Inside LB play not up to par in opener
Pitt's Greg Williams (38) described the sensation of being named a starting linebacker for the season opener as "cool."
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Pitt senior Greg Williams got a pleasant surprise Saturday when he was told he was going to start for the Panthers at spur linebacker spot in the opener against Buffalo.
"I was like 'cool,' " Williams said about how he reacted when he heard the news. "I didn't expect it to be honest, but I wanted to make sure I made the most of it."
It was not that much of a surprise that Williams, a three-year starter, was in the lineup. Considering how many days of practice he missed the last week of camp because of a concussion, though, he was not sure how much he would get to play, much less start.
The decision to start Williams despite his relative lack of practice time speaks volumes, however, about the Panthers linebackers and the fact that they remain a work in progress.
- Who: Pitt (1-0) vs. Maine (1-0), noon.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- Internet, Radio: ESPN3, KDKA-FM (93.7).
The group has struggled with consistency while the coaches have tried a number of combinations to make the situation better.
A number of changes could be made each week until the coaches find a group capable of playing at a high level.
Williams is one of the team's most-experienced players, and, though he was listed as a reserve behind freshman Todd Thomas all week, the coaches decided to go with experience and see how it worked out.
"Every day is a new day, and Greg just kept progressing as the week went on," said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.
"He had a really good day on Thursday and, when we sat down as a staff, [we] felt like that was best for our football team.
"Sometimes, you just go with your gut feeling, and we had a good feeling about where he was."
Williams must have played well because he still is listed as the starter.
He said he expects to start Saturday against Maine, but he also knows that competition for jobs is ongoing.
But he also said he is finally healthy enough to play at the desired level, although he expects to improve each week as he gains experience in the Panthers' new defensive scheme.
"I'm feeling really good, and that [his health] is the thing that held me back some," Williams said.
"I just need to keep studying things and learning this defense. I feel like I am moving around a lot quicker, I think I will play faster, I feel great now. I've worked on my techniques, too.
"I just know I'm competing with Todd Thomas, and he's a great player and, if I want to keep my spot, I have to work even harder."
Williams and Thomas seem to have settled in at the spur spot, and Brandon Lindsey and Ejuan Price have handled the Panther linebacker spot.
The starters at the inside linebacker spots are Shane Gordon and Max Gruder with Tristan Roberts the primary backup, but Pitt coach Todd Graham said the coaches are looking at moving other players into those spots because he wants to see more production.
He said the inside linebackers did not play fast enough in the win Saturday, and they missed too many tackles.
That is why Graham hopes that freshmen Laquentin Smith and Nicholas Grigsby continue to progress and are ready to play this week.
He also has considered moving Price to one of the inside spots.
"At the inside linebacker spot, we just want to be faster, play faster," Graham said at his weekly news conference.
"They've had the hardest time because they were trained to key a different way than how we key. That's really hard. These guys have been playing three years keying a certain way, and you're trying to break them of that. I've got a lot of confidence in Max and Tristan, with their experience.
"I thought Gordon had a good first game; he's still feeling his way around a little bit. As Nicholas Grigsby comes back, he's a guy that can provide more speed to that group. We want [Ejuan] to play a lot more than 30 snaps. We might even look at him a little bit there.
"It's just about getting better."
NOTES -- Graham said that freshman quarterback Trey Anderson could play some this week. "Trey's going to play, he's not going to redshirt this year," Graham said. ... Patterson said that he would like to get freshmen Smith and Lafayette Pitts into the game this week. "We're just trying to bring them along slow."
First Published September 7, 2011 12:00 am