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Inside the Ropes with Pitt football (Spring practice No. 3)

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It’s called the inside-run drill for a reason.

Tailback Shariff Harris learned that lesson the hard way after he bounced outside on the first play of full-contact drills and ran toward the left sideline. Safety Elijah Fields chased Harris down, wrapped him up and slammed him out of bounds and onto the track.

When Harris arose, he found defensive tackle Mick Williams screaming in his face: “Get out of here with that soft …” You can use your imagination to finish the sentence.

So set the tone for Pitt’s first practice in full pads.

Much to the delight of Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt.

“You don’t become a physical football team the third week of the season. You don’t become a physical football team the last day of training camp,” Wannstedt said. “We talk about being tough guys and being a physical team, you talk it and you think it and you have to go out and practice it, too.”

Williams seemed to make it his personal mission to get a shot on Harris after that. Later, Harris caught a screen pass and turned into Williams, only to see center Robb Houser throw a block that knocked Williams out of the play. It wasn’t until the Panthers went live much later in practice that Williams finally got a hit in on Harris, and he celebrated wildly.

This one, however, was all about the defense.

The Panthers are practicing without several potential starters – end Greg Romeus, tackle Gus Mustakas and linebackers Adam Gunn and Shane Murray – yet the defense dominated the majority of play Saturday.

“Our defense definitely had the upper hand today but … if your offense has the upper hand you’re not going to win many games,” Wannstedt said. “I expected our defense to come out and be strong, and they did not disappoint me the first day.”

Some highlights:

• During the special team session, Aaron Berry blocked back-to-back field-goal attempts by Dan Hutchins. The interesting thing is that Berry wasn’t coming off the edge, but rather lined up over the tackle and shot the gap. Fields also blocked a Hutchins kick.

• Defensive tackle Chas Alexcih showed why he earned a scholarship, stuffing and slamming tailback Chris Burns during the inside-run drill.

• Burns got his revenge on the defense a few carries later, stiff-arming Tyler Tkach so strongly that it knocked the defensive tackle to the ground.

• Freshman tailback Dion Lewis got a rude awakening on his first carry of the inside-run drill, getting stood up and slammed by defensive tackle Craig Bokor.

• When Tino Sunseri overthrew tight end Mike Cruz on a pass over the middle, walk-on cornerback-turned-safety Danny Cafaro intercepted it. Sunseri later connected with Greg Cross over the middle for a TD.

• Sunseri threw a pass that led to the hit of the day. He hit walk-on receiver Caleb Wilson across the middle, and Wilson was flattened by walk-on middle linebacker Jon Taglianetti (Andrew’s twin). Wilson popped up and got in the face of Taglianetti, who didn’t back down an inch.

• Fields make a smart read and a sure tackle on third down during the goal-line drill, when quarterback Bill Stull ran a naked bootleg toward the right sideline. Fields stayed at home and stuffed Stull when he tried to cut back and dive inside. “Quarterbacks weren’t live, unless they made it live – and he made it live,” Wannstedt said. “That was his call.”

Pitt practices again at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

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