Pitt standout senior defensive end Greg Romeus will have surgery on a disc in his lower back, Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt announced Tuesday in a news release.
"Our top priority is doing what is best for Greg," Wannstedt said. "After consulting with him, his family and our medical staff, it was determined that immediate surgery is the best option for Greg both personally and athletically. We expect him to have a full recovery and return for the conclusion of the season."
Romeus, from Coral Springs, Fla., will have his surgery Thursday and, while there is no official timetable for his recovery, a source close to the situation said it will be a minimum of six weeks and more likely closer to eight.
That means that Romeus conceivably could return in November, and coaches are leaving the door open for him as well as holding out hope that he will be able to come back.
Romeus missed nearly all of training camp with what was called back spasms as he said he could not get his back loose. He was labeled "day to day," but, as camp wore on, it became clear Romeus was not likely to return before the season.
He then appeared in the Panthers' opening loss at Utah, but was not 100 percent healthy nor in game shape, according to the coaches. He had no sacks and put little pressure on quarterback Jordan Wynn.
Romeus, who has already used his redshirt season, then went home last week to deal with a personal family situation as well as weigh his options regarding his back.
He did not return to campus in time for the Panthers' game Saturday against New Hampshire.
Tuesday he returned to campus, and Wannstedt spelled out the best course of action, which apparently is surgery.
The blow is a huge one as Romeus was expected to anchor what many believed would be an excellent defense.
As a junior last season, Romeus was a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection with 43 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and a team-high eight sacks.
He also forced three fumbles, made an interception, recovered a fumble and blocked an extra point.
Romeus was named a finalist for the 2009 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award and was selected to three All-America teams, including CollegeFootballNews.com (second team), Sporting News (third team) and Rivals (third team).
Coaches will shuffle the defensive line, filling Romeus' spot with redshirt junior Brandon Lindsey, a much different player than Romeus.
Lindsey is smaller and quicker than Romeus (he is 6 feet 2 compared to Romeus, who is 6-6) and more of a speed rusher than Romeus.
He is not as good against the run as Romeus and isn't likely to knock down passes like Romeus did.
The next three players at defensive end are senior Nate Nix, redshirt sophomore Shayne Hale and redshirt junior Justin Hargrove.
Coaches also are considering breaking the redshirt of highly regarded freshman T.J. Clemmings, who is the closest in terms of size and skill to Romeus among the defensive ends.
Clemmings, 6-6, 280, was one of the top-rated players in New Jersey last season, had a good training camp but coaches believed he could use a redshirt and felt they could redshirt him because of depth at that position.
The depth took its first hit when freshman Bryan Murphy, who Wannstedt said was going to be in the playing rotation, sustained a broken foot in camp that likely will sideline him for at least several more weeks.
"We know we have to step it up without Greg," defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. "We are definitely going to miss Greg, we will definitely miss him because he is a leader, he pushes all of us and he's a great player.
"But guys like Brandon and Nate Nix stepped up and made a lot of plays [against New Hampshire]. We'll be fine without him until he gets back.
"Brandon is a great pass-rusher, he is actually probably faster than Greg, and we saw that last year against Syracuse, and I hope that he continues to play at a high level."
Paul Zeise: email@example.com or 412-263-1720. First Published September 15, 2010 4:00 AM