Doug Fulmer was establishing himself as a solid pass-rusher and run-stopper through four games with three starts as a redshirt freshman for Pittsburgh in 2006, but a broken left ankle sidelined him after that. Fulmer battled to be back for spring practice, 2007, but clearly wasn't ready to return.
During a non-contact drill that spring, he suffered an ACL tear in his right knee that needed surgery. He never fully recovered and sat out all last season as well. Fulmer was limited this past spring, but was deemed healthy enough for training camp, 2008. After just one practice, however, he has been shelved.
The Panthers coaches and players believe he's just experiencing soreness in the knee and expect Fulmer to return soon. Until then, sophomore Jabaal Sheard, who played in nine games last fall, has been Pitt's starting left defensive end.
"So far he's been outstanding, even with Doug Fulmer coming back,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He's been one of the most impressive guys from January to August -- in the offseason program (with) lifting, running, quickness. He's off to a fast start, and I'm real excited about him.
"If you have any chance to play great defense you have to have guys up front that can make plays. ... Every place I've been, we've had guys like this. We've played with guys that were undersized and athletic. (But) these guys aren't undersized, and they can all run.''
Sheard also talked as though Fulmer was still in the mix and would eventually be back in a starting role. This isn't to imply that he doesn't want to start or isn't ready. Sheard certainly appears to be physically able to handle whatever is thrown at him. It's just that he is really respectful of an upperclassman.
"I'm just getting used to everything here in camp,'' Sheard said. "(But) it's exciting for me to be starting, and I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity I'm getting now. Don't count out Doug, though. He'll be back.
"He's a big part of me being on the field. He's been here a while and is teaching me my plays. He's still here, and we're still competing for this position. He's helping me out a lot like Joe did. I just want to take advantage of that.''
Sheard backed up fifth-year senior Joe Clermond, for the most part, this past season. But this year, there should be no stopping his progress. He's young, but physically gifted at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. And he playing time he got last season should be extremely beneficial as he gets ready for the 2008 campaign.
"It was great for me to get some playing time,'' Sheard said. "I didn't know what to expect, but I was able to get in the rotation for a while. And it really helped me this year because I knew what to expect after getting some playing time. Now, I want to get even more time this year.
"I got a little game experience playing in some games, but I also got to work behind one of the best D-ends we've had here in Joe Clermond. He taught me a lot, just watching him on the field and being there live, it gave me a lot of experience. And I was able to take that with me into this year.''
And with Fulmer out, Sheard gets nearly every snap with the first-team defense. What he does with that experience is up to him.
Sheard Makes An Impression
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