Pittsburgh has had injuries to its two outside linebacker, as fifth-year senior Adam Gunn is likely out for the season after fracturing a vertebra in his neck during the opening loss to Bowling Green and redshirt junior Shane Murray continues to be out with a right knee strain suffered during training camp.
"We'll make a decision in 6-8 weeks whether or not Adam can come back this year or not,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Obviously, Greg Williams will play, and Nate Nix is prepared to play. And Brandon Lindsey, we've got all those young kids, and we're trying to get them all work. ... So, we're going to keep coaching them and working with them to get better.''
Scott McKillop likely will be flanked by Williams, a redshirt freshman, at strong-side linebacker, while fifth-year senior Austin Ransom is expected to get his second straight start for Murray at weak-side linebacker.
"Austin has a game under his belt, and Greg and Nix got some playing time as well,'' McKillop said. "So, they're pretty inexperienced overall, but they've been in here watching as many hours of film as possible. So, the first quarter might be a little bit of a new transition for them, but as the game goes on they'll become more comfortable. And I think we'll be fine in that area.''
Ransom is an interesting story. He joined the Panthers squad as a walk-on and eventually became the special teams captain and earned a scholarship last fall. He was a wide receiver for most of his career, but his penchant for big hits during kick coverage precipitated a move to defense.
Ransom was a safety during spring drills this year, but after wideout Mo Williams transferred he was moved back to his old spot on offense to shore up that position. There would have been little to no opportunities for him to get on the field, however, as the Panthers actually have a wealth of talent at wideout. So, Ransom was moved to outside linebacker after Murray's injury a few weeks ago.
"It wasn't really a shock when I was thrown in there at linebacker in camp, because I was waiting for the opportunity to move back to defense,'' Ransom said. "I knew that, since I was a safety in the spring, that we needed help at receiver because I played some there. But then, when they needed me at linebacker, I was happy to get a chance to play there.
"I was hoping to move back to defense, but I didn't really know if it would happen. (And) playing safety in the spring really helped me out a lot, getting that whole defensive aspect of the game, because it helped me with the coverages. They're pretty much the same for linebacker and safety, so getting a glimpse of that during the spring really helped me with the transition.''
Ransom was noncommittal when asked whether he liked offense or defense better. He took the high road and said playing defense was his best chance to get on the field. And anyway, he got a chance to hit the opposition on special teams, but he never had a shot to make an interception like he made last week.
"You just have to look at ball in, and when it hits your hands close on it really tight,'' Ransom said. "It's a lot better for me to be the one hitting than getting hit. It's still the same for me, because I don't feel like I've proven myself yet.
"So, it's just another week for me grinding it out in the film room studying and another battle on the field. This is all pretty new to me, as you know, so every week I go out there is another learning experience. And I just have to be on top of my game, because I never know what's going to get thrown at me.''
Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has been effusive in praising Ransom since the first time he saw him play safety this past spring.
"I think Austin played very well against Bowling Green,'' Bennett said. "I told him after the game that he played like Troy Polamalu in Hines Ward's jersey (No. 86). And I thought Greg stood up, so after another week's preparation it will be interesting to see how they play. (And Ransom) has got Troy's hair.
"I got to thinking about how we can get more speed on the field. And Greg has more open-field speed. He's very agile, and we actually moved him to Will. He had not practiced at Sam, so our other Greg Williams -- the defensive graduate assistant -- he and I gave Greg a fast-track Sam-linebacker deal. And I thought he played very well. So, you try to play to your strengths.''
Redshirt freshman Tristan Roberts is the backup to Ransom on the weak side.
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