FOOTBALL: Looking Ahead to 2006

Sure, the 2006 recruiting class for Pittsburgh gives fans plenty of reasons to be excited, but often times forgotten is the fact Tyler Palko, Greg Lee, H.B. Blades and a host of other returnees are set to come back to help form one of the most talent ridden teams in the country in '06.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2006: QB Tyler Palko -- After a slow start, he came on in the second half of the season, throwing for 2,392 yards and 17 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. If Pitt develops a consistent running game, Palko will have a huge senior season.

WR Greg Lee -- The junior led the Big East with 962 yards receiving on 49 receptions. He scored seven touchdowns, including a pair against rival West Virginia. Look for more big plays from Lee if he decides to stick around for his senior season.

CANDIDATE FOR NEXT LEVEL: CB Josh Lay -- Lay has the potential to make some NFL team very happy on draft day. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior has the size, speed, and big-play ability to make an impact on Sundays. He ranked third in the conference with 14 passes defended -- down from 15 in 2004 -- picked off three passes and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

ROSTER REPORT: Injuries along the defensive line, especially to senior DT Thomas Smith, plagued the Panthers defense all season. Nagging injuries to freshman RBs LaRod Stephens-Howling and Rashad Jennings, who each missed significant time at different points during the season, hampered the running game. LB H.B. Blades suffered a lower leg injury early in the West Virginia game, and it showed, as the Mountaineers gashed Pitt for 451 yards rushing. Blades is expected to recover in time for spring drills. WR Greg Lee, however, is still undecided on whether he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, saying, "I have to sit down with my family and coaches and see what's the best thing for me to do. But I think right now (the best thing) would be for me to come back."


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