Pitt’s freshmen got a surprise today when they boarded a bus believing they were headed to a “life skills” session. Instead, they were taken to Dave & Buster’s at The Waterfront for lunch and an hour of playing video games.
It was a reward for the class of 24 players who are adjusting to the rigors of Division I football, but it also was an opportunity for them to bond with Pat Bostick. After missing the first seven days of training camp, Bostick returned Tuesday and is practicing with the Panthers.
“It set him back, but we were doing a lot of things without pads,” Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. “The tempo picked up when we put the pads on, and he missed that. Situations we could have put him in those days would have helped, but we’ve got to get him caught up somehow.”
Despite missing the first eight practices, Bostick is being counted upon to make an early impact, even if it’s just by providing necessary depth at his position. Pitt has only three scholarship quarterbacks in camp, so Bostick immediately directed the third-team offense and took some snaps with the second team, as well.
After being given time to return home to deal with “personal issues,” Bostick appears to be gaining a level of acceptance from his teammates. He certainly looks comfortable throwing the ball. Although his delivery is unorthodox — he holds the ball chest high instead of behind his ear — he has a quick release, throws a nice spiral.
Then again, his issues aren’t football-related.
“I think football is a comfort level for him,” Cavanaugh said. “When he’s talking ball or has a football in his hands and has somebody to throw to, that’s when he’s most comfortable. It’s exciting that he has the opportunity to be back in that environment. I think it’s going to do him well.”
* Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt didn’t have much to say about the first scrimmage, other than this:
“I like our depth on the defensive line for the first time since I’ve been here, if we can stay healthy,” Wannstedt said, also mentioning the second-string secondary of corners Ricky Gary and Lowell Robinson and safeties Jovani Chappel and Dom DeCicco.
“I thought LaRod Stephens-Howling showed up and played like LaRod does. Other than that, we’ve got work to do.”
* More revealing was the change to the first-team defense, where Dorin Dickerson finally moved ahead of Adam Gunn at strong-side linebacker. Dickerson has made some big plays in practice, and Gunn is being switched to middle linebacker to provide a backup for Scott McKillop.
Also, senior Jemeel Brady and redshirt freshman Nate Nix alternated at first-team weak-side linebacker in place of starter Shane Murray, who was given the day off because of blisters on his feet.
“What we really want to have when camp ends is six guys we can count on,” Wannstedt said. “Those guys all are performing pretty well. I like to cross-train those guys as much as we can.”
* The possibility of Mike McGlynn moving to center appears to increase daily. McGlynn is being held out of contact drills while recovering from a torn labrum, but has been snapping for field goals, point-after kicks and punts in practice. He worked with the quarterbacks during individual drills, and is “close” to returning to practice.
“Mike’s actually taken a step forward this week,” Wannstedt said. “He’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
Wannstedt said Pitt would address McGlynn’s status this weekend, although he ruled him out of Saturday’s scrimmage.
“As his strength increases, the next step would be to get him in pads doing drill work, then the team stuff,” Wannstedt said. “We’re just taking it one day at a time.”
* Two players made position changes, switching from defense to offense to solidify depth issues:
Redshirt sophomore Craig Bokor moved from defensive tackle to offensive left guard, and split second-team reps with true freshman Chris Jacobson.
“I think he can go over there and be a second-team player relatively quick,” Wannstedt said. “And then who knows from there.”
Freshman Aaron Smith moved from cornerback to receiver, a position he initially played last August before a shoulder injury forced him to grayshirt. Smith was a third-team corner, but can help the receiver position, which was down to seven after losing senior Derek Kinder and redshirt freshman walk-on Francis Johns to torn ACLs.
“We recruited him as a receiver/athlete,” Wannstedt said of Smith. “We moved him just because of the depth situation. We’ll see what transpires.”
* Although Bokor was playing well on defense, the Panthers are desperate for help offensively. McGlynn is out, left guard C.J. Davis has a minor shoulder injury and right guard Joe Thomas has a pinched nerve.
