McKillop Makes Linebackers Better

After solid recruiting classes in his first two years, University of Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt isn't making any bold predictions, but he did believe the Panthers would be better than the group that went 5-6 in his first season and 6-6 last year.

"I expect us to be a little better,'' Wannstedt said. "How much, it all depends on how the quarterback thing plays out. I think we'll be better up front on defense. I know we'll be better, and I think we'll be better (overall) on defense this year. ... So, I expect us to be a little better than we were.

"But we've got to find a way to win a couple close games. Every year, we've been a quarter or so away from winning one or two more games. Now, you're into the bowl-game scene. I don't know how much of it relates to maturity or mental toughness, but we're trying to address all those areas.''

Wannstedt noted that the entire team is involved in the summer conditioning program with Buddy Morris, including nearly every injured player from the spring. Players like defensive tackles John Malecki and Mick Williams, linebacker Jameel Brady and defensive back Irvan Brown are doing everything now. The only three who are limited are offensive lineman Mike McGlynn, linebacker Greg Webster and end Doug Fulmer.

Webster, a freshman last fall, developed Crohn's Disease. It is a disorder that can be controlled through medication, and Pitt's medical staff is attempting to get his problem in check. But he has not yet been cleared medically. Fulmer, a starter last fall until a knee injury and surgery at midseason, was re-injured in the spring and set back a bit. McGlynn suffered a shoulder injury during the spring and had surgery.

"McGlynn and Fulmer are still being rehabbed,'' Wannstedt said. "Webster, I believe he'll be able to play. It's just a matter of him getting strength back and getting the medication under control. There are several guys in the (NFL) who are playing with this disease, but they have it under control. So, there's no reason to believe that Greg can't do it, too. We just have to get the medication right and get it under control, because he gets fatigued easily.

"Doug's probably the only one that I would anticipate not being able to go when we open camp. But we're just taking it a week at a time. Mike McGlynn, he's right where he needs to be. We'll be smart with him, because he's a senior, and we're looking at him at several line positions. He can play guard, tackle or center. But there isn't anything that's set. The depth chart is not set, and our offensive line is unsettled right now. But, if Jason Pinkston comes on (at right tackle), McGlynn is a guy that we could move.''

Wannstedt said that defensive tackle Corey Davis and outside linebacker Tommy Campbell, casualties to suspensions during the spring, will not rejoin the team. Both have been placed with other schools, Wannstedt believed.

"Corey made good grades so he was eligible to transfer,'' Wannstedt said. "California and IUP wanted him. He had (several) options. Tommy Campbell, we're not really certain about him.''

A player needs at least a 2.0 grade point average to transfer, and there's some question whether Campbell got the necessary grades to be eligible.

Wannstedt also said that he wouldn't be surprised if some other players who were on the team in the spring would not come back for the fall after going through the rigorous offseason conditioning program with Morris.

"We'll find out who really wants to be committed, and who doesn't,'' Wannstedt said. "And that's all part of it. We've got to become a lot tougher team. The roller-coaster days are over. We've got to become a lot tougher mentally. We've got to change the culture here.''

Wannstedt reiterated that he is no longer worried about Pitt's linebacker situation, as Shane Murray, Scott McKillop and Dorin Dickerson should be solid starters with backups Nate Nix, Dan Loheyde and Adam Gunn getting playing time as well.

"I was very pleased with Shane Murray,'' Wannstedt said. "Probably the most underrated player on our defense, Scott McKillop, is a lot better player than I gave him credit for. Watch what happens. He's going to get in there, and he's going to be a very good player for us in the middle.

"But we've got to establish some backups. Dan Loheyde and Steve Dell. Then, between Dorin and Adam Gunn and Nate Nix, we're going to be fine there. And I really think that with Shane, we're at least as good as we were there or better. We will miss some leadership (from seniors H.B. Blades, Clint Session and Brian Bennett), but it's going to fall on others like Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop and Gus Mustakas. they're what we're looking for up front.''

In the secondary, Wannstedt was effusive in his praise as well.

"Aaron Berry has got a lot of talent (at cornerback),'' Wannstedt said. "If he can stay focused and keep working hard, he's got a chance to be a good player. At safety, (Eric) Thatcher's healthy and Mike Phillips, he had a good spring, and Elijah Fields came on. So, we're going to be better at safety. And we'll have some depth there. I'm anxious to see Dom DeCicco. He could be in the mix there.

"Elijah, he'll be one of the most interesting guys for all of us, I'll be watching just like you guys. The first week of training camp out here, does he show up like he did the last week or so in the spring, or will he be back to square one? That'll be interesting to see, because if he picks up right where he left off he's going to be tough to keep out of the lineup.''

With Malecki, Williams and Duhart joining starters Mustakas and Rashaad Duncan at defensive tackle, Pitt is deep there. On the ends, Wannstedt praised Romeus and freshman Justin Hargrove, who the coach said has put on 10 pounds of muscle just since spring drills ended.

Wannstedt appeared to be most concerned about the depth on the offensive line and noted that "we still have not identified who are top five are. We need to do that and then work on some depth.''

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