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O-Line, defensive personnel emerging

Two days before gameday, questions about the Panthers offensive line and defensive starters are looking like they have answers.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi is two days away from his head-coaching debut against the Youngstown State Penguins. As gameday gets closer, the Panthers' offensive line depth becomes seemingly thinner. 

Narduzzi admitted the offensive line was "banged up" with left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and center Artie Rowell in question for Saturday's game. Alex Bookser let on earlier in the week he and Brian O'Neill will be the starting practice, which Narduzzi said Thursday was based on practice alignments. 

"Players don’t sit in meetings," Narduzzi said. "They see who’s practicing every rep, figure that’s going to be the way that’s going to be."

Narduzzi said if Bisnowaty is a little banged up, then he might not start. 

"But he’ll be ready to go," Narduzzi said. "He’s ready to go, I guarantee you that."

Rowell, whose 2014 season ended in the second game with a torn ACL, practiced this week and the head coach said he was able to do everything in practice. But coming off an injury, Narduzzi noted the length of the season in the way the staff wants to manage Rowell's action.

"I could see him playing [Saturday]," Narduzzi said. "Will he start, I don’t know, but I’ve always been big into if you practice, you deserve to play. So if you’ve been banged up a little bit and a guy’s been taking your reps, I really believe those guys deserve to start. So we’ll play that by ear, see how we go."

It sounds like Rowell will play. How much, who knows.

More importantly, it also sounds like Rowell and maybe even Bisnowaty will not start Saturday. If that's the case, look for O'Neill at left tackle, Dorian Johnson at left guard, Alex Officer at center, Gabe Roberts at right guard and Bookser at right tackle as the first line out. 

On the other side, Narduzzi confirmed Mike Caprara will start at the Money outside linebacker Saturday but Bam Bradley will still receive plenty of reps. Bradley appeared to be in line for the starting job from the spring into training camp but Caprara won the job. 

At safety, Patrick Amara will start over Jordan Whitehead. 

"I’m looking forward to watching them both," Narduzzi said. "I think they’re both good football players. I could go either way, same thing with Bam Bradley and Caprara. I could go either way, flip the coin and let’s go."

Whitehead will be the fifth defensive back, according to Narduzzi, but he's not a nickelback. When Pitt goes into its third-down nickel "Delta" package Whitehead will replace Amara at boundary safety while Dennis Briggs comes on as the nickelback.

What that could mean right now is the coaching staff prefers Amara on the field when the defense anticipates the offense to run, while Whitehead is better-suited on clear passing downs than Amara.

The Panthers lacked playmakers in the secondary last year, and Whitehead's production throughout camp and scrimmages left no choice for him to be included in the team's plans this year. He might already be the most dynamic player in Pitt's defensive backfield.

Even if he doesn't start this first game, watch his play compared to that of the others at his position and expect Whitehead to take more and more reps with each week that passes. 

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