Bowling Green Is One Week Away

With just one week remaining before the season-opener against Bowling Green Aug. 30 at noon at Heinz Field, there appears to be just as much anticipation among the Pitt football team as there is among the fans.

And despite three non-winning seasons with no bowl appearances, Pittsburgh has been ranked in several preseason polls, including 25th by sports writers covering college football, so the enthusiasm is legitimate.

"Now, we kind of feel like this can really be exciting, and I think our team feels that way right now,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We haven't played a game yet, but I think our offense feels like our defense has a chance. And our defense feels like we have some players on offense that can do some things. So, I think the enthusiasm is legitimate.''

And it's not just a great defense aided by spectacular tailback LeSean McCoy.

"I think the team is excited and confident in Bill Stull at quarterback, that he's back,'' Wannstedt said. "And I think they like our kickers. So, I think it's the overall team. This is a situation that we're all in together.''

Wannstedt is like every other coach in the nation, though, and he wishes there was another month to prepare. But over the next few days, Wannstedt said he'll come to realize that there's not much more that can be done anyway, and now it's just time to play the games.

"Right now, I'm totally convinced, in my own mind, that we need (more time),'' Wannstedt said. "But probably next Wednesday, I'll be doing my radio show, having a bite to eat ... and you just surrender to it. It's here. The kids have done all the right things, and they're ready.

"We've put in the time, and now it's time to go. I know how hard they're working and seeing that every day is very encouraging. So, you want to see who reaches their potential and takes it from there. That's what I'm interested in, seeing how this team develops as the year goes on.''

One area where that holds true is on the offensive line. That area began camp with the most question marks, and while some were solved one remains. Junior Joe Thomas and freshman Lucas Nix are battling for the right tackle spot.

"There's no easy way to go through it except to go through it,'' Wannstedt said. "That's the only way for them to get better, but we have smart guys. And they're going to have to do their part with extra film study and extra work. And we have to put them in situations with a chance for them to be successful.

"And I think, every week, we'll face a player who is a dominant defensive linemen. But I don't think we'll face four or five or six at any one time like we've got. That'll be the difference. But our guys face on the offensive line face players like that every day in practice.''

Wannstedt mentioned a number of players who he believed had excellent training camps, but there were a couple who stood out. Jabaal Sheard was the Pitt defensive player that Wannstedt believed would have a breakout year. On offense, at least initially, he mentioned Jason Pinkston and then Cedric McGee.

"I like Ced so much, and he could end up making as many plays as anybody else on offense,'' Wannstedt said. "But it could be Oderick Turner. He's had by far the best camp that he's ever had for us, so I'm going to say Turner. He had his most consistent camp, and he made as many plays as anyone. And I think the competition definitely was a factor in that. There's no question.''

Wannstedt also noted that there were several freshmen who most certainly would get playing time this season. Nix and wideout Jonathan Baldwin on offense and safety Andrew Taglianetti on defense with his primary work on special teams. Wannstedt has spoken to each player and his family about this, but the topic was not discussed with the other freshmen.

"We've got a lot of guys who had very good camps and are right on the cusp, but I'd like to redshirt as many as possible,'' Wannstedt said.

Redshirt freshman Buddy Jackson has made some headway since returning to practice the other day and is back in competition for the No. 4 cornerback spot behind Aaron Berry, Jovani Chappel and Ricky Gary.

"He's fighting his way back right now, and Ricky had a very good camp,'' Wannstedt said. "We could line up today and use Ricky. He's playing well.''

Some have wondered how senior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling will fit into the team this year, but Wannstedt said not to worry. Stephens-Howling will return kicks with Aundre Reed and be a gunner on both the punt and kickoff coverage units. This will help him if he gets a shot to play in the NFL.

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