Don’t know if it was because Pitt coaches changed the script of plays — oops, let me first apologize for using Pitt and script in the same sentence — but the offense looked drastically different today.
For one, the quarterbacks actually had time to finish their drops and spot receivers. For another, they actually completed the majority of their passes. And, for the most part, the receivers caught those passes. Some even found their way into the end zone.
Forgive the sarcasm, but it was a far cry from Thursday’s practices, when the defense, as expected, thoroughly dominated.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt certainly noticed.
“The encouraging thing between this morning and afternoon was the quarterback play overall,” Wannstedt said after the second session. “They all improved, but Billy Stull and Pat (Bostick) were up in the 80 percentile as far as completions – and that’s where they should be in my opinion when you’re out here practicing and not scrimmaging.
“Both guys responded the way you’d like them to. Kevan Smith was better today, Greg Cross was better today and Tino Sunseri made two throws this morning that were as good as any throws that we’ve had since we started. I was really encouraged how the quarterbacks as a group responded from the first few days out here. That helps the practice go smooth.”
• We mentioned Sunseri’s TD passes in the morning post, so let’s start with Bostick. I’ve noted that his physique has been radically altered, and it’s certainly had a positive affect on his footwork. His arm is still suspect, but Bostick makes up for it with his smarts and soft touch.
He’s moving better in the pocket, and ran one nice play-action fake to find freshman receiver Mike Shanahan for a 20-plus-yard gain. Bostick also threw a scoring pass. More on that later.
At the end of practice, during the two-minute drill, a Bostick pass bounced off the hands of Shanahan and into those of middle linebacker Max Gruder for an interception to end the day.
Although it was the only pick of the day, Pitt coaches don’t tend to hold the tipped passes against the quarterbacks because they don’t fall under the category of mental mistakes.
• Like starter Conredge Collins, redshirt freshman fullback Henry Hynoski doesn’t get many carries but had some nice catches out of the backfield. On one, he beat outside linebacker Brandon Lindsey across the middle. Later, he turned a screen pass from Kevan Smith into a touchdown.
• At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Elijah Fields is a menacing presence at strong safety. When Cameron Saddler caught a swing pass, Fields wrapped up the 5-7, 175-pounder and lifted him sideways. If this was a full-contact drill, Saddler likely would have been added to the list of those Fields has dumped on their head.
• It was a tough day for Saddler, who was sniffed out on a receiver reverse by defensive end Justin Hargrove, who dropped Saddler for a loss in the backfield.
* On the same day I hyped the circus catches freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin has been making, the Aliquippa product beat defensive backs Scott Shrake and Danny Cafaro only to drop a picture-perfect bomb from Kevan Smith.
Baldwin later redeemed himself by beating corner Buddy Jackson on a corner fade from Bostick for a touchdown. Jackson was sent to the sideline after the play. When Jackson returned, he jammed Baldwin hard at the line of scrimmage and took him out of the play, where Smith rolled right and threw incomplete.
It wasn’t a bad day for Baldwin, who later made a terrific catch on a screen pass and scored a touchdown.
• The receiving corps has taken a hit, what with Mo Williams leaving school, Derek Kinder (knee) and T.J. Porter (toe) missing practice time. But Wannstedt praised the freshmen receivers for coming along nice and giving the Panthers different dimensions.
“That’s three outstanding freshmen receivers,” Wannstedt said. “That’s a neat group right there.”
• Speaking of injured players, Kinder and defensive end Doug Fulmer (knee) could be back to practice soon but will probably be limited in the amount of contact drills they participate in.
“I expect them both to practice tomorrow,” Wannstedt said. “I think we’re going to have to pick and choose with both of those guys until we get them back to 100 percent.”
• The Panthers practice in full pads for the first time from 2-5 p.m. Saturday, and Wannstedt hopes it turns up the intensity. One thing is for sure: it will reduce the amount of repetitions certain players are getting, and the depth chart could soon change.
“I would expect another surge of energy now that we’re all back together,” Wannstedt said. “We’ll have some live stuff tomorrow, a live inside-run drill for sure.”