Panthers Gear Up For 2005

The West Coast offense Pittsburgh ran under Walt Harris is gone, replaced by new coach Dave Wannstedt's run-oriented attack. <br><br>Thus even with nine starters returning to the offense, the Panthers are undergoing some learning experiences as they prepare for next fall.

QB Tyler Palko, who worked directly Harris for the last three seasons, including a redshirt year, now works with new coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and has some learning to do.

"The offense is completely different, from a standpoint of terminology, formations, how we are calling things, points of emphasis in some areas," Wannstedt said.

With Cavanaugh in charge of the offense, Wannstedt is spending more time grooming a defense that had a tendency to give up points in big chunks in 2004. The Panthers lost their Fiesta Bowl match to Utah 35-7 and in November gave up 38 points each to Syracuse and Notre Dame in back-to-back games, gaining a split with a 41-38 victory over the Irish and a 38-31 loss to the Orange in double-overtime.

"Defensively is really the area that I felt that I needed to get on the same page and make sure that some of the things that I believe in, a little more of a philosophy thing," Wannstedt said. "I think a lot of it has to do with what our p layers can do. There are going to be some changes."

Seven defensive starters return to the defensive unit, headed by LBs H.B. Blades and Clint Sessons and FS Tez Morris. The key losses there are DTs Vince Crochunis and Dan Stephens.
  • BUILDING BLOCKS: The Panthers will be strong at the skill positions with such returnees as QB Tyler Palko, WR Greg Lee and RB Tim Murphy, who can play fullback or tailback, and TB Raymond Kirkley. Senior TB Marcus Furman adds depth to the backfield.

  • COACHING CAROUSEL: Former Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt completed his staff with the hiring of Greg Gattuso as recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. Gattuso comes to Pitt from Duquesne, where he was 97-32 in 12 seasons. Earlier, Wannstedt named former Panther quarterback Matt Cavanaugh offensive coordinator. Cavanaugh led the Panthers to the 1976 national title. David Walker comes to Pitt as running backs coach from Syracuse. Also on the staff are Paul Dunn as offensive line coach, Curtis Bray (linebackers), Aubrey Hill (receivers), Bob Junko (assistant head coach and defensive tackles), Charlie Partridge (defensive ends and special teams), and Paul Rhoads, (defensive coordinator and secondary coach). Dunn was at Kentucky the last two seasons and Hill, who served under Steve Spurrier at Florida, coached at Elon. Rhoads, Junko, Bray and Partridge are holdovers from the previous staff.

  • SCHEDULE SITUATION: The Panthers jump right into the thick of things by opening against Notre Dame. Wannstedt will have an old nemesis from his Dolphins days in new Irish coach Charlie Weiss, who was the offensive coordinator for Miami rival New England. After their Sept. 3 matchup at Heinz Field, the Panthers are on the road for the next two weeks at Ohio and Nebraska. The Panthers have only three conference games on the road - Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia - with four at home - Cincinnati, South Florida, Syracuse and Connecticut.

  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "He makes a lot of plays on his feet. He has a great ability to make plays on the move, and we need to make sure we are doing enough things within the system to give him a chance to do that by design." - Coach Dave Wannstedt, on QB Tyler Palko.

  • STARS OF 2005: QB Tyler Palko - He was second-team all-Big East as a sophomore in 2004 and gained national attention for throwing five touchdown passes in the Panthers' victory at Notre Dame. He had two fourth-quarter drives for scores against the Irish, one for a touchdown and another for the game-deciding field goal with a second left.

  • WR Greg Lee - He ranked sixth nationally as a sophomore in 2004 with an average of 108 receiving yards per game. That didn't make people forget Larry Fitzgerald, but his 1,297 yards receiving were the third-highest total in Pittsburgh history. Fitzgerald's 1,672 ranks first.

  • TOP NEWCOMERS: RB Rashad Jennings - Though several veterans will be ahead of him in the fall, this February signee could compete for playing time after enrolling for the spring semester.

  • DT Nick Williams - This redshirt freshman was impressive playing for the scout teams last fall. With the loss of Vince Crochunis and Dan Stephens, the Panthers will be looking for help at his position.

  • ROSTER REPORT: Sophomore WR Terrell Allen returns after sitting out 2004 with a wrist injury. He played both at wideout and as a kick returner as a freshman in 2003, leading the Panthers with a 23.6 average on 25 kickoff returns. He didn't catch a pass as a freshman but had 36 yards on four rushes.

  • Darrell Strong, who was recruited as a quarterback, moved to tight end from wide receiver, where he played in 2004. At 6-5, 245, he certainly has the frame for the position. He caught four passes for 58 yards.

  • PK David Abdul, who missed the 2004 season because of injuries sustained in a car accident, will return. He was 22-of-38 on field goals his first two seasons with a long of 47 and is 77-of-80 on PATs.

Panther More Top Stories