Dom DeCicco is the fifth-leading tackler on Pitt's defense, through five games. What makes that more impressive is that DeCicco did not play in the New Hampshire game, he missed the second half of the Utah game, and missed the better part of three quarters of the Miami game. The senior safety has played in approximately 11 of Pitt's 20 quarters of football this season, and has made 17 of his 24 tackles of the season in his two games in this new WILL linebacker/"nickel" linebacker role.
Based on production, keeping DeCicco in this new hybrid role looks to be the smart thing to do. Even though Pitt faces a more pro-style offense this week than it has faced in recent weeks, head coach Dave Wannstedt wouldn't rule out keeping DeCicco in his new position.
"It depends on the situation," Wannstedt said. "(Syracuse) will use three wide receivers. They'll use two tight ends. They'll use a fulllback. We have to be ready."
Last week, Notre Dame rolled out a variety of formations. Based on DeCicco leading the team with 11 tackles, he showed his ability to adjust to a multitude of formations all in the same game.
"Notre Dame, last week, a couple times they used two tight ends, one back, two receivers," Wannstedt added. "Dom played linebacker, and played well, no problem. He knows both spots. We're probably, throughout the year, are going to need him to do both."
Jarred Holley, who has played beside DeCicco as a safety, feels comfortable enough if DeCicco was to stay down as a linebacker.
"Wherever the coaches put him," Holley said. "Dom is doing a great job wherever he plays. Wherever he plays on the field, he'll be a big benefit to our defense."
Max Gruder, who has played both at outside linebacker and now in the middle, has a different take. He feels that not only can DeCicco play in this linebacker role, but he also feels it fits into the coaching staff's philosophy of playing the best 11.
"That's the good thing about Coach Wannstedt's defense; they always try to play the best 11 players, especially linebacker," Gruder said. "Every linebacker knows every position. I can switch to outside. Shane (Gordon) can move to outside, vice-versa. Anybody can move everywhere. Someone can come in one week and be a safety like Dom (DeCicco), then to linebacker the next week. It helps us on the field."
The coaching staff obviously makes the final call, in regards to personnel. If they need one more ringing endorsement as to why it's a benefit of having DeCicco down as a linebacker, take it from the guy who is making a lot of the calls in Gruder. Having DeCicco by his side makes his job easier as well.
"Last week, (DeCicco) pretty much made the full transition (from safety to linebacker)," Gruder said. "He was in against all personnels, and he's doing a great job so far. He's pretty much adapted pretty well to the WILL linebacker. He's a pretty intelligent football player, and that helps him make the transition a lot easier for him.
"It's called the nickel, but he's playing against pretty much every personnel last week. He was pretty much our WILL linebacker last week, and I think he did a very, very good job."