Pitt Football -Wannstedt Wrapup

The University of Pittsburgh football recently completed the 2006 football season with a record of 6-6. PantherDigest.com Senior Writer Dale Grdnic attended Head Coach Dave Wannstedt's final press conference of the year. A number of topics were covered including recruiting, position changes and player evaluation. Read on for details.

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh football team still had problems running the football and stopping the run in Dave Wannstedt's second season coaching his alma mater, but the Panthers improved just enough to win one more game than last year's 5-6 mark.

However, Pitt (6-6), which lost its last five games and is a major long shot to earn a bowl bid, showed minor improvement in some areas as well.

"When you don't win eight games or more, people might not want to hear about the good things,'' Wannstedt said. "But I'm pleased about the strides we made with our special teams and our (kickoff) return game.''

Place-kicker Conor Lee was solid, despite being thrust into a starting role this season, and he earned a scholarship for his final two years. Senior punter Adam Graessle was excellent, at times, and transfer Dave Brytus should be a solid replacement for his final two seasons.

On kickoff returns, junior Lowell Robinson developed into one of the top kickoff returners in the nation, but punt returns are another story. Even with the dangerous Darrelle Revis back there, Pitt only broke one big punt all year and will need to do more with that aspect in the future.

Wannstedt also cited the team's decrease in penalties and improvement in turnover ratio where it was ranked among the Big East leaders most of the season. However, if the Panthers want to be a premier program, and it seems like they have fallen behind West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers, at least, in the Big East, other improvements need to be made.

The best way to do that is to turn up the heat on recruiting. To do that, Wannstedt noted that Pitt has moved wideouts coach Aubrey Hill to recruiting Northern Virginia and Maryland. He previously worked in Florida. The Panthers will also increase their efforts in Eastern Pennsylvania as well.

"We've gotten a lot of players from Florida and we need to continue doing that, but I don't think we need a fourth of our team to be from there,'' Wannstedt said. "There are other good areas just a few hours away.''

One might believe that the recruits who already have committed would be disinterested after Pitt's second-half collapse, but Wannstedt disagreed.

"The perception out there is that we were close, a lot closer this year to the big boys than the year before that, and they can make it better,'' Wannstedt said. "They all see an opportunity to play. They really do. They've got an opportunity, and we're headed in the right direction. It's going to take a little bit of time, but we're getting there.''

Time is something that coaches at any level don't have. They're living on borrowed time, actually, but Wannstedt didn't offer much of an opinion on his staff's status even though the defense appears to be ripe for a shakeup.

"We're in the evaluation process,'' Wannstedt said. "And I've got to look at what we're doing coaching-wise, offense, defense, special teams. I've got to look at what we're doing in the training room and the weight room, so this is the time of year where everything gets evaluated.''

While Wannstedt won't make a quick decision, he admitted to talking to a few players to determine if they want to return in the spring and if it's in their best interest. Two players who should be back but definitely need an attitude adjustment are defensive tackle Corey Davis and tight end Darrell Strong. Both were given chances, but just didn't make the most of them.

Through it all, Wannstedt has not been deterred. He has identified the areas that need improvement and is making strides to get there. Pitt will be young again next year with only five seniors returning among those who finished the season as starters. Cornerback Revis isn't likely to be one of them, although Wannstedt didn't say it was a done deal.

"We talked when the season was over, and he's finishing his classes and getting ready for next year,'' Wannstedt said. "The NFL, I'm going to help him in any way that I can to gather information, as I would with any of these kids. There's information that I can get. There's a survey system that juniors can fill out, and he'll get an opinion (in writing) from the NFL.''

Wannstedt believed Revis would be a high draft choice, but wouldn't pick a round. A preliminary look at the returning players has Bishop McDevitt grad Aaron Berry, a special teams performer as a frosh, replacing Revis. Other possible depth chart moves have redshirt sophomore Shane Brooks moving to fullback, junior C.J. Davis from left guard to center, sophomore Dorin Dickerson back to tailback behind junior LaRod Stephens-Howling from Johnstown and sophomore John Malecki over a spot to nose tackle.

Wannstedt also wanted to increase the team's mental and physical toughness with junior outside linebacker Tommie Campbell leading the way. Campbell, a first-year starter, appeared to be lost at times and certainly wasn't big enough. He likely did not weigh more than 195 this season. He and players like sophomore safety Elijah Fields are expected to make huge improvements during the offseason and spring drills.

Notes: Pitt honored 18 seniors in its final home game and four -- QB Tyler Palko, DL Vernon Botts, OLB Brian Bennett and TE Steve Buches -- have already graduated. ... And 12 among the remaining 14 will earn degrees after the summer semester.

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