The Panthers mean business.
After a physical morning practice that saw full-speed, short-yardage and goal-line drills, Pitt coaches tested their players’ will by going full-speed this afternoon with third-down drills designed to tire them out.
Although some of the situational plays called for short passes – unfortunately, many were shorter than the down-and-distance required – a good percentage were deep balls that left receivers and corners gassed.
The day ended with conditioning, and the Panthers were visibly taxed after running a series of gassers. That didn’t bother Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who believes it’s a sign of their strength and conditioning.
“To run as much as we did after two practices at this point, I think that’s an indication that they’re in great shape,” Wannstedt said. “Everybody knows the great job that (strength coaches) Buddy Morris and James Smith do. It makes a difference. I think a lot of teams come to camp to get in shape for the season. We come to camp to get ready for the season – not to get in shape, to get ready. We’re one step beyond that when our guys show up.”
That the second half of training camp started this way shows that Wannstedt is serious about making major improvements. Not only are Panthers starters pushing through injuries – tight end Nate Byham and linebacker Shane Murray both returned to the lineup a day after banging their shoulders – but those not participating are risking being left behind.
“I thought we made some strides today from the standpoint that we’re in the middle of training camp, we’re halfway up that mountain and the guys responded like they want to make an attempt to get to the top,” Wannstedt said. “I was very pleased with the effort today. … The guys were really into what we were trying to do and trying to get better.”
• Left guard C.J. Davis missed the afternoon session, and was replaced on the first-team offense by fifth-year senior Dom Williams. Redshirt freshman John Fieger moved to the second-team offense at left guard.
It’s possible that Williams is ahead of redshirt freshman Chris Jacobson for the job as the “swing” guard, or first guard off the bench. Or it could be a troubling sign for redshirt junior John Bachman, who started three games at right guard last season but has been running with the third-team, behind starter John Malecki and Jacobson.
Then again, maybe Pitt is feeling like it has enough depth to elevate the backups at each position in case of an injury. If that’s the case, Williams would step in for Davis and Jacobson for Malecki, but Bachman would be buried on the depth chart.
• Receiver Cedric McGee also sat out the second session after injuring his ankle this morning. Even though McGee rode off on a cart, he was able to walk on his own this afternoon so it shouldn’t be alarming.
McGee also appears to be getting some reps back at flanker after starting the camp in competition with Oderick Turner at split end. That could be a result of Derek Kinder’s limited reps or a sign that Turner’s job is secure. Either way, look for McGee and Turner to see the field this season.
They just might be lining up opposite each other.
• Speaking of Kinder, he’s starting to look like himself again.
Kinder has shown some speed in camp this week, and it looks like it just might be a matter of him trusting his knee.
“I don’t know if he got more work, but he got more balls thrown to him today,” Wannstedt said. “So far, so good. He’s coming on. Saturday will be another stepping stone for him, and we’ll keep progressing until opening day.”
• Highlights included:
• Nice pass breakups by cornerback Aaron Berry on deep post pass intended for Oderick Turner; by safety Elijah Fields, who ran step for step with tight end Dorin Dickerson; and safety Dom DeCicco, who knocked away a pass intended for Byham.
v Freshman corner Antwuan Reed intercepting a deep sideline pass intended for Jonathan Baldwin, and later having the hit of the day on 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Shanahan.
• Pat Bostick throwing a long touchdown pass to Jonathan Baldwin, who was wide open after blown coverage by Reed and safety Andrew Taglianetti.
• Turner making the catch of the day, extending to snare a Bill Stull pass thrown over the middle and just past safety Eric Thatcher on a skinny post for a touchdown.
• Cornerback Jovani Chappel intercepting a pass that tipped off Turner’s hands.
• Austin Ransom speeding through arm-tackle attempts for a big gain along the visiting sidelines.
• Stull finding LeSean McCoy on a screen pass during a jailbreak blitz, and McCoy sprinting up the middle of the field with the ball extended in front of him to taunt the defenders as he ran by. (McCoy tried to dunk the ball over the goal post, but fell about a foot short).
• Freshman Chris Burns showing nice acceleration in breaking a jersey-tackle attempt and sprinting for a 30-yard gain on a swing pass.
• The Panthers practice from 2-5 p.m. on Friday.