play “ridiculous,” and seemed particularly perturbed by the punting of Dave Brytus, who average 35.5 yards and had a long of 40 despite not facing pressure.

The punt return duties will likely fall to either Aaron Berry or Porter, especially after freshman Aundre Wright misjudged a punt and let it glance off his hands.

Lee has been pretty consistent during training camp, but missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked. Take into consideration that he’s adjusting not only to a new holder in punter Lucas Stone but a new long snapper in Mark Estermyer, who is filling in for Mike McGlynn.

• The center-quarterback exchanges have become almost comical, if they didn’t irk Wannstedt so much. Smith botched one from Karabin to end one drive, and walk-on Andrew Janocko was sacked by Myles Caragein after fumbling an exchange from Greg Gaskins.

“I’d just as soon not talk about it,” Wannstedt said.

• After missing the morning practice with a pinched nerve, sophomore right guard Joe Thomas returned to run with the first-team offense in the scrimmage.

Although the offensive line struggled mightily, Wannstedt isn’t completely discouraged.

“I like the individual ability levels of the guys, but that’s usually the last group, unit-wise, to come together,” Wannstedt said. “It’s going to take some time. We’re not there yet. We’re going to need all of training camp before we get that group in sync and playing at the level they need to play at.”

• Stull reiterated those thoughts, noting that the Panthers should improve once they determine the starting rotation and give the unit some time to come together.

After 10 practices, several positions remain unresolved:

Chris Vangas is starting at center and has a rapport with Stull after two years together as backups, but Mike McGlynn might be an upgrade once he returns to action.

Losing Derek Kinder was a serious blow at flanker, and Marcel Pestano made a nice case for the starting job in the scrimmage. Turner is the returning starter at split end but is getting competition from Porter and McGee.

There also are several variables with the backfield, depending on whether the Panthers use two tight-end sets with an ace back or traditional I-formation with a fullback. The emergence of McCoy is certainly giving offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh plenty of options.

“The comfort level is going to be 100 percent once we figure out a solid depth chart with the first team,” Stull said. “Once we get that done, you’ll see the first offense come together a lot more than we have.”

• When asked to assess the Panthers’ performance in their first scrimmage, Stull artfully dodged the question.

“That’s kind of tough,” Stull said. “That’s coach Wannstedt’s job right there.”

I’d give the offense a C-minus, the defense a B-plus and special teams an F, although I’m not concerned about Conor Lee. That the defense is grading the highest is a good sign, considering the unit was regarded as Pitt’s biggest problem entering the season.

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