Freshmen Of Influence

The Pitt football team has nine first- and second-year players on its depth chart on offense and 11 on defense, including four starters on offense and two on defense, but only two are freshmen.

Quarterback Pat Bostick and tailback LeSean McCoy are starting their first and second games, respectively, for Pittsburgh (2-2) against Virginia (3-1) Saturday at 7 p.m. at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.

Some believe more freshmen should be playing and the ones that are making a considerable impact, other than Bostick and McCoy, should be getting more time. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard and safety Dom DeCicco are pushing the veterans ahead of them, and Maurice Williams has been added to the depth chart this week, but don't look for their status to change.

"They're all backups,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I told Dom DeCicco that he's in the same situation as Mo Williams. He's on some special teams, but no one has gotten hurt. When he came into camp, there was no doubt that he was in our two deep. The obvious is that if you can redshirt (a freshman) he can get bigger and stronger.

"And with linemen, in most cases, that's going to happen. Jabaal Sheard is playing the most (among the freshmen). He legitimately is playing 10-15 snaps a game, and that will continue. But Dom and Mo are not getting as much playing time, but they are in a position to help us. And they might play this week. You never no what's going to happen.

"And the other side of that coin ... is to have guys like Gus Mustakas, Derek Kinder or Elijah Fields,'' Wannstedt added. "They all needed the extra year. It would be a shame if Derek and Gus didn't have redshirt years to give after their injuries. ... So, we're doing what we need to do to win, and we're being sensitive to every player. Trust me on that.''

Williams ran the first offensive play this season and lost 15 yards on a reverse. Pitt ran the same play later, and he gained eight yards. Williams played in three of the four games and had no other carries or catches. When asked why Williams hasn't gotten more touches, Wannstedt used the same reasoning that he used for DeCicco at safety. Everyone ahead of him has stayed healthy, so that has kept him off the field.

"Mo really is the third receiver at both spots, the flanker and the split end, but we've just stayed healthy there,'' Wannstedt said. "We had the intent for him to work into the lineup in certain roles. We had some packages where we would use four wideouts and put him in the mix, but we've had to make some adjustments the past couple weeks, obviously. But he's still there.

"He's practicing, and something could happen on the first play and he's back in the mix. He's going to be a great player for us. He's got as much talent, speed and hand-eye coordination as anybody on our roster. He's not getting as much experience as I'd like, but Cedric McGee is making some plays, T.J. was making some plays, Marcel and Oderick ... so, it'll work itself out.''

McCoy has played in all four games with four games with 417 rushing yards and five touchdownson 65 carries (6.4 average). He also is second, two behind senior tight end Darrell Strong, with 11 catches for just 40 yards. Bostick is 27-for-42 passing for 230 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions. Sheard has one tackle, a pass breakup and quarterback hit, while DeCicco has three tackles (one solo) in limited action.

But Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads had a definitive reason why DeCicco hasn't played more in the secondary.

"There's no question that Mike Phillips is playing good football for us,'' Rhoads said. "He's very solid in his tackling and his run-game support. There's no denying the leadership that he's bringing to this football team right now, and he easily could have two interceptions. So, his positioning in the passing game has been very good, and I'm extremely satisfied with Mike.''

Fifth-year senior defensive end Chris McKillop talked about Pitt's two youngsters pushing classmate Joe Clermond and him for playing time.

"From Day One, we've been saying that our D-line was going to be deeper than ever,'' McKillop said, "and it's worked out that way. ... And we're going to need that depth throughout the season.

"Greg Romeus, when you look at him, you can tell that he's a stud. And Jabaal Sheard, he's got a lot of talent. He just has to get the whole concept about playing defensive line, so I'm not surprised that they've played so well this early in their careers. And they were highly recruited.''

McCoy, who has made the biggest impact among the freshmen, believed that it was easier for some young players to excel earlier than others.

"As far as a playing quarterback goes,'' McCoy said, "you really have to know everything ... but a running back just has to know who you've got to block and what the linemen are doing, so there's a big different between playing running back and playing quarterback at this level for a freshman.

"So, hopefully, me and LaRod can get in there and help him out a little bit ... and he can get into a rhythm with some easy throws and easy reads. No matter what class you are or how old you are, you have to be ready to play at this level. It's college football, big-time football, so freshman or senior or whatever, you have to come to play.''

With the Panthers, it's just that some young players are getting more opportunities to play than others.

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