The quest to find quality depth at linebacker had been a struggle for Pitt even before recent developments took two linebackers out of the mix for the rest of spring drills.
Sophomore Ejuan Price, who had surgery to repair a chest muscle, will return, but the status of redshirt junior Carl Fleming, is unclear. He has been suspended indefinitely after a recent arrest on charges of possession of marijuana. In addition, Todd Thomas, a likely starter, has missed the spring as he recovers from knee surgery.
It is clear that the Panthers have some real questions facing them at the linebacker positions.
But defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said he isn't concerned yet. The Panthers don't play until September and the emphasis this spring has been teaching, not game planning.
"I think we're thin at a few spots on defense, but we have time to worry about the depth chart," Huxtable said. "Our linebackers, like the other groups, are working very hard and I like their attitude. We are really just sort of mixing and matching in order to try and find the best combination."
The starting unit during the spring has been redshirt junior Dan Mason at middle linebacker, with redshirt junior Shane Gordon and redshirt sophomore Eric Williams on the outside.
Pitt has switched from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3, so the responsibilities of the linebackers have changed, although Mason noted that "playing linebacker is playing linebacker no matter what the system is."
Gordon (6 feet, 1 inch) is the wild card in the bunch. He has been on the brink of breaking out as a star but has never quite been consistent enough to become a full-time starter. He is athletic and fast and has shown the ability to make big hits but has struggled in pass coverage. The new defense seems to be better suited to his talents.
Williams, who is 6-3, is more slender but, like Gordon, has athleticism and has been working at developing consistency.
"The thing I like about Shane Gordon is he wants to be good, he is a hard worker and I think he has a chance to be a very good player," Huxtable said.
"Eric Williams is kind of a taller guy who is raw but does have some ability. Again, we're really just trying to find out what we have and what we're capable of, but I like [the way] these guys approach things."
The rest of the group has been patched together, with some players changing positions, especially with Price and Fleming out.
Fleming, who is in his fourth year in the program, was actually starting to show some flashes before he got into trouble. Losing him could hurt because he was expected to be in the rotation.
Three other players who have been in the mix are senior Manny Williams, who, like Fleming and Gordon, has ability but has never earned significant playing time; Joe Trebitz; and converted defensive back Jason Frimpong.
Price figures to back up Mason when he returns, but the others have played in a number of spots throughout the spring, so the depth chart likely will remain fluid until training camp.
NOTES -- The annual Dessert Tasting For A Cause is Saturday at Larrimor's Downtown following the Blue-Gold spring game. Proceeds from the event support the Cox MVPs Foundation, founded by former Panther Torrie Cox; The Kris Wilson Foundation; and The Polite Way Foundation, founded by Lousaka Polite. Tickets can be purchased at www.DessertTastingForACause.com.
First Published April 8, 2012 12:00 AM