Pitt's starting linebacker unit is pretty much set with Nicholas "Freeze" Grigsby playing the "Star" outside linebacker, Matt Galambos in the middle and Bam Bradley at the Money outside backer.
But that doesn't mean there's no room for other players to see the field, and Mike Caprara is the first one outside that group pushing for playing time. Caprara has boosted his chances of seeing the field by learning the roles and responsibilties of all three linebacker positions.
Pat Narduzzi said Caprara is "mentally" equipped but says he trusts the redshirt junior to do what needs done on the field. The Star linebacker is the newest for Caprara after he played the Mike and Money during the spring, and says it's been a great experience for him to learn an extra position.
"I feel the Star has helped me the most being out in space for all three positions," Caprara said. "Knowing the whole defense, knowing the whole linebacker [unit], but knowing the whole defense has helped me the most."
Caprara played in all 13 games on special teams during the 2013 season, but saw action in only four games last year. He recorded five tackles in the opener against Delaware but one during the rest of the season.
He said knowing the duties of all three linebackers can make him a smarter linebacker by knowing more tendencies, adjustments and what his teammates are supposed to be doing.
"I can let them know what’s going on on that side of the field," Caprara said. "It just works both ways, and I know because I’ve played all three positions so I know more tendencies.”
At the outside linebacker positions, the Panthers have a pair of freshmen in Anthony McKee and Saleem Brightwell who have made early impressions on the coaching staff. Linebackers coach Rob Harley stressed the athletic prowess of each player, and the McKee is better against the pass while Brightwell is more advanced against rushing formations.
"McKee is extremely athletic so the play out to the field, that guy can chase a lot of things down," Harley said. "Saleem is very instinctive in the box. Understands run plays, when guys pull he's finding the football. He understands who's taking him to the football."
Harley said it's too early to make any decision on the chances of either making an impact on the team's linebacker depth, but certainly wouldn't rule out the chance of any young player carving out a role.
"They'll just continue to pick away," Harley said. "If the lightbulb goes off, shoot, next day, hey, you're in."
A handful of players donned orange vests during Tuesday morning's practice, meaning they were limited physically in one way or another. Among the notable players out were Artie Rowell, Alex Bookser, Jordan Whitehead, Chris James, Grigsby and McKee.
"A little banged up on No. 10 which is par for the course," Narduzzi said. "I think you’re always a little banged up at this point. A lot of guys are working through it and we’ll go from there."
He added James tweaked "something" during Monday's evening practice, the first of four two-a-day practices during training camp.
Narduzzi said the injuries of both James and Rowell are day-to-day and "nothing major."
Because of the way last season ended, as well the manner in which Pitt lost a number of games in 2014 when the Panthers led in the fourth quarter, the players and coaches have been asked if the team--especially the defense--has a "chip" on it shoulder this season, in one way or another.
Pertaining to that notion, spots of red, white and blue jumped out at Pitt's indoor practice Tuesday. Duct-taped to the "arms" of tackling dummies were none other than footballs in the color scheme of the nation, emblazoned with the date Jan. 2, 2015 and the logo of the Armed Forces Bowl.
Regardless of what's said, don't be fooled into thinking the program has let that loss--better yet, the fashion in which the Panthers lost that bowl and other games--go easily.