Spring practice for the Pitt football team drew to a close on Saturday afternoon with the Blue-Gold Game at Heinz Field, and for head coach Dave Wannstedt, the Panthers' fourth scrimmage of the spring was more of what he has seen since camp kicked off a month ago.
"It was a good spring, and I think the game was pretty indicative of the things that showed up over the last few weeks," Wannstedt said after the conclusion of the scrimmage.
On Saturday the coaching staff implemented a scoring system aimed at quantifying the production of the defense. In a sense, Wannstedt's comments were reflected in the final score: Blue (defense) 62, Gold (offense) 48. The advantage for the defense on Saturday was a fitting end to a spring that saw the offense often struggle to be consistently successful.
Still, spring practice is less about one unit versus another and more about improvement, both on the team and individual level. To that end, Wannstedt praised many of the same players on Saturday that he has named through the past four weeks.
"I thought that Scott McKillop did a nice job today in the middle. He was very active and did a nice job of getting everybody lined up," Wannstedt said. "In the secondary, Aaron Berry is going to be a really good player. We aren't setting any lineups now, but with him going with that first group, I'm comfortable that we'll be fine at the corner spot."
McKillop, a first-year starter at middle linebacker this year in place of graduated All-American H.B. Blades, led the defense on Saturday with 10 total tackles, and his performance and development throughout the spring makes it appear that he should be an adequate replacement for Blades. Berry has even larger shoes to fill, stepping in for departed cornerback Darrelle Revis. Berry recorded three tackles and an interception on Saturday, and he is headed for a starting role this fall.
But while McKillop and Berry have secured their spots on the depth chart, quite a few other spots are still very open.
"I think you take [the wide receiver] position, I think you take the quarterback position, I think you take the two outside linebacker positions, and they're all kind of the same in my mind," Wannstedt said. "We've got a lot of competition, and nothing will be determined until we get through training camp."
At quarterback, junior Bill Stull and redshirt freshman Kevan Smith continued to play the "who wants to be a starter?" game, with neither quarterback playing exceptionally well on Saturday. Outside linebacker, on the other hand, has become a position of quality contention, and Wannstedt likes all the competitors in that race.
"Dorin Dickerson, Nate Nix, Shane Murray, all those young linebackers…that's all going to be determined in training camp. I thought all of them made some plays today."
To wit, Dickerson added an interception and a tackle for loss to his four tackles, while Murray was second on the team in total tackles with eight and Nix recorded a sack and a forced fumble.
Meanwhile, wide receiver continues to be a position of wealth as Oderick Turner, Marcel Pestano, and Tamarcus Porter all vie for the number two wideout spot. Porter led the offense in receptions on Saturday with four for 68 yards, while Turner caught three for 27 and Pestano caught two for 24 and a touchdown. Turner started opposite Derek Kinder last season, but the spring improvements of Porter and Pestano have put his job in jeopardy.
"I'm not down on Oderick as much as I'm excited about TJ," Wannstedt said. "A year ago at this time, TJ wasn't even on the team. I think that's what's happening: I don't think Oderick has really taken a step backwards as much as Pestano has grown up a little bit and started to play a little more aggressive."
The other spot where Wannstedt and his staff will have to make a decision is on the offensive line. With Mike McGlynn on the sideline for much of the spring with a shoulder injury, sophomore Jason Pinkston stepped in at right tackle and excelled. His strong performance continued on Saturday, and Wannstedt acknowledged that it will be tough to keep Pinkston off the field this fall.
"The decision we have to make is 'who are our five best offensive linemen?' and figure out a way to put them on the field. The guy who has the most flexibility would be Mike McGlynn; he could play a lot of spots. He's the leader of that group, he's the most knowledgeable, he could play guard, he could play center, he could play tackle. So Mike gives us the most flexibility.
"Leading up to this point, Jason definitely is one of our five best."
All spring Wannstedt has held true to his declaration that no starting spots will be determined until the fall, so he and the rest of the Pitt coaches won't have to make a real decision until August. But with the 2007 Blue-Gold Game in the books, a number of players have made the staff's decisions a bit tougher.
Chris Peak can be contacted at chrispeak1@Comcast.net