Wannstedt's lineup set, sort of
The final few positions on the Pitt Panthers' depth chart have been filled and the team appears ready for its opener Saturday against Youngstown State at Heinz Field.
But while the initial two-deep was released and there seemed to be clarity at most of the positions, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt spent most of his weekly news conference yesterday making it a lot less clear as to just how much a number of players will play.
For instance, the left guard position was a hotly contested battle in training camp between redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson and senior Joe Thomas.
Thomas was named the starter yesterday because Wannstedt said he valued his experience, but Wannstedt said Jacobson also would play.
"[Jacobson] is going to play in games," Wannstedt said. "It really was not the physical part, but just experience. In the early games like this, you don't know what to expect. We think that Joe Thomas' game experience gives us the best chance to be successful right now."
Several other positions were cleared up yesterday by Wannstedt as well:
• The place-kicker was won by redshirt junior Dan Hutchins over redshirt freshman Kevin Harper, but, keeping with the theme of the day, Wannstedt added, "Kevin Harper has got to get in the game."
• As expected, freshman Dion Lewis is the starting tailback, but freshman Ray Graham apparently did enough to leapfrog redshirt freshman Chris Burns for the backup spot. Wannstedt said all three would play and added, "Dion will take the bulk of the work, but we will just see how the game unfolds."
• Freshman Dan Mason won the backup spot at middle linebacker and joins Lewis and Graham as the only true freshmen who are likely to play this season. Wannstedt said he probably will redshirt the rest of the freshman class.
• Only three receivers were listed at the two receiver spots on the two-deep (Oderick Turner was listed twice) and Wannstedt said that's because the fourth spot will be an ongoing competition between Cameron Saddler, Aaron Smith and Aundre Wright. Mike Shanahan eventually will get into that mix as well, but he is still out with a hand injury and will not play this week. "It is so close," Wannstedt said. "They all do different things a little bit better than the other. It really wouldn't be fair at this point to say you're the fourth guy."
• Smith will be the punt returner and Saddler and defensive back Antwuan Reed will be the kick returners, while Luke Briggs will again be the kickoff specialist.
• One spot that Wannstedt did not name a starter is free safety and he said Elijah Fields and Andrew Taglianetti (listed as co-starters) will play a lot.
"We've got some different packages where both are in there," Wannstedt said. "But [along with strong safety Dom DeCicco] we have a rotation of three guys at the two safety spots."
• The defensive line will be a six-man rotation with the third defensive end (behind the two starters, Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard) being Brandon Lindsey and the third defensive tackle (behind Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas) being Myles Caragein. Both Lindsey and Caragein have the upper hand over other players at those positions because they can play in two spots (right and left end in Lindsey's case, nose and defensive tackle in Caragein's case).
One other thing Wannstedt made clear is that the Panthers will not overlook Youngstown State and will make sure they come ready to play. He said they learned a tough lesson about being ready to play last year when they were upset by Bowling Green in the opener.
"We've talked about that," Wannstedt said. "I don't think it's a matter of taking anybody lightly. It's a matter of going out there and being focused and playing as good as you can play. We lost to Bowling Green last year because we turned the football over. We didn't tackle well. We've got to go out there and protect the football and we need to tackle. If you do those things, you're going to have a chance to win every week, whether it is Youngstown State or West Virginia."
"I don't think it's a matter of taking anybody lightly. It's a matter of going out there and ... playing as good as you can play."
-- Dave Wannstedt, on opening the season vs. Youngstown State
First Published September 1, 2009 12:13 am