Kinder Down And Out

If the Pitt football team didn't have enough problems already during training camp with highly-touted freshman quarterback Pat Bostick missing the first week to deal with personal issues, the Panthers will be without senior wideout Derek Kinder for the season due to a knee injury.

Derek Kinder, a first-team All-Big East performer last season for Pittsburgh, tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his right knee during a camp practice Saturday at the UPMC Sports Complex. Coach Dave Wannstedt informed the team later that night and spoke to the media Sunday.

"He's worked so hard to put himself in position to have a great year,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "It was a noncontact injury. He never got hit. He planted on the grass, and it's the right ACL. That's the bad news.

"The good news is that he has a redshirt year left, and the plan is to get it rehabbed, come back and have a great year next year. And he does have the intangibles, the work ethic and the determination to make a full recovery and to still end up accomplishing everything that he wants to accomplish.''

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Kinder, who is from Albion, N.Y., was being touted as an All-America candidate after leading the Panthers with 57 receptions and 847 as a junior last fall. Kinder was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, presented to the college football's top receiver, last season.

"Obviously, Derek played a big role in our offense the past couple years, but we have some great receivers,'' junior quarterback Bill Stull said. "We are pretty strong in that position. He was a great leader, and he's still going to be around as a leader. He'll just be on the sidelines, but he'll help the receivers.

It now falls on Pitt wideouts coach Aubrey Hill to determine which of the remaining players -- redshirt junior Marcel Pestano, redshirt sophomores Cedric McGee and Oderick Turner, who was the other starter last season, and sophomore T.J. Porter. Wannstedt said that freshmen Maurice Williams and Aundre Wright are also in the mix, even though when camp started he thought about redshirting one or both this season.

"Obviously, it's a setback,'' Hill said. "He's a great kid, but we've just got to get him back and ready to play next year. We also have to regroup as receivers and make sure that we find the guys who are going to do everything consistently right, which Derek did.

"So, we have to fill that void. (And that's in) leadership, going to practice every day wearing your hard hat and doing all the little things, knowing your assignments inside and out. We have to concentrate on the little things.''

Pestano, now the elder statesman among the wideouts, believed that this could be used to rally the receivers, and must pick up his efforts to be a leader both on the field and off it in Kinder's absence.

"It's a big loss for us, the receivers as a group, but it opens up opportunities for everybody,'' Pestano said. "Everybody has to step their game up. We're missing a big part of our offense and a big part of our team. ... Everything was a lot easier for us with Derek in there, because he was the leader. But everybody's looking at me right now because I'm the old guy.

"Before, Derek was clearly the leader. He was the most experienced person out there, but me being the second-oldest everybody is looking to me for leadership. I was trying to take some of that role from Derek before, but now I have to try to take over to make everybody look up to me. Ced McGee and me have to try to handle the role.''

Kinder might be best known for his devastating block on two West Virginia players to facilitate Darrelle Revis' 73-yard punt return for a touchdown last season. The play was named ESPN's "College Football Play of the Year'' and was a finalist for Play of the Year at the ESPY awards last month.

So, Kinder clearly was the team's best blocker, but the remaining four players have some experience in pass-catching. Turner was second with 44 catches for 660 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns to Kinder's six. Pestano added 28 catches and two scores, while McGee had six catches.

Senior tight end Darrell Strong also is an option to split out. He began his career as a wideout and had 15 catches with three scores last fall.

"Most of those guys were jockeying for (Kinder's) spot,'' Hill said. "They all want to be the No. 1 guy. So, there's no doubt about it. ... They're all capable, and it's up to me to make sure I get them ready for game time. Marcel has been unbelievable on the field and also has done some really good things leadership-wise. But it's so close right now. It's like a flip of a coin.

"I wouldn't want to say anything right now. All those guys are doing well. I can't find one guy with everything, but Marcel is a really good athlete who can help us on reverses and is a real good route runner. T.J. is very explosive. ... Cedric, he can run good routes and is a good blocker for us. And Oderick, what he did last year was good. So, it might be receivers by committee.''

"(And) I'll take Darrell Strong right now,'' Hill added, "even though he's doing a good job right now at tight end. But we definitely have some good tight ends (Nate Byham and John Pelusi as well) where, if we get into a crunch with any problems, we're definitely capable with the tight ends helping out.''

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