Pitt In Fine-Tuning Mode

The depth chart for the Pitt football team is nearly set, as the Panthers wind down their practice week in preparation for the season-opener with Bowling Green Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh worked out for a short time Thursday with no real pads, just shoulder shells in an attempt to completely back off the physical aspect of practice.

"As we tone down on the physical part, we'll pick up the intensity on a mental and emotional standpoint,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "As I told the team, we have to make sure that we're playing this game in our minds right now. You don't wait 'til Saturday to get ready for a fight.

"You've got to start thinking about it all week, and that's where our mind's have got to be at. (And) I'm glad we had the extra days, because they're completely opposite from what our offense does from an attack standpoint.''

Wannstedt believed Pitt's linebacking corps was fast and athletic enough to handle the different offensive packages Bowling Green utilizes, but there is no experience in the backup roles. The weak-side spot likely will be inexperienced immediately, as redshirt junior Shane Murray (right knee strain) isn't likely to play. Wannstedt still classified him as day-to-day, saying that he's running now. But he did mention a replacement option if Murray can't play.

"It would be between Tristan Roberts, Greg Williams and Austin Ransom,'' Wannstedt said. "We moved Greg (from the strong side) about a week ago. They all can run and have ability, but we just lack experience with some of our backup linebackers.''

Pitt's backup quarterback also has not been determined since it depends on the situation. However, sophomores Kevan Smith and Pat Bostick have worked with second-team unit, and junior Greg Cross "is in the plans as well,'' Wannstedt said.

So, it appears that if starting quarterback Bill Stull gets injured early in the game and will be out for an extended period of time, Bostick -- the most experienced signal-caller in the foursome -- would get the nod. Bostick, however, is unlikely to play in a mop-up role so his redshirt isn't burned.

Smith could fill that aforementioned role, and Cross most certainly will play in various packages this season. However, it is uncertain whether the Pitt coaches want to give away too much information by playing him early on.

While redshirt freshman Wayne Jones and redshirt sophomore walk-on Alex Karabin are listed as backup centers, if starter Robb Houser were to be severely injured, the Panthers likely would turn to seniors C.J. Davis or Dominic Williams. And the entire offensive line's depth is still a concern, but improving daily.

Other depth issues have been taken care of by players coming through the past few weeks. Redshirt junior safety Irvan Brown, who struggled with his usual injury problems early in camp, finished strong and give Pitt a little help after its three solid safeties -- Dom DeCicco, Eric Thatcher and Elijah Fields. Freshman Andrew Taglianetti also could play some in the base defense, but most likely will be a special teams player much more often.

And with redshirt sophomore Ricky Gary played better at cornerback, after starting three games last fall, Pitt has three corners it likes with he and junior starters Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel. Redshirt freshman Buddy Jackson also appears to have secured the No. 4 corner spot.

Wannstedt also mentioned fullback as a concern spot if senior starter Conredge Collins is injured, because while redshirt freshman Henry Hynoski is talented he has not yet played a down yet at this level.

The only undetermined position, for some reason, is on kickoffs. Starting place-kicker Conor Lee, redshirt sophomore Lucas Briggs, redshirt sophomore Dan Hutchins and senior punter Dave Brytus, who handled the duties last season, are still in the running, Wannstedt noted. Lee likely has the inside track.

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