The big news on the final day of training camp came when Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt finally, officially named junior Bill Stull the starting quarterback.
It was perhaps the worst-kept secret at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex, considering Stull had taken every first-team rep throughout camp. The announcement came as a surprise to at least one person: Bill Stull.
“It’s kind of a relief,” Stull said. “It feels good, like all the things I’ve been doing have been working. That’s one goal of mine I accomplished and I’ll just keep moving on. It’s time to put that behind me and worry about the team.”
The former Seton-La Salle star, the son of a Marine, showed his toughness during camp by battling back from an injury on his right (throwing hand) thumb that needed five stitches to win over his teammates and coaches.
“As much as I want to say I’m ready to go, we still have a lot of preparation,” Stull said, in anticipation of the Sept. 1 season opener against Eastern Michigan at Heinz Field. “But I’m very, very excited.”
• The Panthers concluded their final full day of practice with their third scrimmage, although this one was much more controlled than the previous two. There was no full-contact between the first-team offense and defense, and a handful of starters sat out to allow injuries to heal.
Offensively, tackles Jeff Otah and Jason Pinkston were replaced by Chase Clowser and John Bachman, respectively. Defensively, the top three ends – Joe Clermond, Chris McKillop and Greg Romeus – all sat out. In their place were Ty Tkach and Jabaal Sheard. Ricky Gary and Aaron Berry split reps at cornerback.
“We decided to come out with the starters not tackling to the ground, and the reason is real simple: We’re beat up right now at certain key positions,” Wannstedt said. “LaRod (Stephens-Howling), LeSean (McCoy) and Conredge Collins have had plenty of carries where they got tackled to the ground. We felt we could get full-speed work with the interior and, at the same time, not do live tackling with the starters.”
• The no-contact rule altered the style of play, but here’s a look at the statistical leaders:
Stephens-Howling led all rushers with 44 yards, which came on his only carry. Freshman Shariff Harris was next with 22 yards on five carries, followed by McCoy with 20 yards on eight carries, including a 3-yard scoring run.
Stull completed 9 of 13 passes (69 percent) for 92 yards. That included a 4-yard touchdown on a fade pass to tight end Darrell Strong, who bobbled the ball before coming down with it in the back right corner of the end zone. Kevan Smith was 2 of 4 for 15 yards with an interception, by safety Dom DeCicco. Pat Bostick was 3 of 7 for 53 yards and a touchdown pass.
T.J. Porter led all receivers with four catches (for 28 yards), while Strong had a team-high 40 yards on three catches. Freshman Maurice Williams pulled in perhaps the most spectacular catch, jumping high for a 30-yard touchdown from Bostick in double coverage.
Punter Dave Brytus averaged 35.3 yards on four attempts, including a long of 44 yards. Although that number doesn’t jump off the charts, Brytus actually booted a couple punts high for a nice hang time.
Safeties DeCicco and Mike Phillips finished tied for the team lead with four tackles apiece, and walk-on defensive lineman Chas Alexcih had a pair of sacks.
• Other scrimmage highlights included:
• Strong-side linebacker Adam Gunn drawing praise from defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads for containing the run, forcing McCoy to change direction on a second-and-3.
• Cornerback Lowell Robinson recovering to break up a deep pass intended for Williams at the last second.
• Weak-side linebacker Nate Nix dropping Harris for a loss on third-and-1.
• Tkach making a nice read on a play-action toss to McCoy around the left end and containing the outside, forcing the tailback to retreat on fourth-and-1.
• Strong catching passes over the middle for gains of 20 and 16 yards – sandwiched around a 15-yard run by McCoy – on the drive that set up his touchdown catch.
• Defensive tackle Tommie Duhart ending the seventh series with a fumble recovery after Smith mishandled the exchange.
• Freshman defensive lineman Myles Caragein, who has shown the ability to play end or tackle, sacking Bostick on one play and deflecting a pass on the next.
• Bostick completing a nice play-action rollout with a 14-yard strike to walk-on tight end Dustin Walters.
• Wannstedt was asked if he had a rooting interest in the offense or defense in the final scrimmage.
“Early in camp, your defense better be playing good. At this point, I want to see us score points,” Wannstedt said. “You’re always looking for the offense to make plays because we know that has to happen come (Sept. 1).”