Rough start for Pitt's defensive line

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The defensive line was supposed to be a strength for Pitt, but the unit got off to a rough start in the season-opening loss to Utah.

The line, anchored by two All-American candidates at defensive end, was a major reason the Panthers were able to lead the nation in sacks last season without having to call many blitzes.

But against the spread offense -- and quick passing game -- of the Utes, the line was stifled and managed only one tackle for loss, no sacks and very few quarterback hurries.

Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said his group wasn't nearly as good as it needed to be, but it had a good week of practice, and he expects a much more productive game Saturday against New Hampshire.

"We got off to a slow start, that's for sure," Gattuso said. "I thought Jabaal [Sheard] really played a good game and the rest of the guys were just OK at times, certainly not up to what we need to play for our defense to be successful. There are a lot of reasons it can happen but none that are acceptable.

"You have to fight through pain, you have to fight through things, and that is what it takes to be a great player, and our guys are preparing to do that this week. We know we didn't play well at times and it is something you have to learn from."

Not surprisingly, the Panthers' line didn't dominate like it usually does because defensive end Greg Romeus was not completely healthy and was not able to make the big plays and create the kind of commotion he did most of last season.

Romeus missed almost all of training camp with back issues but played more than 50 snaps against the Utes. According to sources, he now could be out for an extended period of time.

Thursday, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt wouldn't comment further than saying Romeus was "questionable" for the New Hampshire game. When asked a follow-up question, he said, "I'm not going to comment on injuries any more than that."

Gattuso conceded Wednesday that Romeus wasn't at his best physically against the Utes. Gattuso said the Panthers' depth was challenged because Sheard was "banged up" as well and that he was trying to keep at least one of the two on the field at all times.

"He is fighting through some fatigue deals," Gattuso said. "I remember when I was a player, we used to think, 'What is the big deal, you miss a couple of practices?' But as a coach, you see that it is important. I do think he played a good first half and then just sort of ran out of steam and I have to do a better job of getting him some more rest in the game.

"I take the blame to not get him more adequate rest in the game."

If Romeus can't go against New Hampshire, Brandon Lindsey likely would be the player who would start in his place. Lindsey has been the first replacement defensive end in the game and has played the most of any of the reserve ends the past two years.

That would mean senior Nate Nix and redshirt sophomore Shayne Hale would move up on the depth chart and redshirt junior Justin Hargrove, who had an excellent camp, would be thrust into duty of some sort.

Gattuso said the strength of the defensive line is in its numbers, and now it's time for the reserves to step up.

"We've been challenging our young guys that we really need them to get to the point where we can have them out there for longer stretches," Gattuso said. "And I think we are getting there. Brandon Lindsey did some really good things [last Thursday], Nate Nix always plays hard, Justin Hargrove has played really hard.

"That is what is tough about an opener, you can't get a feel for some guys in game situations. We're working hard, we're going to fix it."

In addition to the shuffling of ends, Gattuso said the two starting defensive tackles -- Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih -- also are going to get a little more rest as the younger players behind them have shown they are capable of spelling them.

He is especially high on senior Tyler Tkach and freshman Aaron Donald, who he said played very well against the Utes. Meanwhile, Ty Ezell has worked his way back off the scout team and likely will be in the mix against the Wildcats.

"Ty Tkach deserves more chances based on how he played," Gattuso said, "and Aaron deserves a lot more chance and he is going to get his opportunities. He has been better and better every week He is a kid who can really be an impact this year and that is why we chose not to redshirt him.

"And Ty Ezell has really come back strong. He had a tough camp, he was a little bit overweight but he had a great day yesterday, so the competition is heating up and those inside guys really need to play better and they know that."

NOTES -- Pitt said it would no longer comply with the Big East's new policy on issuing an official injury report twice per week, making the school the first in the conference to do so. The policy, which was voted in by the coaches, held that each team would issue two official injury reports each game week. But the policy is not enforceable and thus teams have the option of not complying with it. Wannstedt did say Thursday that safety Dom DeCicco (hamstring) and safety Andrew Taglianetti (groin), like Romeus are "questionable," tailback Ray Graham (knee) "will definitely get some carries."

Paul Zeise: . First Published September 10, 2010 4:00 AM


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