PITTSBURGH — Wednesday was the first day of practice with pads for the Pitt football team, and they wasted little time testing their new passing game in a 7-on-7 period.
The first-team units on offense and defense were similar to what was expected heading into camp, but there were a few surprises. In addition to quarterback Kenny Pickett, the first group of receivers were Maurice Ffrench, Taysir Mack and Dontavius Butler-Jenkins. At tight end was senior Will Gragg. The first tailback was AJ Davis.
The defensive side was also in line with expectations. The starting secondary consisted of Dane Jackson, Damar Hamlin, Paris Ford and Jason Pinnock. The linebackers, a position that appeared to be wide open heading into camp, were Phil Campbell III, Saleem Brightwell and Chase Pine.
While the defense looked athletic, energized and disruptive, the offense had its ups and downs. They took awhile to get into a rhythm, as the secondary consistently locked up the receivers and made multiple pass breakups down the field but Pickett eventually found a groove, throwing two touchdown passes in the period. The first touchdown came on a corner route in the end zone. The second score was a back-shoulder fade to Aaron Matthews.
Pickett also nearly threw two interception, but both fell incomplete. He was almost picked off on an under thrown corner route that the defensive back dropped while falling out of bounds then Hamlin nearly intercepted a pass over the middle that Pickett tried to squeeze in to Gragg.
Many are expecting the 2019 Pitt defense to be the best under head coach Pat Narduzzi’s tenure. With a plethora of returning play makers and some exciting new faces, the unit should be a force to be reckoned with.
If their goal is to be one of the elite defenses in the country, Pitt knows it has to create more turnovers. That is exactly what the Panthers were working on, as the entire defense practiced forcing turnovers on Wednesday.
Defensive linemen worked on strip sacks, while the defensive backs honed their skills at punching the ball out and diving on fumbles.
Pitt generated 18 turnovers last season. They intercepted nine passes, which was ninth in the ACC. They also forced 19 fumbles, recovering nine.
WALK THE LINE
Pitt offensive linemen worked on their hand speed and placement during individual drills on Wednesday with their position coach Dave Borbely. The offensive line is another area with key position battles this training camp, as the Panthers look to replace four starters from last season. Junior center Jimmy Morrissey is the only returning starter for the Panthers.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Here are the rest of the sights and sounds from practice No. 5 of Pitt training camp.