Injuries reshape Pitt football starting lineup
Starting safety Jason Hendricks, 25, is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Nickel back Andrew Taglianetti will play a greater role in Hendricks' absence.
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Three key injuries will have an effect on Pitt's lineup Wednesday when the Panthers (3-4, 1-1 Big East) play host to Connecticut (3-4, 1-1), but Todd Graham also had some good injury news to report.
Graham said Monday that starting safety Jason Hendricks is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury and offensive lineman Lucas Nix (knee) has been downgraded to a game-time decision, but starting spur linebacker Todd Thomas will return to the lineup after missing two games.
Also, Mark Myers, a fan favorite of sorts because he has been the third-string quarterback, has been elevated to backup position because Trey Anderson is out indefinitely with tendinitis in his right (throwing) wrist.
Graham said Myers has had a good week of practice and will be ready to go if starter Tino Sunseri gets hurt. He said there is no plan for Myers to get a few snaps like Anderson has in recent games.
- Game: Pitt vs. Connecticut.
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- TV: ESPN.
The injuries to Hendricks and Nix mean that Graham and his coaching staff have had to do some shuffling.
Graham said that he hopes Nix, who last week appeared to have progressed enough to return to the lineup, can play but that there is contingency plan in place if he cannot.
If Nix plays, the starting offensive line will be (left tackle to right tackle) Nix, Ryan Schlieper, Ryan Turnley, Matt Rotheram and Jordan Gibbs.
If Nix cannot play, the starting offensive line will be (left to right) Greg Gaskins, Schlieper, Turnley, Rotheram and Gibbs.
The shuffling goes beyond the starters, though, as two players who began the season as starters -- Juantez Hollins and Cory King -- will serve as backup guards. Rotheram is either the third or fourth tackle, depending on what happens with Nix.
Also, Schlieper, the starting left guard, has emerged as the backup center, which means that the coaches may have finally settled in on a rotation of players up front.
"It has been interesting," Graham said Monday at his weekly news conference. "But we really have had the most stability that we have had in quite some time [on the offensive line] and also I feel good about our preparation so far.
"We have had Schlieper taking some snaps from center and even Jordan Gibbs taking some snaps because naturally we haven't had [Chris] Jacobson [who served as the backup center] and we have been working Gaskins exclusively at the tackle."
Although the offensive line is unsettled because of Nix's status, the secondary is not.
The loss of Hendricks, who Graham said was starting to play at a very high level, is tough for the Panthers because it moves nickel back Andrew Taglianetti into the starting lineup and creates holes for the other roles Taglianetti has played -- nickel back, safety and linebacker.
Part of the solution will be Thomas, who plays spur linebacker but could slide over to nickel back. That move is possible because Kevin Adams, who filled Thomas' spot, proved he can handle the spur linebacker position.
Also, backup Brandon Ifill can play safety and nickel back, so Graham believes that the coaches have enough players to fit those roles in every package.
"Andrew Taglianetti will be the starting bandit [safety]," Graham said. "I have felt very consistent in our secondary. I can't say enough good things about [free safety] Jarred Holley, [cornerback] Antwuan Reed and Hendricks in how they have been playing. Brandon Ifill has also done great for us in the nickel package.
"And Kevin Adams has developed at the spur position just in time because Taglianetti will have to play at the bandit position. I feel really good and I believe that is the strength of our football team. I really challenged these guys on defense by asking them to take it to a different level."
A player who will have a bit of an increased role in the nickel package is reserve cornerback Buddy Jackson, who will play the slot receivers in some passing situations. This is a role he has played already this season. Graham said he has become a valuable piece to the pass defense.
"Buddy Jackson played all of our third downs last week and has done a solid job for us coming in and covering down the slots," Graham said. "He will do that again this week along with Brandon Ifill and Kevin Adams, who have been doing a great job for us. Todd [Thomas] and Kevin [Adams] play the same position on nickel, and Buddy will play something similar to a third corner."
NOTES -- The Pitt-Cincinnati game Nov. 5 at Heinz Field will be a 7 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on ESPNU. ... Heinz Field management issued the following reminder for fans going to the Pitt-Connecticut game. Gates will open at 6 p.m. and fans entering Heinz Field will be subject to full pat-downs. The Panthers and Heinz Field management also encourage fans to arrive early and be patient about entering the stadium because of enhanced security procedures. Coolers, bags, backpacks and large purses (larger than 8 1/2 by 11) will be prohibited. All bags are subject to inspection. All bags that do not pass security must be returned to vehicles. Signs and apparel with foul language or inappropriate messages are prohibited in Heinz Field.
First Published October 25, 2011 12:00 am