Competition in Pitt camp helps bring out depth


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While much of Pitt's training camp is focused on which 22 players will be starters this season, the names on the second and third lines of the depth chart will play just as big a role in how the Panthers do in their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

One of the biggest differences from this time a year ago is that Pitt has a few more spots with established depth.

"You do feel like there's some, maybe a couple more [positions] where we do have some depth," coach Paul Chryst said.

"There's some spots I think where guys are kind of creating niches for themselves.

"I think we are building some of that."

One such position is the offensive line, where Pitt has a few more options than last year. In addition to injury insurance, a deeper bench also pushes the players at the top.

Redshirt freshman Gabe Roberts entered training camp as the first-team center, but now finds himself in a battle with redshirt sophomore Artie Rowell.

Chryst said Wednesday he did not have a timetable for making that decision.

"Depth creates competition, and there's nothing better for any athlete than to have to compete for your job," Chryst said. "If you're a guy that's got a job kind of lined up, you're competing to be the best that you can be so you can be the best at your position."

In the big picture, too, depth is often the biggest hurdle to clear in becoming a perennially competitive program. Rather than relying on freshmen and sophomores, the most successful college football teams plug in more experienced reserves who provided depth as younger players.

"I think there's good teams and then when you get to a point that you're a really good program, you do have that [depth]," Chryst said. "If you have that depth, guys aren't playing earlier than maybe they should.

"I think once you get it to a point where you truly are deep, even if a guy's ready to play, him beating out that [older player], it's harder."

Bennett works without brace

Junior running back Isaac Bennett partially participated in practice without a knee brace for the first time in more than a week.

Bennett had missed the past 10 practices with a right leg injury but finally shed the brace to take part in position drills. He did not work in any 11-on-11 sessions, with freshman James Conner continuing to take the first-team snaps.

Kicker misses practice

Freshman kicker Chris Blewitt missed practice with a boot on his right foot, but Chryst said it was not a serious injury.

"He's going to be fine," Chryst said.

Fitzgerald ceremony

Pitt announced it will have a ceremony during the season opener against Florida State to retire former wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's jersey.

Fitzgerald's No. 1 was retired by the program July 1 at Pitt's ACC Welcome Ceremony at Stage AE.

Fitzgerald played just two years with the Panthers, but finished his career with 161 catches for 2,677 yards and a Pitt-record 34 touchdowns.

He finished second to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White in the 2003 Heisman Trophy balloting.

Looking ahead

Game: Pitt vs. Florida State in the season and ACC opener for both schools, Heinz Field.

When: 8 p.m., Sept. 2.

TV: ESPN.

The skinny: With 11 players from 2012 gone to the NFL including EJ Manuel, Florida State could start a redshirt freshman at QB -- Jameis Winston.

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


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