The Panthers ended today’s second session with an overtime drill, and it quickly became a show of OD starring in OT.
Oderick Turner capped one of his best practices in some time with a punctuation mark, catching a 23-yard pass from Bill Stull on third-and-25 pass and – after LeSean McCoy converted a fourth-and-2 – a corner fade in the end zone to end the day.
Turner is quickly developing into Stull’s favorite target, and took a step toward regaining the starting split-end job by showing off skills that points put on the scoreboard.
More importantly, the offense responded to adversity and took an important win over a defense that has been dominant at times. That was certainly the case in third-down drills.
After sacks by Tommie Duhart and Jabaal Sheard, Stull found Turner on a square-in pattern for a big gain. Then Stull lobbed a scoring pass to Turner, who jumped over Jovani Chappel and Eric Thatcher for the catch in the left corner of the end zone.
“It was really perfect from a coaches’ script standpoint that we got a chance to work a little overtime situation but, more importantly, just when we were feeling good and thought things were under control, offensively we made a big play and ended up scoring,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “There was some good football stuff but also some good psychological warfare that happened today. That’s what training camp is about.”
• Just like in spring drills, Turner has been waging a one-on-one battle with Chappel. Although Turner has a decided height advantage – at least six inches, if you go by their listed sizes – Chappel has made it difficult by playing physical defense.
But Turner made a nice adjustment to a timing patter, turning and catching a pass that arrived on his inside shoulder and sidestepping Chappel for a big gain. Chappel, however, broke up another pass thrown inside on Turner.
• It’s still very early in the position battles, and Wannstedt didn’t exactly give Turner a ringing endorsement.
“He’s had a solid camp so far,” Wannstedt said of Turner.
That might have something to do with Turner’s competition. He’s going up directly against Cedric McGee, the Conway Award as the most improved player of spring drills, and a Wannstedt favorite because of his consistency in blocking and catching.
In fact, Wannstedt expressed some disappointment in the receiving corps in general.
“I think the receiver group as a whole is not where they need to be, to be honest with you, but they’re working hard and they’re getting better,” Wannstedt said. “We’ve just got to get back in sync a little bit. With Billy being out last year, they’re getting used to him and the timing takes a little bit of time.”
• Speaking of receivers in general and split ends in particular, Jonathan Baldwin downplayed the significance of his incredible one-hand catch in Saturday’s practice.
“That catch, I just made a good play,” Baldwin said. “I’ve just got to go back to the huddle and keep doing the same things. That was just one play. It’s not going to determine us winning or losing the game right there. I’ve got to keep doing the same thing every day.”
Baldwin was reminded that few other Pitt players, past or present, could have made such a catch and that it likely caught the coaches’ attention.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Baldwin said. “I believe a few people can make plays like that. It was just that, at that time, I made that play. I wasn’t ever thinking about opening people’s eyes with that play. I just have to keep working hard and let the coaches see it.”
His amazing athleticism aside, if you’re wondering why Baldwin isn’t more in the mix for the starting split end job, it has something to do with having a greater learning curve. He admitted that he has a ways to improve in terms of route-running and knowing the playbook.
“The first thing is, you’ve got to learn what you’re supposed to do,” Baldwin said. “Once you know what to do, it’s all fun. But when you don’t know where to go and you’re just running around, it’s kind of confusing. That’s why I’ve been studying my plays, so I know where to go and do what I came here to do.”
Oh, and there’s one other thing. “Finding people to block, because sometimes I forget which people I’m supposed to block,” Baldwin said. “It’s a couple little things that I’ve got to work on, but little things are what count so I’ve got to work on those things.”
• Speaking of freshmen, Wannstedt noted that he likes the chances of some of Pitt’s to play a role this season.
“I’m going to say this now: I think we’re probably going to have more freshmen help us this year than we did last year,” Wannstedt said. “Most of it might be special teams – I’m not sure yet – but I’m very encouraged by four or five of these guys. We could have as many as six this year. This group has been very impressive.”
