Pitt Football: Only one freshman on 2-deep

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Nearly all Pitt freshmen will redshirt this season to save a year's eligibility, but that does not mean there will not be a few who make an impact.

"I would expect we will have two, maybe three freshmen play this year," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.

The biggest reason is that 20 of the Panthers' 22 projected starters are in at least their third season at Pitt, and one of the two who is not -- sophomore tailback Dion Lewis -- is a Heisman Trophy candidate who rushed for nearly 1,800 yards last season.

The Panthers also have plenty of depth at many positions, which means there is little opportunity for a true freshman to get playing time.

If the number is two -- and, as of now, only cornerback K'Wuan Williams seems like a definite contributor -- it would be the fewest for a Wannstedt-coached Pitt team. Generally speaking, about four freshmen have played each season for Wannstedt.

The opener

Game: No. 15 Pitt at Utah, Salt Lake City.

When: 8:30 p.m. Sept. 2.

TV: Versus.

Williams, who has come out of nowhere to become one of the Panthers' top corners, likely will have freshman company on the two-deep depth chart by the time the season gets rolling because injuries can change team needs.

Williams was not recruited highly -- only Pitt offered him a scholarship -- because of his lack of height, but he has grown two inches since signing day and now stands 5 feet 10, a good height for a corner.

Beyond that, he was one of the most consistent players at preseason camp, regardless of class. He also has earned a spot on all special teams and might, in a pinch, return kicks.

"He'll be like a fourth or fifth corner," said Wannstedt, who also said two other possibilities to play are defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive end T.J. Clemmings.

While both seem ready to play, they line up at positions that are deeply stocked by veterans.

That means coaches would have to commit to using them enough to justify burning their redshirts, and that can be tricky.

Of the two, what to do with Donald, a Penn Hills High School graduate, shapes up as a tougher decision.

He has been dominant throughout preseason practices in nearly every situation against nearly anybody who lined up against him.

But Wannstedt is hesitant to commit to Donald because the Panthers have three veteran defensive tackles ready to play and a couple others who have played well enough to show they can be productive.

"Donald is a possibility, Clemmings is a possibility," Wannstedt said. "[Donald] is a playmaker, he is kind of a mini-Mick [Williams, who starred at defensive tackle last season]. We'll see, but [once a freshman plays] there is no turning back. You don't want to waste a year because, once you play a kid, now you are trying to force him into the lineup.

"That decision [on Donald] has not been made yet; he's getting reps, he is getting prepared to play, we'll see how it plays out."

One freshman who seemed to be a candidate to play this year before training camp is receiver Todd Thomas, but he has not progressed as fast as coaches had hoped and also plays a well-manned position.

Wannstedt said Thomas, from Beaver Falls, is not likely to play this year, but, as he has told all freshmen, he needs to be ready because that could change at any time.

"I don't think so because of the depth at receiver, and [he has] a little more learning [to do]," Wannstedt said. "But I've told our players -- so much they are probably sick of hearing me say this -- but I remember the story of Steve Slaton, [during his freshman year at West Virginia].

"He was the fourth-team running back in training camp and, by the end of the season, he was a Heisman Trophy candidate for the next year.

"Things do happen and things change."

One other freshman who seemed likely to play this year is defensive end Bryan Murphy, but he has a broken foot and is expected to be redshirted.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720. First Published August 25, 2010 4:00 AM


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