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Sights & Sounds: Pitt Dons Pads for First Time This Spring

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Pitt practice.

PITTSBURGH — Pitt is one week into spring practice following Friday’s padded practice (the first of the spring), and it will be a while until the next.

It’s Pitt spring break next week, and the Panthers will be taking the week off before returning to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Tuesday, March 19. It may sound like strange timing, but the week of practice will be able to be broken down by the coaching staff and tweaked to maximize the remaining 12 practices.

So, the pads were popping on the South Side Friday morning, the first chance to do so this spring and the last chance to do so before the extended week off. So, what stood out?

There was a new-look special teams drill to start the portion of practice available to the media, and it was a sort of 1 v. 1 gunner drill. A player would block, a player would try to shed the block and another player would “field” a punt and run by the matchup. The rest of the team gathered around to watch — and cheer. It was lively and energetic.

That’s been a theme. There’s been no shortage of energy and anticipation over the first three practices of the spring.

A particularly big collision earned Rashad Battle a round of applause and some — quite a few — helmet taps. The big, rangy cornerback has missed most of the last two seasons due to injury, but he’s certainly looked healthy this spring. He’s firmly in the mix to start at one of the two cornerback spots.

Jesse Anderson also stood out during the 1 v. 1s, using his frame (6-foot, 185 pounds) well. He pancaked his gunner and made the pads pop a couple of times. Anderson and Shadarian Harrison are second-year freshmen with a chance to make a run at playing time in the secondary.

I watched Battle a bit more during drills, and his size stands out. He’s very tall, very long and not afraid to use his voice. It’s been a while, but he was in the mix with Marquis Williams, M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods early in the 2022 season. If he’s able to regain some of that form and stay healthy, I’d imagine he will make an impact in 2024.

Ryland Gandy, who I’ve tabbed as a breakout candidate this spring, is the only defender that I saw with a takeaway sticker on his helmet Friday. I don’t believe I saw one Wednesday.

There’s not much to report offensively. Still largely the same rotation through drills — Yarnell, Veilleux, Dieffenbach, Holstein and Hammond, Reid, Davis and Carter. Without the opportunity to see live sessions, not a whole lot to take away. It was a shorter day of drills available to the media.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the Pitt wide receivers match up against the cornerbacks in drills later this spring. Kenny Johnson has the look of a breakout wide receiver, and Zion Fowler-El is a freakish athlete.

Konata Mumpfield and DaeDae Reynolds are locked in, and Poppi Williams and Censere Lee are a good bet to see the field a lot.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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