The Panthers used McCoy – who spent a year in prep school – quarterback Pat Bostick, receiver Maurice Williams, defensive end Jabaal Sheard and safety Dom DeCicco as freshmen last year.
Wannstedt didn’t identify this season’s prospects, but Baldwin and cornerback Jarred Holley look like sure bets. Offensive tackle Lucas Nix has made his way onto the two-deep. And kicker Kevin Harper could be used in kickoffs. That leaves the likelihood of Cameron Saddler as a possible return specialist and Andrew Taglianetti as a potential player on kick coverage units.
• After missing three days of practice because of knee injuries, receiver Derek Kinder and defensive end Doug Fulmer both returned to practice and took part in full-contact drills.
But seven others either missed part or all of practice with assorted ailments: defensive tackles Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas, defensive end Greg Romeus, cornerbacks Aaron Berry, Danny Cafaro and Buddy Jackson and safety Irvan Brown.
Which kind of peeved their coach.
“We have too many guys with bumps and bruises that we need to get out there and start practicing,” Wannstedt said. “There’s too many guys out there right now. It’s never acceptable from a coach’s standpoint. You want your entire team out there.”
Brandon Lindsey, for example, hurt his right hand or wrist Saturday but practiced wearing a cast today.
Duhart switched from nose to defensive tackle to fill in for Mustakas and Williams. Fulmer flipped from left end to the right side to replace Romeus. Ricky Gary took Berry’s spot at field corner. Ronald Hobby played the boundary behind Chappel. And Mike Toerper moved up to the second team at safety.
• Jason Pinkston’s move from right tackle to the left side wasn’t unexpected, but it is a challenge for the redshirt sophomore because he has never before played left tackle in his career.
Or, for that matter, on the left side.
“It’s new. I’m still trying to get my feet right,” Pinkston said. “I’m over there pass-blocking like I’m still on the right side, so I’ve got to try to work on that.”
Possibly complicating things is that Pinkston had surgery last fall on his left shoulder, although he said that it “is still strong, so I can’t complain. I think they wanted to see how my shoulder help up, coming off the operation. It’s held up.”
The biggest key for Pinkston is to develop his footwork, starting with dropping his left foot back in pass-protection and using his quickness to counter the speed of the pass rush and protect the blind side of his quarterback. Going up against the likes of Greg Romeus and Doug Fulmer every day should help.
“I’m backwards right now,” Pinkston said. “I’m going to get it ironed out.”
• Other practice highlights included:
Starting with an Oklahoma drill that featured Chas Alexcih beating Lucas Nix; Shayne Hale getting a nice initial push on Wayne Jones, but Jones fighting back to pancake Hale.
Stull finding McCoy on a wheel route for a touchdown.
Stull hitting McGee on a crossing pattern for another score.
Sheard using a nice inside swim move to beat tight end John Pelusi to flush Stull out of the pocket.
Kevan Smith taking a three-step drop and firing a pass to Baldwin for a first down.
Holley making a nice read and stopping Aundre Wright short on a pass in the left flat.
Scott McKillop perfectly timing a blitz to knock right guard John Malecki backwards and disrupt a Stull pass. McKillop soon after made a nice play by chasing down McCoy for a tackle.
Steve Dell landing a nice hit on tight end Mike Cruz, setting the tone for walk-on Scott Shrake’s hit on Cruz on the following play that caused a fumble.
Tony Tucker batting down a Bostick pass at the line.
Bostick throwing a pretty 50-yard touchdown pass to Wright, who split safeties Elijah Fields and Taglianetti. On the next play, Taglianetti got revenge with a big hit on Wright.
Toerper intercepting a Tino Sunseri pass, only to absorb a big hit on the return by Dorin Dickerson. Sunseri then sidestepped the pass rush to find a wide-open Saddler, who beat Toerper for a touchdown.
• The Panthers practice once on Monday, from 2-5 p.m.