When he initially was recruited by Pittsburgh from nearby Central Catholic High School, Andrew Taglianetti was scheduled to be grayshirted. He would not be on the team this fall, take part in spring drills, 2009, and be a freshman next fall.
Then, a scholarship became available this year, so the grayshirt was out. But a redshirt appeared likely due to secondary depth and Taglianetti's perceived need to bulk up his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. Halfway through training camp practices now, and a redshirt isn't a certainty, either.
"From a special teams standpoint, he's doing an outstanding job, (and) since Irvan Brown's hurt we're getting him more reps,'' Wannstedt said, referring to Taglianetti's second-team status in Pitt's base defense.
"He's about as quick as any player we have on the team, and he uses it in the right ways. He's quick and tough, and he's smart. ... He's been the most-exciting guy on special teams, at least as far as our freshmen our concerned.''
Pitt secondary coach Jeff Hafley also praised Taglianetti.
"He's a smart kid and a quick learner,'' Hafley said. "Andrew's done everything we've asked of him, and he's played well. He's got a lot to learn, but he's taking advantage of the opportunities we're giving him. And that's all you can ask.''
For now, Taglianetti is just enjoying his recent success -- several interceptions the past two practices and the scrimmage -- and the additional playing time that he has earned.
"It's a lot different from high school,'' Taglianetti said. "Physically, we can all handle it, but ... the mental aspect of camp is just ridiculous. We're putting in new defenses every day. So, we're working hard to get everything down.
"Even though I'm making plays, I'm still making mistakes out there, so I have to correct those and keep getting better. The better I get, the more reps I'll get. (But) I've been working hard in the classroom and in special teams. Hopefully, Coach Wannstedt will trust me more to play on them and in the base defense.''
Taglianetti has been on the kickoff and punt coverage units, but he is hopeful that soon he'll be part of the field-goal and punt-block groups as well. He is the gunner on punt coverage and in the middle on kickoffs.
While he certainly wants to secure a spot in Pitt's regular defense, the special teams are like a second home to Taglianetti.
"Even in high school, I loved special teams, and it's great to run down there and tackle someone,'' Taglianetti said. "To be able to do that at the Division I level, it's going to be sweet. Hopefully, I'll keep performing at a high level so on Aug. 30, I'll be out there with the rest of the guys against Bowling Green.
"I take a lot of pride in special teams, and I know you can make some big plays. So, I just want to contribute in any way that I can, but if I can do it by blocking a kick in the course of a game that would be great.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believed that Thursday practice sessions, the start of the second half of training camp, were the most physical and gratifying with the Panthers "making some strides.'' Pitt went full-speed during short-yardage, goal-line drills in the morning and third-down situations in the afternoon.
On freshman Cameron Saddler's situation, Wannstedt said: "It's not as bad as Derek Kinder, but it was close being that it was almost non-contact. ... It was about as an unfortunate situation as it could be. All we can do now is that he'll have surgery as some point. We'll redshirt him. He'll rehab, and we get him back in the spring.''
Wannstedt added that safety Elijah Fields is "handling everything that (the coaches) are throwing at him mentally, and he's excited about it. ... He's working extremely hard at it, as hard as he's ever worked.''
Wannstedt noted that Fields grades were much-improved in the last semester and believed that "good things will happen'' for him this year.
Freshman wideout Jonathan Baldwin didn't make as many big catches against the Pitt secondary Thursday, primarily because the Panthers double-teamed him on nearly every route. Instead of matching up corners Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed on him in single coverage, which could only be described as a mismatch, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett added a safety to the mix like Fields or Taglianetti more times than not.
Note: Former Pitt QB Sal Genilla (1986-87) watched the afternoon practice with his two young children.
Taglianetti Makes His Mark
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