There's no possible way that Brandon Lindsey, who signed with the Panthers out of Aliquippa in 2007, could have seen his career progressing the way it has. After rushing for 743 yards as a senior, along with making115 stops from his linebacker position, Lindsey somehow translated those abilities into being a defensive end.
He was moved to defensive end during spring drills in 2009. At the time, behind returning starters Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, he was moved there to get himself a quicker way to the field. Though he knew he had to wait his turn behind a pair of returning starters, and the fact that those two starters still had two years ahead of them, it was still the correct move. Lindsey, considered an undersized defensive end, has been happy with the position switch ever since it was made.
"In the run game, going up against a big 6-6, 6-7, 300-pound tackle, I have to learn how to use my speed, and my leverage, more than anything," Lindsey said. "That was definitely the biggest obstacle for me--knowing I have to get beat up a little more; just have to get bigger and stronger."
After averaging playing no more than 15 to 20 snaps a game, Lindsey's number got boosted to 52 in this last game against New Hampshire. From a conditioning standpoint, and the ability to play at a high level with that number of reps, Lindsey passed with flying colors, according to the coaching staff.
"He played 52 snaps against New Hampshire," defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "The next week in practice, it's amazing. Game experience is what it's all about for young players. He practiced in a way that was new."
That is the biggest jump, even in a case with Lindsey, where Pitt's third defensive end is like another glorified starter. As a coach, you want to believe that even your fourth-teamers are practicing with the same will that an All-American would be practicing with. Lindsey said last week was no different, in terms of how he mentally and physically prepared for practice.
"I wouldn't say (practicing as a starter) is easier," Lindsey said. "It might have been a lot easier, knowing that I was going to get most of the reps, knowing I was going to see most of the things (the coaches) wanted me to see, during the film study for the week.
"I definitely have to be ready, get a lot of extra film; a lot of talking with the coaches, and seeing what they want from me, in that game."
His coaches, however, saw a different player--for the good. Wannstedt, so far, likes what he sees out of Lindsey--both last week against New Hampshire, and heading into this game with Miami. Keeping the backups ready to go into a game at any given moment, and getting them to prepare with the same intensity that starters do is one of the tougher things to control in coaching. If anything, from this whole situation, Wannstedt has one more example of the importance of every player bringing it at practice every day. There's no doubt he'll be using this example on the recruiting trail, some time in the near future.
"In reality, when a player has that mindset that he's a backup; he's going to play 10 or 15 plays a game, you don't want it to be that way," Wannstedt said. "More times than not they have that mentality, 'I'll get in there and get my ten plays, and there won't be anything more required of me.' Then, all of a sudden, they're with the first group, and they look around, and a whole sense of accountability shows up."
Gattuso, as Lindsey's position coach, has a closer relationship with him every day. He said he has prepared Lindsey for this moment all along. Sometimes, he felt his message to Lindsey was falling on deaf ears as it does with a lot of younger players. Gattuso, like everyone else, doesn't want to think about losing players like Romeus. Even heading into this Miami game, he has continued to stress to Brandon how big of an opportunity is at stake for him.
"I talk to Brandon all the time about opportunity," Gattuso said. "The hard part, when you're sitting behind two All-American candidates; you can talk all you want to any athlete. They don't see the light at the end of the tunnel because it's like, ‘Okay, I got to wait until spring to get my chance.' I've talked with Brandon on a regular basis."
Even though he's the starter at defensive end for this year, it sounds like Lindsey knows he's there until Romeus comes back--if that is indeed the conclusion of the season, as Wannstedt said earlier this week. He looks at his current opportunity as his way of helping this Pitt team right now, in a way it needs most. He also looks at it as building for his own senior year--almost as if he's still in the mentality, that he's that third defensive end.
"That could be a real big stepping stone for next year, getting a lot of first-team reps this year," Lindsey said. "That's basically it; just getting comfortable, taking most of the first-team reps. Getting used to the speed of the game for next year, too."
Nevertheless, Lindsey has the backing of his teammates, and perhaps more importantly, has the backing of his coaches.
"He's going to blossom through this, and make some plays," Gattuso said. "He's a great athlete. Brandon will go out and play, and he'll do well, because he has his own abilities. I think that will give us a little change of pace."
"Brandon will be ready to play," Wannstedt said. "I'm very confident in Brandon. He's played in enough games. He's made plays in games here. Brandon will be ready to play. It's the next step."