The biggest news of the morning session – and Pitt’s first bad break of training camp – was the revelation that redshirt junior defensive end Doug Fulmer was likely lost for the season.
And maybe done for his career.
An MRI showed that Fulmer has a torn ligament in his left knee (the good one). You have to feel for Fulmer, who missed last season while recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee after missing most of his sophomore season with a fractured left ankle.
Fulmer, a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder from Syracuse, showed so much promise at the start of his career. The defensive prep player of the year as a freshman after moving from safety to linebacker to end, he started three of the first four games as a redshirt freshman, recording six tackles, including two for losses, and a sack (against Cincinnati) before the injury against The Citadel.
After missing four of the first six practices, Fulmer likely wouldn’t have started ahead of sophomore Jabaal Sheard. But Fulmer brought veteran leadership to a position that lost starters Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop to graduation and the threat of a pass rush to the left side, opposite Greg Romeus.
As a tribute to his fallen teammate and classmate, defensive tackle Gus Mustakas wore Fulmer’s No. 48 blue jersey to practice Tuesday. Now, the Panthers have to find someone to fill the void.
* Although the obvious candidates are redshirt sophomore Ty Tkach and redshirt freshmen Tony Tucker and Justin Hargrove – Tkach is the safe bet, because of his experience and knowledge – there is a surprise contender: walk-on Chas Alecxih.
At 6-5, 275, Alecxih used his surprising quickness to become a pass-rushing threat at defensive tackle. But the Panthers have depth there, with Mick Williams, Mustakas and Myles Caragein. So Alecxih was moved back to end, where he played at Penn Manor High School (where he was a teammate of Jordan Gibbs’).
Alecxih ran today with the second-team defense, opposite Tkach and ahead of Tucker, and could put himself in position to make the Panthers’ two-deep.
* The Panthers practiced in the helmets and shoulder pads, obviously saving their hard hitting for this afternoon’s first scrimmage. Quarterback Bill Stull, who was banged up in Monday’s practice, didn’t participate in 11-on-11 drills and was replaced on the first team by Pat Bostick. Jason Pinkston also worked in the individual drills but not in team drills and was replaced at left tackle by Gibbs.
Here’s a few highlights:
* Strong-side linebacker Adam Gunn broke up a Bostick rollout pass intended for Nate Byham by laying a shoulder into the tight end and knocking him off-balance.
* Romeus beat Gibbs on the outside, then stripped the ball from Bostick as the quarterback was in his delivery. Romeus later beat Gibbs to sack Bostick.
While Gibbs has impressed coaches with his footwork and toughness, his difficulty handling Romeus shows that Gibbs might be best-suited for right tackle.
Or that Romeus is going to be an absolute pass-rush terror.
* The hype surrounding freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin has raised the bar for Pitt’s cornerbacks, and they are responding to the challenge. Ricky Gary deflected one pass intended for Baldwin, while Jarrod Holley broke up several others.
That’s not necessarily good enough for new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. He watched Holley knock away one pass, then lit into Holley for not intercepting the ball. Bennett has emphasized the need for Pitt to improve its takeaways, and there is a sense that just breaking up a pass won’t beget a pat on the back.
* Bostick fumbled an exchange from center Robb Houser, which was recovered by Sheard. Bostick didn’t look particularly sharp today, despite getting the majority of first-team reps.
* Linebacker Nate Nix dropped Kevin Collier for a 5-yard loss with a nice hit in the backfield.
* Aaron Smith started camp strong, but has struggled lately to maintain his concentration. With Alecxih and Caragein in pursuit, Bostick dumped a screen pass to Smith, who promptly dropped it. That’s been a real problem for Smith, who could soon find himself on the outside looking in on the receiver depth chart.
* In situational drills in the red zone, freshman quarterback Tino Sunseri ran a play-action fake that seemed to fool everyone when he stuck the ball in the belly of a back, then pulled it out at the last second and ran a bootleg left for a touchdown.
* In the two-minute drill, LeSean McCoy made a spectacular one-hand catch of a screen pass from Bostick, reaching back to pull in a pass thrown behind him.
* Weak-side linebacker Shane Murray broke up a deep pass in the end zone intended for Dorin Dickerson, who landed hard in the red clay of the warning track and limped away.
* Give Byham an “e” for effort, after reaching over Elijah Fields on an underthrown pass. The ball was chest-high on Fields, but Byham jumped over the safety and tried to tip it to himself with Gary draped on his left side. Byham came down with the ball, but was out of bounds in the back of the end zone.