Pitt notebook: Panthers will forgo annual spring football game

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The Pitt football team will not play a spring game this year and will instead have a number of intrasquad scrimmages throughout March and April in an effort to maximize practice time with a young and inexperienced roster.

In years past, Pitt had its spring game at Heinz Field and more recently at high school stadiums in the area.

“The thought behind [the decision], honestly, is to get one more good work day out of them,” coach Paul Chryst said. “Most, if not every spring game I’ve been a part of, you really end up sacrificing a lot. It sounds crazy, but just being locked into a place, bad weather. … You’re kind of locked into that day. These days are really valuable for us.”

Previous spring games were open to the public. Associate athletic director E.J. Borghetti said there will be some fan outreach this spring to make up for the absence of a spring game. He said details will come next month.

“It’s a little bit selfish doing what’s best for the program,” Chryst said. “You appreciate [the fans]. You don’t want it to come off as not being appreciative. It’s not the intent. But there is real conviction that for this group of guys, the guys in the building … you feel really good that this is the right thing. You hope the people appreciate that.”

Pitt will begin spring practice March 16 and the final spring workout will be April 13.

Donald ‘a great example’

Former defensive tackle Aaron Donald returned to Pitt and visited with coaches Wednesday after a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. Donald was already in good position for the NFL draft, but he likely forced his way into the first round after bench pressing 225 pounds 35 times and running the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds.

“It’s a great example,” Chryst said. “We talk about it with our group. You lived it right next to this guy. Make sure your eyes are open on it. Obviously, he’s a good player. But it’s also a great example of how he chose to be a great player. He attacked the Senior Bowl. He attacked the combine. One of his strengths is he’s such a great competitor. He was going to win at those things, and he did. He was the story of the Senior Bowl. He was one of the stories of the combine. People had to take notice of it.”

Donald has one final chance to shine Monday morning at Pitt’s pro day, where NFL scouts will work out Donald and other Pitt players at the UPMC practice facility on the South Side.

Recruiting won’t change

New Penn State coach James Franklin made it known when he was hired last month that he wants to “dominate the state” from a recruiting standpoint. Then last week, West Virginia hired former Penn State coach Tom Bradley as an associate head coach. Bradley had great success recruiting the Pittsburgh area in his 33 years on the Penn State staff.

It could make for some challenging times for Chryst and his assistant coaches when it comes to signing players from the WPIAL and City League, but Chryst said Pitt’s approach to recruiting will not change because of the hires Penn State and West Virginia made.

“We’re not all of a sudden going to recruit harder,” Chryst said. “I don’t think any of that has anything to do with us recruiting here at Pitt. And I’m not trying to blow them off or not give them credit. But we’re not going to all of a sudden pay more attention to Western Pennsylvania. That’s been our intention the whole time. There have been a lot of good recruiters in this area for a long time.”

Quick hits

Four players will be limited in spring practice because of existing injuries. Defensive end Devin Cook, receiver Kevin Weatherspoon, offensive lineman Gabe Roberts and linebacker Zach Poker will be evaluated through the spring and their participation will vary. … Reggie Green, who played receiver as a freshman, will move to outside linebacker. … Defensive lineman K.K. Mosley-Smith and receiver Ronald Jones, who were suspended from the team last fall, are back in good standing with Chryst and will take part in spring practices. Both players practiced with the team in the fall but were not allowed to play in games.

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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