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Pitt football notebook: Panthers get physical in 1st scrimmage

| Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, 6:18 p.m.
Pitt defensive back Lafayette Pitts defends Cameron Saddler during practice on the South Side, Aug. 11, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Pitt Football Head Athletic Trainer Rob Blanc works with Shane Gordon during practice on the South Side Aug. 11, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Running back Isaac Bennett said it was no accident that Pitt's style of play during Saturday's scrimmage looked more physical than it did a year ago.

“Everybody wanted to show what they have, show off to the new coaches,” Bennett said. “We are probably tired of getting pushed around. We want to make a statement this year.”

Bennett started in place of Ray Graham, who took the day off to keep his surgically repaired knee out of danger, and he ran well inside the tackles and on several occasions when he beat defenders to the corner and turned upfield.

“I wanted to show my speed off a little bit,” he said, laughing.

But the highlights of the morning were big hits by defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Bam Bradley on running back Rushel Shell and cornerback Lafayette Pitts on receiver Ronald Jones. Defensive end Tyrone Ezell, who also is working at tackle, knocked down three passes.

Pitts, a redshirt freshman from Woodland Hills, has seized a starting job in the secondary, and it looks like he won't let go.

“I worked pretty hard in the offseason,” he said. “I'm not surprised (to be on the first team), but I could get better.”

Said coach Paul Chryst: “He enjoys it, and that goes a long way.”

Of the hit on Jones, Pitts said: “I just made my read, I saw he pulled up on the hitch and I just drove the ball, and the ball brought me to the man. It was pretty exciting.”

Lots of work to do

Chryst was reluctant to identify any players who stood out in the scrimmage.

“We got guys doing the right things that give them a chance to have success, and guys we have to make sure keep grinding away and haven't gotten it yet,” he said. “We are making progress. I don't think we are going backwards.

“There were certainly more mistakes today than you would want to have. There were flat-out guys getting off blocks and making some plays, and there were more than a handful of (times) when they took advantage of mistakes.”

Injury update

Nose tackle K.K. Mosley-Smith, safety Jason Hendricks, receiver Mike Shanahan and linebacker Todd Thomas didn't practice. They were later joined on the sideline by linebacker Shane Gordon, defensive end T.J. Clemmings and safety Steve Williams.

Chryst said none of the injuries is especially serious, but he offered no details.

LB Williams steps up

Manny Williams, a fifth-year senior from Clairton, has moved in with the first unit at outside linebacker, offering more bulk (235 pounds) and experience than redshirt freshman Nicholas Grigsby (220), who also has been with the first team.

“Manny is taking ownership,” Chryst said. “I think Manny's approach is exactly what you want. He's had a couple of back-to-back days where he's had success. That give you confidence. He's been fun to watch.”

Tough day

Shell admitted that he struggled during the scrimmage, and he found himself hesitating at times while running the football.

“I didn't feel like myself today,” he said. “I just have to get used to this. It is a lot different than what I am used to.”

Next week's schedule

Pitt will practice twice Monday, Wednesday and Friday during a week that Chryst hopes will be “huge” from a development standpoint.

“We have to start putting it together,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com.

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