Pitt Deeper, Still Young And Inexperienced

There's a line of thinking that the Pitt football team is much deeper this season after consecutive strong recruiting classes, but the Panthers still are young and inexperienced at many positions with their season-opener against Bowling Green set to kick off Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh has just three players with senior eligibility as starters on offense and four on defense, but the two-deep depth chart also includes four players on offense and seven on defense with freshman eligibility. That says a lot about what's happening in the Panthers' recent transformation. Both specialists, place-kicker Conor Lee and punter Dave Brytus, are fifth-year seniors. And so is long-snapper Mark Estermyer.

"That tells me that we're still a young team, and that's encouraging,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "When you like your football team, and you're a young football team, that's reason to be excited and reason to look forward to seeing the players develop.

"Overall, I was pleased with camp, and I believe the players maintained a consistent level of focus and a consistent level of effort on a day-to-day basis. I liked the leadership that was demonstrated by our seniors. ... The group we have now, it's not a big class, but I like the quality.''

Pitt has fifth-year senior Derek Kinder back as a starter at flanker and seniors Conredge Collins and C.J. Davis at fullback and left offensive guard, respectively. On defense, senior Rashaad Duncan is the starting most tackle, while fifth-year seniors Scott McKillop and Eric Thatcher are at middle linebacker and free safety, respectively.

The freshmen listed on the depth chart include Jonathan Baldwin as a backup to redshirt junior Oderick Turner at split end and Lucas Nix running second-team to junior Joe Thomas at right offensive tackle. On defense, Andrew Taglianetti is a co-backup with redshirt junior Irvan Brown behind Thatcher.

There are redshirt freshmen as well, including Henry Hynoski as the backup fullback to Collins and Chris Jacobson at right offensive guard behind starting junior John Malecki. On defense, Myles Caragein (tackle), Tony Tucker (end), Brandon Lindsey (strong-side linebacker), Max Gruder (middle linebacker), Tristan Roberts (weak-side linebacker) and Buddy Jackson (boundary cornerback) are all listed in backup roles as well as either-or situations.

"I would expect Jonathan Baldwin and Andrew Taglianetti to play for sure, as far as our freshmen are concerned,'' Wannstedt said. "Lucas Nix is listed as second-team, and we'll make every effort that we can to get him some playing time. (But) if you look at our depth chart, for opening day, they'll be a lot of changes as the season goes on.

"And we'll try to play players as the opportunity arises. Joe Thomas came out of camp as the starter, but Lucas Nix athletically and physically can do things that some of the guys who are starting can't do. The biggest challenge that we have for an offensive line ... is the mental part. So, as Lucas progresses and gets more time, I would expect him to play this year some.''

Wannstedt also cautioned not to over-react to the depth chart at any position at this point in the season, because changes are expected to occur. However, the other aspect of being inexperienced concerns starting. While Greg Romeus played a great deal last fall, Bowling Green will be his first game as a starter.

Also on defense, sophomore Jabaal Sheard is a first-time starter at the end spot opposite Romeus. Junior Jovani Chappel (boundary corner) and sophomore Dom DeCicco (strong safety) also are making their debuts. On offense, junior center Robb Houser has not started a Division I-A game. Junior John Malecki, the starter at right guard, had one start at defensive tackle last fall. And junior Bill Stull started the opener, but just played a little more than a half before getting injured for the rest of the season.

"We also have good depth at linebacker, but they're all redshirt freshmen with the exception of Nate Nix (a redshirt sophomore),'' Wannstedt said. "So, the experience is what concerns me a lot. We're not very experienced, but they all had good camps. I don't know if any one of them separated themselves from the rest, but ... they're all solid. So, they'll be prepared to play.''

One that might be needed a little earlier than the coaches would like is Roberts. He is listed behind redshirt junior Shane Murray at weak-side linebacker, but Murray has been out the past week with a right knee strain. Wannstedt said he has shown a lot of improvement, but he's still listed as day-to-day.

Notes: Lee has been named to the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award annually presented to the nation's top kicker.

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