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Pitt football cancels spring game

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 3:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Scott Orndoff pulls in a touchdown pass during the Panthers' spring game Friday, April 12, 2013, at Bethel Park High School.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst admits canceling the spring football game might seem “a little bit selfish.”

But he values practice time over tradition, and the result this year is that Pitt won't conclude spring drills with an intrasquad game for the first time since the 1940s.

“I never remember a time when we didn't have a spring game,” said Pitt historian Alex Kramer, who was a student manager from 1948-1951 and later an administrative assistant to five football coaches.

Chryst said Thursday he believes finishing spring drills with a regular practice will be better for his team.

“The thinking behind that is to get one more good work day out of (the players),” he said. “Most, if not every, spring game you end up really sacrificing a lot.

“These days are really valuable for us.”

Asked about fan reaction, he said, “You appreciate those people. That's a real thing, a good thing. That's certainly not the intention to (say fan support) doesn't matter.

“It's a little bit selfish when you are trying to do what is best for the program. You feel really good that is the right thing to do and you hope people appreciate that.”

Pitt is one of only three FBS schools to cancel their spring game this year. That includes a group of 128 teams in 10 conferences, plus independents Notre Dame, Army, Navy and BYU, according to FBschedules.com.

Texas A&M canceled its games for 2014-15 due to renovation at Kyle Field, and officials didn't want to move it off-campus because of recruiting restrictions. Oklahoma State will have one open practice for fans.

Dennis Dodd, college football analyst for CBSSports.com, said schools have canceled spring games in the past.

“It's not that uncommon,” he said. “It's all for show, anyway.

“There have been years when teams had so many injuries they just didn't want to do it.”

Pitt's spring practice will include the NCAA-limit of 15 practices, beginning March 16 and ending April 13. All sessions will be at UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side.

Pitt held its past two spring games under Chryst at North Hills' and Bethel Park's high school stadiums. Attendance at those games totaled about 8,200. Previously, most of the games had been played at Heinz Field or Pitt Stadium.

Injury update

Chryst said linebacker Ejuan Price and offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty, who missed part of last season with back injuries, will be able to participate this spring. Defensive lineman Devin Cook (knee), linebacker Zach Poker (upper body), center Gabe Roberts (shoulder) and wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon (foot) will be limited.

Welcome back

Defensive tackle K.K. Mosley-Smith and wide receiver Ronald Jones, who were suspended last year for violating team rules, will return this season. Both were permitted to practice during their suspensions.

“It was pretty neat how they embraced their situations and made the most of it,” Chryst said. “I'm pretty proud of them.”

Speaking of change

The only notable position change this spring will be Reggie Green, a redshirt freshman, moving from wide receiver to outside linebacker. Dorian Johnson, who played tackle and guard, will start practice at guard.

Asked if running back James Conner will practice at defensive end, Chryst said, “We'll see.”

Better depth

Chryst said the team might have “genuine competition” this year for the first time in three years.

“I don't think we've had it yet,” he said. “Hopefully, we are getting there. You are still playing short-handed a little bit. We are one more (recruiting) class away and then they have to get older.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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