Four true freshmen have run with the second team at times: left tackle Jordan Gibbs, left guard Jacobson, center Greg Gaskins and right guard John Fieger.
“We’re beat up a little bit on the offensive line,” Wannstedt said. “The backup offensive linemen, a lot of them are true freshmen. That’s tough, especially when the backup defensive linemen are Mick Williams and John Malecki, guys that have been around a little bit. It’s not as evened up as what youï¿½d like. When those guys get in those situations, it’s not the best match-ups.”
* Aaron Smithï¿½s move to offense was precipitated by the development of Gary and Robinson. Neither player looked like he had much of a future on defense this past spring, but both have become playmakers and appear to be settling in as the second-team corners.
If they continue to develop, Pitt might have the luxury of giving redshirts to true freshmen Buddy Jackson and Sherod Murdock.
“Ricky Gary and Lowell Robinson are both playing real good at corner,” Wannstedt said. “And then we’ve got the two young kids we haven’t even gotten a look at yet.”
Wannstedt said redshirt junior Marcel Pestano and redshirt sophomore Oderick Turner have been “the two most consistent” receivers but Cedric McGee and T.J. Porter are still rotating with the first team.
* It looked like a fun day to be a receiver, as coach Aubrey Hill had his players make diving catches, turning their shoulder before landing on a huge foam pad.
Walk-on Austin Ransom seemed to be the most enthusiastic participant, continually laying out for the ball. Porter made a nice one-handed grab.
* Cavanaugh complained about the number of turnovers in the first scrimmage — “We had two interceptions and lost two fumbled exchanges, and that’s enough to get you beat” — so he couldnï¿½t have been happy about the way 11-on-11 drills began.
Porter caught a screen pass from Stull, then cut inside before fumbling after a big hit by Scott McKillop. Safety Eric Thatcher recovered.
* Offensive line coach Paul Dunn has to be disgusted with his unit’s mental mistakes. First it was center-quarterback exchanges (Bostick botched one with Greg Gaskins). Now, it’s the snap count.
The second-team line committed one illegal procedure penalty after another. Right guard Dom Williams went first, and was replaced by freshman John Fieger. Then tight end Darrell Strong jumped. Then right tackle John Bachman.
* Gary drew an “atta boy” from secondary coach Chris Ball after knocking away a Kevan Smith deep pass intended for McGee.
* Jemeel Brady seems comfortable at weak-side linebacker, and drew notice for plays like this: When Bill Stull threw a short pass to fullback Conredge Collins, Brady threw a big shoulder to break it up.
* Cornerback Aaron Berry might not be the next Darrelle Revis, but he doesn’t get beat very often. Berry had a nice breakup on a deep pass intended for Porter along the right sideline despite having his back to the play. Later, the deflected a Stull slant pass intended for McGee.
* Freshman tailback LeSean McCoy makes big plays seem so effortless, it’s easy to overlook them. He had two nice runs in 11-on-11 drills, slipping through the line and sidestepping a tackle to break outside on one and catching a dump pass and bursting 40 yards on another.
* The biggest play of the day came when All-Big East defensive end pressured Stull, whose attempt at a screen pass was intercepted by defensive tackle Gus Mustakas and returned for a touchdown to the delight of the blue jerseys.
* Wannstedt hopes that by putting his players on the field for 45 minutes by themselves in pressure situations, the Panthers will be forced to develop camaraderie.
“Right now is when you start to form chemistry on your team,” Wannstedt said. ï¿½When things get tough and everybody is tired and beat up, now that leadership has a tendency to surface. Thatï¿½s about where weï¿½re at this point in the game.ï¿½
If that’s the case, Pitt is finding defensive leaders in Clermond, Scott McKillop and Berry. Stephens-Howling has been the best on an offense looking for more. McGlynn, whenever he returns, could be the answer.