Pitt Blue-Gold spring game: Bennett sparkles in Chryst plan

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Pitt wrapped up spring practices with its annual Blue-Gold scrimmage Saturday, but afterward new head coach Paul Chryst called the spring practice session "just the start."

The Panthers scrimmaged for two hours in front of a crowd of 4,607 at North Hills High School's Martorelli Stadium in West View. It wasn't a traditional spring game with the team split into two sides. Players substituted in and out constantly, and no score was kept.

The spring game marked the culmination of Chryst's first 15 practices with the team, and allowed the players to show off the improvements they have made over the past month of practices.

"We've grown a lot," running back Isaac Bennett said. "Everybody, we've bought in."

Bennett put up the most impressive numbers, carrying the ball 23 times for 121 yards. On the third series of the game, he ripped off a 51-yard run down the left sideline.

"Isaac worked this spring," Chryst said. "He's young and I think he had the chance to learn a lot and to grow. Each scrimmage, at least the last three or four times we've gone pretty hard, he's done some things that have been good."

Bennett was in an interesting position this spring. He was the top running back on the roster with Ray Graham shelved due to injury, but likely will have to fight for playing time once fall camp begins. Graham will be back on the field to reclaim his spot as the No. 1 back, and the Panthers also will add Hopewell star Rushel Shell as a freshman. Ranked as one of the top running backs in the country by most recruiting services, Shell certainly will challenge for immediate playing time.

Bennett, though, said he wasn't concerned about his place on the depth chart, and Chryst certainly shouldn't have any problem finding carries for three running backs. As the offensive coordinator for Wisconsin in 2010, Chryst came 4 yards away from having three running backs rush for 1,000 yards.

"It's a lot of fun just because when you get tired somebody will come in and take off where you left off," Bennett said. "It's a lot of fun knowing that everybody's good."

While the running game got going early Saturday, it took the Panthers' passing game a little time to find its rhythm.

On Pitt's first series, quarterback Tino Sunseri overthrew a wide-open Drew Carswell twice on what would have been certain touchdowns. The Panthers also had to settle for a field-goal attempt on their second series when they couldn't punch it in from inside the 10. Kicker Kevin Harper finished five of six -- including a 48-yarder -- with the lone miss on his first attempt from 41 yards.

"Obviously you're disappointed you didn't score, but there's still positives in that," Sunseri said. "You moved the football."

Sunseri finished 13 of 27 for 147 yards and a touchdown. He also threw one interception late in the game to Andrew Taglianetti, which was returned for a touchdown.

Sophomore quarterback Mark Myers, vying with classmate Trey Anderson for the No. 2 spot, was responsible for the first touchdown of the scrimmage. On his second series, Myers found receiver Brandon Ifill down the left sideline for a 58-yard scoring pass.

Myers actually led the Panthers with 167 yards on 10-of-16 passing.

All four quarterbacks saw action, with Anderson scoring a rushing touchdown on a designed play-action keeper and Anthony Gonzalez running the offense in the final minutes.

The Panthers enter the summer period of voluntary conditioning and training. Chryst and his staff can have no formal interactions with the team until fall camp opens in August.

"Not where we want to be by any means, but I think it was a productive spring," Chryst said."

"It's a good start, but it's just a start."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG.


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