Pitt football notebook: Chryst says five freshmen will make an impact

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In 2013, Pitt played 12 freshmen in a bit of a surprising youth movement.

That number won't be as high this year, but Panthers coach Paul Chryst outlined Monday which first-year players likely will see the field this year.

Chryst named five freshmen who will play this year at his season-opening news conference Monday: running back Chris James, cornerback Avonte Maddox, defensive end Rori Blair, linebacker Quintin Wirginis and safety Pat Amara.

"I don't know if you have a certain number [in mind] coming in," Chryst said. "You just kind of see where guys come in and, also, where other guys are developing."

James was the highest-rated recruit of those five, coming in as a four-star running back out of the Chicago area. He could provide the Panthers with a big-play threat out of the backfield to complement James Conner and Isaac Bennett.

"Chris just gives us a little different style of back with Isaac and James," Chryst said.

Additionally, Chryst listed four freshmen who are in "wait-and-see" mode and could see the field if needed because of injuries or other depth concerns: running back Qadree Ollison, offensive lineman Alex Bookser, quarterback Adam Bertke and wide receiver Adonis Jennings.

Jennings also a four-star recruit, battled a groin injury in training camp and was limited for most practice sessions.

"Adonis, when he goes, I've liked a lot of what he's done," Chryst said. "I know [receivers coach] Greg [Lewis] has. It's just a matter of making sure he truly understands all that he's got to do."

I-AA opener

Chryst faced a couple of questions Monday about what happened the previous time Pitt opened the season against a Division I-AA opponent.

In Chryst's first game as coach, the Panthers lost, 31-17, to Youngstown State.

Chryst said he doesn't necessarily bring up that game, specifically, but said it's a good reminder that his team needs to prepare the same way for every opponent, regardless of classification.

Redshirt senior safety Ray Vinopal played in that game for Pitt, and said he thought this team was better equipped to prepare mentally for Division I-AA opponent.

"I've heard a few comments in the locker room here and there, and I make sure everyone knows to squash it right now," Vinopal, a team captain, said. "They have good players, they have good coaches, they've won football games. You've got to show up and win the game on the day you're playing it, it doesn't matter what happened in the past."

Mitchell's role

Reggie Mitchell is listed as one of Pitt's starting cornerbacks, but that doesn't totally define his role on the defense.

Mitchell also will play some nickelback, and could even move to safety if needed. He practiced at all three positions at various points in training camp.

"Depending on what's going on, he plays nickel, he plays corner and he plays safety, so all three spots," Chryst said. "Certainly his focus right now is at corner and the nickel spot. But, if something was to happen and he had to move back to safety, he could."

No TV for opener

Pitt's season-opener Saturday against Delaware will not be broadcast on TV locally, but can be seen online on ESPN3 and heard on 93.7 The Fan.

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

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