Spring Practice Notebook: Offense Clicking

Tony Dorsett

After a short visit from Panther great Tony Dorsett, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said his team had to regain focus and hone in on the basics. And since struggling the past few practices with the exchange from center to quarterback, that's exactly what Pitt did.

"We need to keep cleaning up some of the fundamental things," Wannstedt said. "We can't get too ahead of ourselves."

Offensive line coach Tony Wise and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh watched the center-quarterback exchange early in practice, trying to make sure the exchange was improving. Wannstedt said the coaches would continue to spend extra time with junior John Bachman, who has had trouble at times getting the ball to the quarterback cleanly.

Still, Wannstedt said he's confident Bachman will improve – making for an interesting position battle with junior college transfer Rob Houser.

"John Bachman is too smart and too good [of] an athlete not to be able to do it," he said.

Bachman worked early on in practice on the snaps, but move to left guard during team drills.

In Pittsburgh's third practice in full pads, the defense snagged the edge early. The inexperienced offensive line looked a bit overmatched when trying to contain Pitt's tenacious defensive line.

Before practice even began, Wannstedt spoke of Mick Williams, saying the junior defensive tackle is playing the best of anyone on the roster.

"If I was going to give an MVP after two days of pads, I'd give it to Mick Williams," Wannstedt said. "He's had an unbelievable spring practice so far."

Williams and the defensive line kept it up, constantly pressuring the quarterback during the 11-on-11 drills and breaking up Pitt's intermediate passing game.

Bill Stull, Pat Bostick, Greg Cross and Kevan Smith each took a good number of snaps at quarterback, but couldn't get the passing game clicking until late.

Cross, the most mobile of the four quarterbacks, was able to break outside the pocket and scramble on a few occasions, but didn't have the same success throwing the ball. Stull had the most consistent day, connecting on most short patterns and making many quick, smart decisions. And with four quarterbacks competing for the starting job, every play is being examined at a high level.

At one point, Stull looked off his first option, then turned right and fired a bullet to the left side, connecting with Turner on the left side for a gain of about 15 yards.

As usual, the passing game was loaded with quick slants and screens, which were often broken up by the quick line. T.J. Porter managed to make several nice moves in the open field for big gains, but the majority of the passes were shorter, gaining fewer than 10 yards.

But on a few occasion, Pitt did air the ball out. Stull reached back and connected with Oderick Turner on the left side of the field for a 50-yard touchdown pass that got the offense going. Then, during the last segment of the two-minute drill, Bostick completed several short passes before hitting Moe Williams in the left side of the endzone to close things out.

LeSean McCoy had the best day out of the backfield. At one point, McCoy broke free from the line and slashed through three defenders before cutting up the left side for a big gain. He made a similar move on the next play, but broke to the right side instead, leaving a trail of defenders behind him.

LaRod Stephens-Howling was able to showcase some of his speed as well, catching screens and darting through the line on occasion. And now fully recovered from a wrist injury, Kevin Collier also had some reps out of the backfield.

But while the majority of the players have stayed healthy for spring ball, Pitt still isn't free from injuries – at least not yet.

Although rapidly improving, Derek Kinder isn't fully recovered from surgery after injuring his ACL during Pitt's first week of training camp last season. Wannstedt said he's "getting a little bit better" every day, but there's still no exact timetable for his return.

Kinder will likely give the Pitt receiving core a boost when he returns, as he was a first team All-Big East performer in 2006.

Wannstedt said tight end Nate Byham, also recovering from a knee injury, is "doing great" and back running again. When healthy, Byham will again be a major asset both catching the ball and blocking from the tight end position.

Earlier in the day, the Panthers were visited by Dorsett, who spoke to the team for a brief period of time.

"He's always been a supporter," said Wannstedt, who contacted Dorsett and set up the meeting. "It was great."

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