With Pitt's season opener against Youngstown State nine days from today, more and more players are trickling back onto the field who have been out with injuries.
The Panthers will switch soon from general conditioning and season preparation to game-planning. For many players, especially veterans, it makes more sense to rest in the early part of fall camp rather than risk a more serious injury by pushing too hard.
This week, though, several key players returned, easing their way back into action, including redshirt senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan. Pitt's second-leading receiver last season is back in team drills after missing most of camp.
"I was a little nervous at the beginning because I haven't done a lot of live contact stuff yet, but it felt good," he said. "I felt like I was prepared and didn't really miss any beats or anything."
Earlier, Pitt coach Paul Chryst said that, for some injured guys, the most important "work" they can do at this point is rest. Shanahan recognized that, while camp can be grinding, sitting out isn't easier.
"This is my senior year, so I kind of have to keep the bigger picture in mind," he said. "Watching your teammates out here in the heat, grinding it out, it always is a little tough to watch."
Shanahan's return gives the Panthers a much-needed big target at the outside receiver position. At 6 feet 5, he is the tallest receiver on the team.
"I think my experience, too," he said. "I've been through a lot, been through some tough games."
The corps of linebackers also got a much-needed boost this week with the return of Shane Gordon and Eric Williams. Both figure to play prominent roles in Pitt's 4-3 defense.
Some players, notably wide receiver Devin Street, still are working toward getting back. Chryst said he hoped their return would be sooner rather than later.
"You'd hope so, but you really don't know," he said. "We're certainly hoping. Shanny [Shanahan] did more work today than the day before. Some of the guys, linebacker Joe [Trebitz] and receiver Brandon [Ifill], are getting some work done. I feel like they're getting closer."
Ray Graham shed his no-contact jersey at the beginning of a scrimmage Wednesday, taking live-action snaps for the first time since he tore his ACL against Connecticut Oct. 26. He ran one series in the blue jersey, taking four carries. He then put his green, no-contact jersey back on, but said it felt good to take live hits.
"Just really fly around and actually be live, it kind of felt good to see where I was at," he said. "I put a couple of moves on people. Even getting hit, just to see what was going on, it kind of felt good."
Graham came to Chryst with the idea of going live, and Chryst was receptive to it. With just over a week to go until Pitt's opener, Graham remained optimistic that he would be ready to go Sept. 1.
"It's looking good," he said. "We've got a week and some change before the game, and it's feeling good. I've been taking it one day at a time and, as the days go on, I feel much better and that much more confident."
The scrimmage marked the end of Pitt's true "training camp." Chryst said the team will begin to prepare for Youngstown State today.
"I thought we could go take advantage of the next two days and kind of change gears, so, when we get into preparation for Youngstown, it's not the first time they go through those practices," Chryst said. "That's the thought behind it."
The Panthers will practice this morning and have "Fan Fest" at Heinz Field from 6-8 p.m.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published August 23, 2012 4:00 AM