Thinning At Linebacker

The Pitt football team had all three starting linebackers returning when training camp began less than one month ago, but with the second regular-season game against Buffalo approaching Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field, the Panthers appear to be down two.

Redshirt junior weak-side linebacker Shane Murray had a right knee strain the last week in camp and missed he opening loss to Bowling Green, and fifth-year senior strong-side linebacker Adam Gunn suffered a concussion during an early third-quarter collision with fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop and was down for a while against the Falcons.

Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt has said that both are improved this week, but if neither can play it looks like redshirt sophomore Nate Nix and fifth-year senior Austin Ransom could start for Gunn and Murray, respectively.

Redshirt freshmen Greg Williams, who played a lot for Gunn against BGSU, and Brandon Lindsey are also in the mix there. While redshirt frosh Tristan Roberts is the other weak-side backer. Williams has played both sides now since moving from running back this past spring and was moved to weak-side after Murray got hurt to shore up that area. But he went back to the strong side in the game.

"I know they're all new household names,'' Wannstedt said, "but they've all got ability. And they've been practicing, and they're ready to play. We're hopeful, I mean, Shane is better day to day. We'll see where he's at today, and Adam Gunn is better day to day. So, we'll see where those guys are at, but we can play other guys if need be.

"Greg actually played pretty good when we moved him. When they were giving us the four and five wide receivers, with his athletic ability and speed, we felt we had a little better matchup than with Nate Nix and Brandon Lindsey. That was a game-time adjustment.''

Another topic during Wannstedt's weekly press conference Tuesday, moved due to Labor Day, was increased playing time for athletes like freshmen offensive tackle Lucas Nix, freshman wideout Jonathan Baldwin, redshirt sophomore safety Elijah Fields, freshman safety Andrew Taglianetti and junior quarterback Greg Cross.

Wannstedt noted that special packages have been devised to take advantage of Baldwin's talents, as well as Cross and Fields, but only Baldwin saw the field against Bowling Green and just a few times. Cross did not play, and Fields was not in the base defense. He only played special teams and reportedly missed a couple blocks that would have led to big returns.

"Lucas will play for sure,'' Wannstedt said. "We need to get him in the game. Last week we were looking for opportunities, and it just never came up the way the game unfolded. He will play this week regardless. We need to get him on the field and get him some playing time. Taglianetti was on field goal block, punt return, punt team, and kickoff team. He didn't play any defense.

"I really didn't expect him to play any defense. Right now, we have Irvan Brown and Elijah Fields alternating in at the safety position. Elijah, we have packages where he's a major player with that we think we can take advantage of some things. Just the way the game unfolded, we had three or four possessions of their normal offense and then they went to the swinging gate and the totem pole, two different offenses.

"(That's) one (defense) that I've never seen and one we use on field goal, and they hit a couple plays on us and because of some of the things they did it really didn't give us a chance,'' Wannstedt added.

Wannstedt didn't believe a situation arose where playing Cross at all would have made a difference, because it was all about a lack of execution on offense. As far as Baldwin is concerned, he will play more as well, according to Wannstedt. But don't look for the Panthers to try the spread offense with all their talented wideouts in the game to open things up.

"We go with no backs, (and) we can go to empty, line up in no backs and throw the ball, do some of those things,'' Wannstedt said in his defense. "But we want to run the football, and I think with the talent that we have at running back, that's more of our focus rather than five-wide. We're more of a two-back or two-tight end set.''

Notes: Redshirt junior DT Mick Williams (left ankle) also was injured against Bowling Green, and he is questionable for the Buffalo game. ... Junior Tommie Duhart played quite a bit after Williams went down. ... However, there were no changes to this week's two-deep by Pitt.

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