Dave Wannstedt: Big East Teleconference

Though the Panthers are coming off just two games, its first bye week of the season seems to be coming at the right time, as the team has a lot to sort through before kicking off aganst Miami in nine days.

Despite having a bye week, Pitt head coach Dave Wannnstedt still took time to have his weekly Big East teleconference. There were a number of topics up for discussion, mainly the injury situation, and the situation at running back. Last year, Pitt didn't get its first bye of the season until the last weekend of October, after they started the season with eight consecutive games.

The extra week will almost certainly help players such as Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti--both of whom sat out the New Hampshire game. Both are expected to be ready next Thursday. Left guard Chris Jacobson went down with an ankle sprain during Saturday's game. The extra week may prove most beneficial to him, since his injury was the most recent. X-rays on him proved to be negative.

Then, there's also the status of Greg Romeus, who has been bothered by a back injury, going back to training camp. His status is expected to be determined today. Romeus was excused from Saturday's game to go home for personal reasons.

"We worked (Monday), so we should have an update, (Tuesday) sometime," Wannstedt said, referring to Romeus.

With all the new Big East injury reporting policy--where it was described before the season that all Big East teams would submit a weekly injury update, Wannstedt promised to be more open with the injury updates. Last week, he only verbally proclaimed that Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti were questionable. He declared that Thursday. According to The Big East, the injury policy is this:

Each Monday during the season, teams will announce players who are out for the season or have surgery scheduled. Two days prior to a game, each team will submit a list of injured players with their status for the coming game. The categories will be probable, questionable, doubtful or out.

In addition to DeCicco and Taglianetti, Romeus and backup linebacker Manny Williams were also out, but that was not announced until Saturday.

"We did not withdraw from the injury policy," Wannstedt explained. "We just weren't as clear as what we should have been last week. We'll have an injury report (this week). We'll comply."

In Jacobson's place, was Ryan Turnley, who saw the most extensive action of his career. That included a second half which saw Ray Graham rush for over 113 yards on just six carries. Wannstedt liked what he saw of Turnley, but says it's too early to determine if Turnley will push for more time, when Jacobson returns.

"He did okay," Wannstedt added. "For the first time playing, he had his share. He did some good things, and he has some things he's got to work on. The experience that he got was invaluable. Right now, he's the swing guard."

Most of the talk during the teleconference surrounded the running back position. There are a lot of variables that go into this discussion. One, is the fact that Ray Graham is healthy, let alone able to rush for 115 yards and two scores. If there was any concern or doubt about Graham, it was his health, heading into last week's game.

"After his injury in training camp, we tried to be as conservative and smart as we possibly could," Wannstedt said. "He was able to play in the first game, but not a hundred percent. Last week, he had a great week of practice, so the plan was to get him in there."

Then there's the question of Dion Lewis being okay--physically or mentally. After rushing for 1,799 yards as a freshman, Lewis eeked over the 100-yard mark for the season, with his performance against New Hampshire. Wannstedt had a sit-down with Lewis, moreso to just keep his spirits up and not let him get frustrated. Wannstedt has proved that two backs can be successful, and he still believes despite the slow start, that both Lewis and Graham can have big years.

"That's what separates Dion Lewis from most other players; he is such a high-character, solid individual," Wannstedt said. "Him and I corresponded (Sunday). He is looking forward to a good week. He's ready to go. He's focused on what he has to do, and what he needs to accomplish, and improve on. I think that's what makes him a special guy."

As for some of the factors that might be impeding his progress through two games?

"It's a little bit combination of three new offensive linemen, a new tight end, defenses zeroing in on him," Wannstedt said. "It's not going to be easy any week. It's not going to be any different."

He then went back and said a younger offense may also be a factor. Instead of Lewis--the freshman running back with a senior quarterback, and three senior receivers starting, it's now Lewis the sophomore, with three sophomores replacing those seniors at their respective positions.

"Last year, with having probably a more veteran quarterback in Billy Stull, our passing game with Dorin Dickerson, Nate Byham being a senior, and Oderick Turner being a senior, having more of a veteran passing attack, teams probably respected Dion," Wannstedt said. "They honored him, but I don't think they were willing to sell out, and say, ‘We'll stop the run, and if you can beat us throwing the ball, go ahead.' I think we've gotten a little more of that early because of the inexperience--a new tight end, a new wide receiver, a new quarterback."

As far as the difference in what led to Graham's 100+ yards in the second half against New Hampshire, Wannstedt cited a number of factors. Though he was impressed with Graham's effort, he declined to say that Graham surpassed Lewis to become the top back. He says both backs will continue to share reps. Saturday's performance was just a matter of the offensive coaching staff making sound adjustments, and the help of both Lewis and Graham, even though Lewis carried the ball just once in the second half.

"I think the adjustments the coaches made at halftime made a difference," Wannstedt said. "I think, as the game went on, physically, New Hampshire probably got a little bit tired. I think that made a difference. Any time you're rotating fresh players--it's Dion Lewis and Ray Graham--that's going to make a difference. There's probably two or three reasons."

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