Smooth sailing for Wannstedt ... for a change

Pitt Offseason

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Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt met the media yesterday to wrap up the 2009 football season and look to the 2010 season, and one thing seems certain: The program is rolling along with very few bumps in the road lying ahead.

And the dearth of offseason changes shows a level of stability that Wannstedt has achieved within the program as he continues to push it to the top of the Big East.

"This has really been a quiet offseason in a lot of ways," Wannstedt said. "I think the guys are working hard and we are probably a lot healthier, too, than we've been. But from a standpoint of major changes, I don't think there are many, if any, and we're in very good shape to move forward."

The fact that there won't be any major shake-ups, either with the coaching staff or personnel, makes this a different offseason for Wannstedt, considering the coaching changes, transfers and major surgeries he has dealt with since he arrived at Pitt in 2005.

Instead, he spoke of filling in some holes left due to graduation and shoring up some positions for spring football.

That speaks volumes about the state of the program now -- coming off a10-win season complete with a bowl victory and a top-15 ranking -- compared to two years ago, when it was coming off three consecutive losing seasons.

But there will be some changes and some personnel moves. Here are some highlights:

• Redshirt junior tailback Shariff Harris will transfer, likely to a Division I-AA program so that he can play right away. Wannstedt said the staff is trying to help Harris find the right spot. The move is not unexpected given the depth chart -- featuring three players younger than Harris -- at that position.

• Tailback Chris Burns, who lost the battle for the starting job last spring to Dion Lewis, is staying at Pitt.

• As expected, defensive end Greg Romeus is coming back for his senior season. Wannstedt confirmed as much yesterday, but Romeus has made it pretty clear all along that he was going to stay in school.

• Redshirt freshman quarterback Kolby Gray will likely move to safety, and Elijah Fields (Duquesne High School) will likely move from safety to weak-side linebacker permanently.

• Dom DeCicco (Thomas Jefferson) may miss spring football because of toe surgery. Given that and the fact that safeties Jason Hendricks (shoulder) and Andrew Taglianetti (Central Catholic, knee) won't be ready for spring, Wannstedt said Jarred Holley will remain at safety (as opposed to moving to corner) at least through the spring because of numbers.

The coaching staff likely will remain intact with the exception of wide receivers coach Bryan Bossard, who has left to pursue other opportunities. Rumors had swirled that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was a candidate for a similar job at Texas A&M, but Wannstedt said they were just that, rumors. He said an internal candidate (graduate assistant Scott Turner) and several external candidates are being considered for Bossard's job.

The starting offensive line heading into spring will be Lucas Nix (Thomas Jefferson, right tackle), Ryan Turnley (Hopewell, right guard), Alex Karabin (Greensburg Central Catholic, center), Chris Jacobson (Keystone Oaks, left guard) and Jason Pinkston (Baldwin, left tackle). However, there will be a number of players, such as Greg Gaskins, who will challenge for a starting spot and could end up altering the lineup. Gaskins will compete at both tackle spots and center, for instance, and if he plays well enough could push one of the tackles to guard.

Wannstedt said a number of fourth-year players with eligibility remaining, such as fullback Kevin Collier and offensive linemen Jared Martin and Wayne Jones are likely to graduate by the end of the summer and move on with their life's work.

Pitt will welcome about 14 potential recruits on official visits this weekend as is customary in January when there is a big home basketball game. The Panthers play host Saturday to Louisville. Of the 14 players coming, however, only one has not already committed to play at Pitt.


Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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