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Inside the ropes with Pitt football: Day 14

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Well, that didn’t take long.

One day after Dave Wannstedt sent a message that the right tackle job was up for grabs by raving about freshman Lucas Nix, the Panthers inserted the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder from Thomas Jefferson into the starting lineup.

Nix split first-team repetitions with junior Joe Thomas in today’s second session, and the Pitt coach said it was both a reward for Nix and a warning sign to Thomas that his job isn’t safe.

“Joe Thomas was a little bit inconsistent and we’ve got to make sure that everybody understands that we have to prove ourselves every day we come onto this field,” Wannstedt said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a senior or a freshman or who you are.”

On that note, Wannstedt also said he won’t name a starting quarterback until after Wednesday’s third and final scrimmage. It will only be a surprise if it isn’t redshirt junior Bill Stull, who has taken all of his reps with the first-team offense and has worn a red (off-limits) jersey the past week.

Once we finish up on Wednesday, we’ll evaluate the film and then finalize our depth charts at every position,” Wannstedt said. “We’ve had two team-type scrimmages. In fairness to most of the guys, we need to have one more.”

The real competition, of course, is between Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith for the backup job. They have been splitting second-team snaps, and both have had their moments. Conventional wisdom has had it that the Panthers would like to redshirt Bostick, but finding the best backup appears to be more important, given what happened to Stull in last year’s opener.

Which is why Wannstedt was gun-shy in saying the Panthers have gone through camp relatively unscathed, losing only redshirt junior defensive end Doug Fulmer and freshman receiver/return specialist Cameron Saddler to season-ending knee injuries.

Then again…

“Ask me six games into the season. Last year, we lost Billy in the first game and Gus (Mustakas) in the second (and, for that matter, Jason Pinkston in the third). We felt pretty going into the opener,” Wannstedt said. “Considering all the contact we’ve had, we’re fairly healthy. We’ve had our bumps and bruises but, for the most part, the guys have done a good job fighting through that and doing everything they can to stay on the field.”

Which leads us to redshirt sophomore defensive end Greg Romeus, who missed both practice sessions to rest a sore hamstring. Although Wannstedt said last week that he would push the Panthers through camp, he has been wise to rest key players with nagging injuries.

&#149 The Panthers are still trying to find a fourth corner, and the competition appears to be between freshmen Jarred Holley and Antwuan Reed, who are splitting reps with the second-team defense.

Ricky Gary, meantime, looks like he has secured the third corner spot.

And Wannstedt isn’t ruling out the chance that Gary could start.

“I would say that Aaron Berry and Jovani (Chappel) have been very steady, and Ricky Gary is a guy who’s had a very good camp,” Wannstedt said. “Ricky has kind of closed the gap on them. He’s so much further ahead of where he was last year, and he started three games for us. I’m very pleased with the way Ricky Gary is playing right now.”

&#149 Wannstedt called Monday’s second session Pitt’s best of camp for those wearing the white jerseys.

“I thought, offensively, this afternoon might have been as good of a practice as we’ve ever had,” he said. “We blocked them pretty good on the blitz drill. We threw the ball well, we caught the ball well and I thought we ran it at times pretty good. This afternoon might have been the best two-and-a-half-hour complete practice we’ve had since we’ve been together.”

Highlights included:

&#149 After throwing a couple of passes behind intended targets, Tino Sunseri hitting tight end Dorin Dickerson in stride for a 20-yard gain. Dickerson later reached back for a one-hand catch on a pass behind him.

Dickerson also caught a well-thrown Bostick pass on the right sideline over corner Antwuan Reed, and appeared to land with one foot in bounds but defensive coaches disputed the ruling.

&#149 Derek Kinder making a shoestring catch, only to drop the ball after absorbing a hit by cornerback Chappel. Kinder later beat Chappel on a go route deep on the right sideline, only to drop the ball again. On a positive note, Kinder is showing that his speed is returning.

&#149 Linebacker Brandon Lindsey blitzing and jumping to tip a pass intended for freshman receiver Mike Shanahan. Later, Shanahan made a nice catch and swerved through the defense for a long gain.

&#149 Dom DeCicco, who left practice briefly to have his broken cast taped up, made a nice read to break up a pass intended for tight end Nate Byham.

&#149 Austin Ransom, the fifth-year senior and special teams ace, has returned to defense. Ransom played receiver last fall, switched to safety in the spring and moved back to offense in camp.

Now, he’s involved in a special package that’s new to him.

“He’s a guy that’s smart, as we know. He’s a tough guy. He’s one of our key players on special teams,” Wannstedt said. “We’re kind of looking at him as a nickel linebacker, kind of like how Jemeel Brady was last year. In certain situations, he may be able to add something to the defense, where he wasn’t getting a lot of work as a receiver.”

&#149 Speaking of not getting a lot of work at receiver, T.J. Porter missed another practice today and you’ve got to wonder whether he’s in jeopardy of slipping off the two-deep.

With Kinder and Cedric McGee at flanker and Oderick Turner and Jonathan Baldwin at split end, the top four receivers appear to be set. Porter could be the leading candidate to line up in the slot, where the majority of those reps are going to redshirt freshmen Aundre Wright and Aaron Smith.

That’s not a good sign for Porter, who led the Panthers with 37 receptions last season.

&#149 On a final note, sophomore tailback LeSean McCoy and fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop were among the 35 players across the nation named to the watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Can you name the three Panthers who have won the award?

The answer will be in tomorrow’s Trib.

&#149 Pitt practices from 2-5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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