Depth Chart Choices

For the first time in Dave Wannstedt's tenure as Pitt's head coach, the Panthers depth chart is, well, in a word, deep.

Where injuries and attrition have hampered Pittsburgh in the past, the Panthers likely could survive a couple this season. And they've already had three that cut into the depth during camp with senior wideout Derek Kinder (knee), freshman offensive guard Chris Jacobson (knee) and sophomore tailback Kevin Collier (wrist) all needing season-ending surgery.

But it appears as through Pitt can get along without these players, as the better teams do -- although the Panthers can't be classified as such just yet -- and they all have redshirt years that allow them to return next season.

"At almost every position, except the offensive line, we're pretty deep,'' Wannstedt said. "That's the way the good teams have it, and we're closing the gap a little bit in those areas, but now we have to go out there and play. That's why they play the games so you can go out there and prove it.

"So, I like our team, and I believe that we're a stronger team. All the offseason work and conditioning, everything that we've done to prepare, it's tough to know where you're at and how those things pay their dividends until it's the fourth quarter of a game. ... That's when it all makes sense.''

The depth chart isn't set, because of the offensive line with fifth-year senior Mike McGlynn just returning to full-time duty and the linebacker starters not definite, either, but a preliminary group certainly can be drawn up.

At quarterback, junior Bill Stull might not have been a fan favorite early on, but he clearly was the most efficient quarterback in camp and beat out redshirt freshman Kevan Smith and frosh Pat Bostick from the opening snap. If Stull can minimize his mistakes, Pitt's offense could be explosive with talent at the skill positions.

Even without Kinder, the wideouts should be solid with redshirt junior Marcel Pestano, redshirt sophomores Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee, sophomore Tamarcus Porter and freshmen Aundre Wright and Maurice Williams. Collier wouldn't have gotten more reps than junior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling and freshman LeSean McCoy or even fullback Conredge Collins. All three should be threats in the passing game as well.

The offensive line is still a question mark due to McGlynn's status and a lack of experienced depth, but not in the starters. Senior left tackle Jeff Otah, junior left guard C.J. Davis, fifth-year senior center Chris Vangas, sophomore right guard Joe Thomas and sophomore right tackle Jason Pinkston have had good camps and should be solid.

The defensive line should be the team's strength with five rotating tackles and ends. The tackles are juniors Rashaad Duncan and Gus Mustakas, sophomores John Malecki and Tommie Duhart and redshirt sophomore Mick Williams. The starting ends are fifth-year seniors Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop, while the backups are redshirt freshmen Greg Romeus and Ty Tkach and freshman Jabaal Sheard. Also, redshirt sophomore end Doug Fulmer, a former starter, is rehabbing a knee injury and could return in a month.

The linebacking corps is loaded, if not experienced, with redshirt junior Scott McKillop in the middle and fifth-year senior Jemeel Brady, redshirt junior Adam Gunn, redshirt sophomore Shane Murray, sophomore Dorin Dickerson and redshirt freshman Nate Nix battling for the outside spots. Gunn and Murray are the early leaders. Gunn also backs up in the middle with redshirt frosh Dan Loheyde still battling back from knee surgery from last year.

The secondary is as strong as ever. Fifth-year senior Kennard Cox returns at one corner spot, while sophomore Aaron Berry is a first-year starter. The safeties, fifth-year senior Mike Phillips and redshirt junior Eric Thatcher, return as starters and are finally healthy. Sophomore Jovani Chappel is a backup safety, but he has played corner before. The other safety is frosh Dom DeCicco, while senior Lowell Robinson is the first corner off the bench.

Junior Dave Brytus is the punter, and redshirt sophomore Conor Lee is the place-kicker. Berry and Porter are the top punt returners, while Robinson is the leading kick returner with Wright and Maurice Williams.

Pitt opens with Eastern Michigan Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field.

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