Wannstedt Excited For Season To Begin

Unlike his predecessor, Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt generally is an ebullient and outgoing sort who has been mostly optimistic during his past two seasons guiding his alma mater, but one could see that he was much different as the Panthers prepared to open training camp this year.

There was a gleem in his eyes when Wannstedt talked about this season's University of Pittsburgh football team, and he certainly appeared to be ready to get the Panthers back on the football field.

"It's going to be exciting to see how the players have matured just from the end of spring practice until we start to practice again,'' Wannstedt said. "We came out of the spring, and we felt good about our spring practice. We felt like we made strides in areas that we needed to make strides in.

"Did we solidify a lot of positions? No. But I think that's what training camp is all about. ... We do have spots that they'll be good, healthy competition in training camp, and that's exciting. And we do have players that can play and are capable of stepping up. If we didn't have that, they there would be concern. But we're not concerned.''

While this year's Pitt depth chart is comprised primarily with Wannstedt's players, i.e. those he recruited in the past two years, the veteran coach emphasized the importance of his veteran players. Specifically, since those at key positions -- quarterback on offense and middle linebacker on defense -- will have new players after three-year starters have graduated.

"Let's not minimize the importance of our 11 seniors coming back, and five of those are linemen,'' Wannstedt said. "We have two starting defensive linemen and at least two, maybe three starting on the offensive line. (Jeff) Otah and (Mike) McGlynn are there, and Chris Vangas is battling for a spot. (Defensive ends) Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop are seniors.

"That's what you'd like to see. You'd like your senior class to be 25 (scholarship players), and we'll get there. But you've got to make sure that your senior class is linemen heavy, because those guys take the most time to mature and come along both physically and mentally. So, five seniors are potential starters on the line, I like that. Let's not minimize that.''

Also on the offensive line, sophomores John Bachman and Jason Pinkston are pushing incumbents for their starting spots at center and right tackle, respectively, as Pinkston ended the spring as the starter due to fifth-year senior Mike McGlynn's injury.

Generally, however, Pitt is young with a junior -- Bill Stull -- the most experienced quarterback, and he has mopped up in just six games. The other two, Kevan Smith and Pat Bostick, have freshman eligibility.

"Sure, that's a concern right now, but we have confidence that they'll all be able to pick things up pretty quickly,'' offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "They worked hard in the offseason and are ready for camp.''

Pitt also has players with sophomore eligibility among the top three wide receivers, Oderick Turner and Tamarcus Porter along side senior Derek Kinder, and sophomore Kevin Collier and freshman LeSean McCoy backing up junior LaRod Stephens-Howling at tailback. Sophomore Joe Thomas is the starting right guard, and sophomore Nate Byham is the No. 1 tight end.

On defense, three players with freshman eligibility are backup ends -- Greg Romeus, Ty Tkach and Justin Hargrove. Sophomores John Malecki, Mick Williams and Craig Bokor are backup tackles, but all should get playing time.

Sophomores Shane Murray, Dorin Dickerson and Steve Dell are in the linebacker mix with Murray and Dickerson battling for a starting spot, while freshmen Nate Nix and Dan Loheyde are also pushing for playing time.

In the secondary, sophomore Aaron Berry is set to start at one cornerback spot, while others were moved arounddince talented sophomore safety Elijah Fields has been suspended for the season. Sophomore Jovani Chappel, the No. 3 cornerback, has been moved to safety. Senior Lowell Robinson and freshman Aaron Smith will play cornerback.

Wannstedt also said that with 17 defensive linemen on scholarship, some could be moved to the offensive line. But nothing specific was planned.

"Sure, we have a lot of young guys on defense that will need to contribute,'' defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "But that's OK, because they're talented guys. And we have enough veteran, experienced players to balanced that out. So, we should have some competition at every spot on defense.''

Wannstedt wouldn't put a number on how many freshmen he believed would play, but certainly some would have a chance before others. Obviously, Bostick has an opportunity. Wannstedt mentioned that Dom DeCicco is running as a second-team safety since the only guys with experience there are starting fifth-year senior Mike Phillips and redshirt junior Eric Thatcher.

He also noted that frosh Chris Jacobson already is a backup offensive guard, and McCoy is competing for carries at tailback. Incumbent junior starter Stephens-Howling and sophomore Collier will share reps. And freshman Henry Hynoski will get work at fullback.

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