Dave Wannstedt was disappointed after a lackluster afternoon indoor session on the next-to-last day of training camp, especially because he had just rewarded his team.
“Today’s practice was probably the first one where we didn’t come out and practice with the same intensity and execution and effort we previously had during camp,” Wannstedt said. “Today was the first day we were a little off. Maybe it’s my fault. We went to a movie this afternoon and didn’t have meetings, and that’s what you get when you go to a movie, I guess.”
While Wannstedt studied practice film, the Panthers watched Rush Hour 3 at the South Side Works. And, according to one player, no one slept at the theater.
It wasn’t the best way to prepare for full-contact drills.
“Once they get over there in that big chair, with air conditioning and a big box of popcorn,” Wannstedt said, “the last thing on their mind was coming over here and banging heads.”
Wannstedt looked on the bright side, hoping that it was a way to grab his team’s attention. It might not qualify as adversity, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to turn the tables on the players and get them refocused.
“All these situations, if you don’t have bad practices and you don’t have crises, it’s been said that sometimes you have to create a crisis,” Wannstedt said. “This wasn’t a crisis, but you have to create a situation to get their attention.
“We’ve got to find a way to deal with that because there will be games where the game starts off like that, we’ve got to find a way to get the thing turned around the right way.”
• Although the practice lacked intensity overall, there were some memorable moments. Perhaps the most interesting was when outside linebacker Dorin Dickerson ran tailback LeSean McCoy out of bounds, with a grip on his facemask, and sent him tumbling onto the track.
Dickerson and McCoy had a heated exchange on their way back to the huddle. A few plays later, they had another big collision when Dickerson blitzed and McCoy picked up the block in pass protection.
McCoy later blazed a trail up the middle, shaking middle linebacker Steve Dell with a stutter step and leaving the defense in his dust.
• Even so, McCoy wasn’t the Panthers’ most impressive freshman. That honor belonged to receiver Maurice Williams, who caught a pair of deep passes from Pat Bostick deep on the sideline for long gains.
The first came when Williams jumped over cornerback Buddy Jackson as safety Dom DeCicco was closing in. The second came when Williams out-jumped corner Sherod Murdock. Williams also caught a nice pass from Kevan Smith, and the Erie native’s big-play ability drew praise.
“The one player I have to single out today – and he’s had two real good days – is Mo Williams,” Wannstedt said. “We know what type of athlete he is, but he made plays today, some big plays.”
• While Wannstedt didn’t want to be pinned down to a specific number, it’s reasonable to suggest that at least six true freshmen could play this fall. In all likelihood, that appears to include McCoy, DeCicco, Jabaal Sheard, Williams and Wright.
The Panthers could redshirt as many as 20 freshmen, but Wannstedt wants all of them to b ready, just in case.
“We’ve got a great freshman class,” he said. “A lot of these kids are lining up in the second or third team. The (Steve) Slaton story of two years ago is classic. He started training camp as the No. 4 tailback at West Virginia. Before the season was out, he was the starter. That’s a great story, a real story, for all these young kids right now.”
• First-team defensive ends Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop were held out of full-contact drills, with Greg Romeus and Ty Tkach filling in.
Under previous circumstances, that would be devastating to the Panthers. This year, Pitt simply plugged freshmen Justin Hargrove, Sheard and Tony Tucker with the second-team defense.
The Panthers, in fact, have so much depth that heralded junior-college transfer Tommie Duhart – expected to challenge for a starting role – is splitting second-team reps.
“I like where we’re at with the defensive line,” Wannstedt said. “Our offensive line, because of injuries and lack of depth, is where we’re trying to catch up.”
• Speaking of the offensive line, starting left tackle Jeff Otah didn’t participate in full-contact drills, and was replaced by Chase Clowser.
Freshman Jordan Gibbs, who was a tight end at Penn Manor High School, was the second-team left tackle, opposite redshirt sophomore John Bachman. With receiver Derek Kinder and left guard Chris Jacobson out with knee injuries, Otah is easily the one player Pitt can least afford to lose.
He is, however, eligible for a redshirt.
• Pitt will conduct its final two-a-day practice, with a light morning session emphasizing special teams work and its third and final scrimmage in the afternoon.
Wannstedt said he will set the depth chart after evaluating the scrimmage, which puts all of the players battling for starting jobs on notice to perform.
“I’m looking for improvement by some of the older players. You’re looking for some of them to get better,” Wannstedt said. “You’re looking for some of the younger players, now that they’ve been around here a couple weeks to make a move. They’ve got to make some plays. There’s been some tentativeness, which is expected early.”
* Former Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe, a South Hills native, spent the day at Pitt headquarters as a guest of Wannstedt. Donahoe is expected to attend Pitt’s practices Wednesday.
• With NCAA rules changes moving kickoffs 5 yards back to the 30-yard line, Pitt has been holding auditions for its specialists. They are going so well that Wannstedt is ready to place a classified ad in the Pitt News:
Wanted: Undergrad with strong leg, capable of kicking a football 70 yards off tee. Must be available on Saturdays (and one Wednesday night). Some travel necessary. To apply, contact special teams coordinator Charlie Partridge at 3450 S. Water St., Pittsburgh, PA 15203.
“Dave Brytus has really come on the last week with his punting and Conor Lee has been good with his field goals,” Wannstedt said, “but we’re still searching for that guy that can kick it in the end zone. So if there is a he or a she that can kick it in the end zone …”