The Panthers return a strong trio of linebackers this year led by 1st team All-Big East and All-American candidate, Gerald Hayes, 6-3 245, senior middle linebacker. Starting at strong side linebacker will be Lewis Moore, 6-2 245, junior. Lewis split time with Amir Purifoy last year and looks to take over the position for himself. Lewis was dominating at times last year and has the size, speed and strength to be a big time player this year. Brian Beinecke, 6-1 225, senior will be taking over at rush linebacker after splitting time with Brandon Williams there the last two seasons. Brian is a hard-nosed player who is known for his vicious hits. His hits on the Notre Dame running back at the final game at Pitt stadium, and his hit on the Iowa State running back in the bowl game two years ago were highlight material that will be replayed at Pitt for years to come. The starting three should be outstanding. The depth is another question though. The Panthers were hit hard last year by graduation of two top backups in Ryan Gonsales and Nick Cole to go along with co-starters Purifoy and Williams. Other than wide receiver and fullback, linebacker is the thinnest, depth-wise position on the team. The only backup who has any playing experience is Scott McCurley, 6-0 225, senior, who has played well when called upon. Two blue-chip recruits from a year ago that were redshirted, will have to be counted on to step up and produce. They are Joe Dipre, 6-4 245, redshirt freshmen, who won a award for his standout performance during practices and scrimmages last year and Monroe Weekley, 6-3 250, redshirt freshmen who has a lot of talent, but may end up growing into a defensive end. There has been talk that the coaches would like to move Tyre Young, 6-0 250, sophomore back to outside linebacker, but that is still up in the air at this point. Although we have some very good linebacker recruits coming in this fall, I would expect at least two current running back/fullback prospects to be moved to linebacker this spring. A great chance to play for young players and incoming recruits, plus we graduate two more after this coming season (Hayes and Beinecke), so there will be even more opportunity to play early at Pitt! Pitt will most likely need to bring in another complete linebacker class next year also, and they will have a great chance to play early too!
Special Teams returns Punter Andy Lee, 6-2 205, junior who has improved each year and should be one of the top punters in the Big East again. J.B. Gibboney, 5-9 165, sophomore, will handle kicking duties this spring and battle incoming recruit David Abdul this fall. J.B. is solid kicker who should push for playing time. Nick Lotz took some shots over the years, but I think he will be a big loss because when we really needed him last year, he came through. Against teams like Temple, WVU and NC State, he made big field goals when the team couldn't get the ball into the end zone. On kickoff returns, Torrie Cox returns and several others that have a chance to play are Marcus Furman, Tu Tu Ferguson, Darren McCray, Rosie Bynes, Joe Stephens and others. Torrie had some excellent returns last year and should only get better. Pitt needs to find a punt returner this year after losing Antonio Bryant, and hopefully someone will step up this spring.