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Inside the Ropes with Pitt football – Day 9 practice

There are things the naked eye isn’t trained to see, which is why coaches study practice and game tape with such a religious fervor. So what they see while watching a scrimmage in person and what they catch when watching it again on tape can sometimes differ greatly.

Pitt had only one practice today, a three-hour afternoon session, which allowed Panthers coaches to break down tape of Tuesday’s scrimmage. And coach Dave Wannstedt came away more impressed with his team’s play than he did in its immediate aftermath.

“Initially you have an opinion when you walk off the field and after you go back and assess the film and critique everything, things change a little bit,” Wannstedt said. “The more we watched the tape, (we saw) there weren’t many mental mistakes once we got going. I thought the effort was good.”

Especially that of the running backs.

Wannstedt pointed to the play of sophomore starter LeSean McCoy and freshman Chris Burns, who is trying to make a move up the depth chart. McCoy had 68 yards on 11 carries, while Burns had 47 yards on five carries. Both picked up extra yardage by making defenders miss repeatedly.

“I thought that Chris Burns and LeSean McCoy both ran the ball extremely well, Burns with the younger group and McCoy with the first team,” Wannstedt said. “You walk off the field and say, ‘Geez, Shady didn’t have a 50-yard run.’ Then you look at the numbers and see that he averaged (6.2) yards per carry.”

That isn’t necessarily a knock on the defense, either.

“The longest pass play the defense gave up was 14 yards,” Wannstedt said. “If we don’t give up big plays on defense, we’re not going to give up a whole lot of points. So I thought that was good from a defensive standpoint.”

Overall, Wannstedt is more impressed with the Panthers after watching film than he was in person – which is why coaches watch film.

&#149 I’ll give you one guess the position that most concerns Wannstedt.

“The biggest issue with our team right now is still bringing that offensive line together,” Wannstedt said. “Jason Pinkston, I will recognize him, he did a nice job in the scrimmage yesterday. He made some progress. Joe Thomas, too. I thought our two tackles played fairly well yesterday, and that’s an area obviously where you have to be strong to be good on offense.”

I asked Wannstedt whether it was difficult to assess his offensive linemen, given the talent on the defensive line. There’s a possibility Pinkston and Thomas might be better than they’ve shown if defensive ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard are as good as some believe.

“You really hope that the better your talent gets on your team, the better it is to compete against each other, the competition level gets raised,” Wannstedt said. “You hope that, come Saturday, you’re not going against anybody any better. I can remember some of the great teams I’ve been on, that Saturdays were a lot easier than Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the week. You hope to get to that point, where you have that type of ability on both sides of the ball.”

&#149 Jonathan Baldwin made two more spectacular catches that impressed everyone in attendance – especially SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel, who was visiting Pitt’s camp.

Baldwin caught a floater from Pat Bostick over corner Antwuan Reed and safety Andrew Taglianetti on the right side of the end zone, and touched his feet down to stay inbounds. Baldwin later leaped over corner Ricky Gary to snare an up-for-grabs pass from Kevan Smith.

Those catches brought about the inevitable comparisons to Pitt’s last great receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. The difference is, Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings and learned from future Hall of Fame receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Baldwin is adapting not only to learning the routes but also the complexities of college football.

“The biggest concern we’re dealing with with Jonathan is not so much learning the offense but being able to make adjustments while you’re going full-speed,” Wannstedt said. “Call in a play, they change the coverage, they change the play and he’s got to change his route. That’s what is difficult on any freshman making the transition from high school to college.”

&#149 Baldwin also caught a touchdown on a post pattern, but most of the credit on that play belongs to Kevan Smith, who threw a picture-perfect pass that hit Baldwin in stride. Smith also made a heads-up play by delivering a sidearm (or, perhaps, underarm) screen pass to LaRod Stephens-Howling, who weaved his way through traffic for a long touchdown.

&#149 When Taglianetti signed with Pitt, it was with the understanding that he would likely greyshirt this fall and enroll full-time in January. When receiver Maurice Williams and fullback Shane Brooks transferred, it opened a scholarship for Taglianetti to join the Panthers in time for training camp.

Taglianetti has caught the attention of Wannstedt, who is overseeing the special teams units, and could make his way into the lineup. Taglianetti took some second-team repetitions at free safety alongside Elijah Fields in place of the injured Irv Brown and ahead of walk-on Mike Toerper.

“Taglianetti, from a special teams standpoint, he’s doing an outstanding job,” Wannstedt said. “Irv Brown’s hurt, so we’re getting him more playing time.”

&#149 Cameron Saddler was on crutches and watched practice from the sidelines after twisting his knee before Tuesday’s scrimmage. Wannstedt said Saddler’s status is unknown but “he’s getting an MRI tonight and we’ll find out.”

&#149 Weak-side linebacker Shane Murray injured his left shoulder during individual drills and sat out practice. Redshirt freshman Tristan Roberts replaced him with the first-team defense.

&#149 Here’s an example of how a position of strength can suddenly become a concern: John Pelusi also skipped practice to rest his left shoulder, and the tight end position took another hit when Nate Byham left practice with a shoulder injury. That left Dorin Dickerson to handle first-team reps and freshman Mike Cruz to take second-team reps.

&#149 Kevin Collier also left practice during individual drills with an unknown injury, and is in jeopardy of being bypassed on the depth chart by not only redshirt freshman Shariff Harris but Burns.

The same could be said for redshirt freshman cornerback Buddy Jackson, who has been out with groin/hamstring troubles. Expected to compete with Jovani Chappel for the starting boundary corner job, Jackson instead has lost out to Ricky Gary as the third corner and could be losing ground to freshmen Ronald Hobby, Jarred Holley and Antwuan Reed, who are splitting second- and third-team reps.

Like the saying goes, you can’t make the club in the tub.

Or, in this case, on a stationary bicycle.

&#149 Quarterback Bill Stull wore a red jersey in practice, indicating that he was off-limits to contact, in a move designed to protect his sore ribs. He threw the ball well, even if Oderick Turner dropped one right on the money. But Stull doubled over in pain after being bumped into following one throw.

It just wasn’t Turner’s day. He also had a pass hit off the top of his helmet after being tipped by corner Aaron Berry and land in the hands of Roberts for an interception in the end zone.

&#149 Wannstedt was asked if Pat Bostick has a realistic chance at the starting quarterback job, and while the Pitt coach didn’t rule it out he also downplayed it enough to know that Stull is the unspoken starter.

“We have two more scrimmages, one Saturday and one next Wednesday. Pat needs to take it one day at a time,” Wannstedt said. “I don’t even think he was in camp last year at this time, so there’s no comparison there. Is he better than he was in the spring? Definitely. Stronger, quicker, you’d like to think smarter. But so was Billy Stull. We have good competition at quarterback, and Pat just needs to worry about going out there and working on what he needs to work on for himself and not really worry about the competition. That’ll take care of itself.”

&#149 Pitt practices twice on Thursday, from 8-10:30 a.m. and 3-5:30 p.m.

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