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Inside the Ropes with Pitt football – Day 16 morning practice

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The Panthers have their final scrimmage today, so the last morning session on the last day of training camp was a relatively light practice.

Although Pitt was in full pads, this wasn’t really a full-contact practice. That once again benefited the offense, which has been finding a rhythm in its passing game against a defense that isn’t allowed to play physical.

The defense was without one starter, weak-side linebacker Shane Murray, who sat out after twisting his knee Tuesday. We won’t know the extent of Murray’s injury until after the scrimmage, when Dave Wannstedt addresses the subject.

In Murray’s absence, Tristan Roberts and Austin Ransom shared some first-team repetitions. Ransom’s move to defense from receiver has been an interesting development at this stage of camp, and it’s one that could turn out to play a bigger role for the Panthers than initially anticipated.

Here are the morning highlights:

* Right after I mention Pat Bostick’s lack of velocity on his passes on a local radio show yesterday, the sophomore quarterback threads a laser over the middle that splits two defenders and into the hands of Aaron Smith.

Go figure.

Bostick might not have the strongest arm, but I think it’s worth noting that he has made great strides in the course of a year. When he arrived to camp a week late last August, he was about 20 pounds overweight, had slow feet and a big windup in his delivery. His passes tended to float, which is why he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.

An off-season with strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris has helped Bostick transform his body into a lean 215 pounds. He is noticeably quicker – although he’s still the slowest of the QBs – and his footwork has helped his movement in the pocket and on rollout throws.

Whether that’s enough for Bostick to be the backup this season, we don’t know but will soon find out. But if he has to play, Bostick is much better prepared for it this year than he was last fall.

* The battle for the fourth cornerback job is a tight one between freshmen Jarred Holley and Antwuan Reed, and if Holley wins it’ll be because of his ability to consistently make plays like this:

Bostick aired out a deep pass to Jonathan Baldwin that was slightly underthrown, Holley stayed inside on Baldwin and jumped to knock the pass down. That’s no feat, considering how routinely Baldwin has jumped over defensive backs to make spectacular catches this camp.

Baldwin later made another one of those circus catches on a ball from Bostick on the left side of the end zone, grabbing it despite having Holley’s arms wrapped around his ankles. If he doesn’t play any other time, Baldwin should always be on the field when the Panthers are in the red zone.

He’s that dangerous.

* Bill Stull threw a nice timing pass to the right sideline to Aundre Wright, who caught it and got his feet down inbounds for a 20-yard gain. Stull seems to be gaining confidence every day, and the more confident he gets the more zip there seems to be on his throws.

Stull also showed nice presence and good decision-making in the pocket in a red-zone drill, quickly looking off Oderick Turner – who was double-teamed in the right corner of the end zone – and spotting secondary target Cedric McGee over the middle. Stull fired a pass to McGee for a touchdown.

* Cornerback Ricky Gary drew praise from defensive coordinator Phil Bennett when he anticipated a screen pass to LaRod Stephens-Howling in the right flat and sealed the corner to make the stop. Stephens-Howling is probably Pitt’s quickest offensive player and has an incredible burst.

* On the next play, however, Baldwin made a nice seal block on a swing pass to the same side to take Gary out of a play. It was a fine example of what Baldwin can do once he understands what he’s supposed to do.

* Twice Pitt’s defensive ends were in the backfield before the handoff was completed. On a toss to LeSean McCoy, Jabaal Sheard was so close that McCoy couldn’t even make a move. Greg Romeus had to wait for Stull to finish the handoff to fullback Conredge Collins.

If Romeus and Sheard don’t wreak serious havoc on opposing lines this season – at least as pass rushers – then I’ve either spent the past two weeks dreaming or Pitt has some real problems on the offensive line.

I’m guessing it’s the former.

* The Panthers scrimmage from 3-5 p.m. today.

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