Austin Has The Power

After taking every snap with the first-team defense during FanFest practice Thursday night at Heinz Field, it appears that Austin Ransom will get a shot to replace Shane Murray at weak-side linebacker for the Pitt football team.

Shane Murray was injured Tuesday and had an MRI Wednesday to determine the extent of his right knee strain, but Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt would only say that he's day-to-day. So, fifth-year senior Austin Ransom, the former safety, wideout and special teams demon, stepped into his spot.

Redshirt freshman Tristan Roberts also is competing for playing time there, but Ransom is being pushed hard right now to get ready.

"We're trying to force-feed him a little bit to see where he's at mentally,'' Wannstedt said after practice Thursday night. "It'll be him and Tristan. They'll be the two guys working (at weak-side linebacker).''

Wannstedt also noted that fifth-year senior Chase Clowser, all 6-foot-7, 330 pounds of him, has moved into the second-team left tackle spot behind starter Jason Pinkston. Redshirt freshman Jordan Gibbs is now No. 3 after opening camp as the starting left tackle.

On the right side, junior Joe Thomas and freshman Lucas Nix are still competing for the starting spot. Thomas, however, is still in the lead to open there when Pitt plays host to Bowling Green Aug. 30 at noon at Heinz Field.

There also will be some rotating with the linebackers, as the backup roles have not been set.

"Nate Nix had a good camp,'' Wannstedt said. "Brandon Lindsey ... Steve Dell had a very good camp, and so did Max Gruder.''

Nix and Lindsey are strong-side linebackers, while Dell and Gruder are in the middle behind fifth-year seniors Adam Gunn and Scott McKillop, respectively.

It appears that the kickoff duties will be between fifth-year senior Conor Lee, the field-goal kicker, and redshirt sophomore Lucas Briggs. Fifth-year senior punter Dave Brytus, who kicked off last season, and redshirt sophomore Dan Hutchins also are in the mix, Wannstedt said, but Lee is the frontrunner.

"We'll kick here (Heinz Field) Wednesday and then decide,'' Wannstedt said.

Having workouts at Heinz Field are few and far between for the Panthers, so Thursday was a good opportunity for the new players in particular to get accustomed to what they'll go through on game days.

"It was good to get down here,'' Wannstedt said. "Anytime you're coming down here with a new group of freshmen, the logistics of everything ... those little things are nice to talk about. It's not ideal for a practice, but we got some decent work done, particularly at the end with the two-minute drill.''

All three units scored in the two-minute drill with a one-handed gem by Nate Byham on a last-second toss from Pat Bostick highlighting the session.

Wannstedt said that his game-day staff will be set up like this. On offense, Tony Wise, David Walker and Brian Bossard will be on the field. Brian Angelichio, Matt Cavanaugh and Scott Turner will be in the press box. ... On defense, Phil Bennett will be on the field with Greg Gattuso, while Joe Tumpkin and Jeff Hafley will be in the press box.

And finally, the field was in excellent condition with just one game, the Steelers preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, the only one before the Pitt practice.

"The field's in great shape, and the people down here have been great,'' Wannstedt said. "Jimmy Sacco and his crew really have this field in tip-top shape. We tried to move around a little bit so we wouldn't tear it up too much.

"But I wish we could practice down here the next couple days. Under the lights and everything, you can't simulate (that) in practice other than being here.''

Pitt begins concentrating on Bowling Green beginning with Friday night's practice at the UPMC Complex.

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