Both Jabaal Sheard, a true sophomore, and Greg Romeus, a redshirt in his third season, are starting for the first time this season after getting some playing time last year, Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt has pointed out. So, that means they have a tremendous up-side.
"I thought that they both did some good things against Buffalo,'' Wannstedt said, "but both of them made some mistakes, also. ... And every week it's going to be a learning experience for them. But they're both smart guys, and they're both very athletic. And I'm excited to see how they're going to progress as the year goes on.''
Romeus played more often than Sheard as a redshirt freshman last fall and was among Pitt's more effective pass-rushers by the end of the year while splitting time with Chris McKillop at right defensive end. They faced the opposition's left offensive tackle, usually the best and most athletic lineman.
Sheard played sparingly as a true freshman, but really picked things up in training camp this year. He was especially solid after Doug Fulmer, who was expected to battle with Sheard for the starting left end spot, suffered a season-ending knee injury, his third serious surgery in three straight years.
"It was tough in the beginning and especially when Doug got hurt, but I'm just trying to have some fun with it right now,'' Sheard said. "All I wanted to do in camp was prove that I was the right guy for the job.
"It put a little more pressure on me, I think, when Doug got hurt. I think the coaches and my teammates expected more from me, and I expected more from myself. I didn't know if anybody trusted me. I also felt like I owed it to Doug to step up my game since he wasn't in there.''
Sheard has been solid through two games with three total tackles, including two solo, and 1.5 sacks with two quarterback hits. Romeus also has played well with seven total tackles, including three solo, with a half sack and three total stops behind the line, a pass defended, quarterback hit and blocked kick. Both faced mammoth 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive tackles against Buffalo.
Romeus is 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, while Sheard is 6-4 and 255.
"This week they definitely had a big, aggressive line, but I think we did pretty well against them,'' Romeus said. "We put some pressure on and made some plays, Jabaal and me. I definitely think we can play better, but we did all right.
"You're going to give up big plays, and we did with a miscommunication in the secondary. But our tackling has to be better. We tackled better than (against Bowling Green), but we still can improve. So, we'll keep working at it, and I know we can get better. I expect big things from Jabaal and myself this year.''
Romeus was a freshman All-American last season, so there certainly were high hopes for him. And the player had high expectations as well. Sheard, however, was just glad to get a chance to be competing with Fulmer for the starting job.
"If Doug would have stayed healthy and would have been the starter, that would have been OK,'' Sheard said. "Don't get me wrong. I definitely would have been disappointed, but OK with it. Doug was a very good player when he was healthy, and I believe it would have been an excellent competition between us.
"I know I would have played some, too, but I would have kept working hard to earn more playing time. Then, when he got hurt, everything changed. Now, I'm in the starting spot, and I have to prove that I deserve it. I think we have two pretty good defensive ends now, though, and we're both young.
"Playing last season, I didn't get in many plays, but I was able to get my feet wet. There were some big guys that I saw on film, and I got a chance to see them in person on the field. That really helped. They were still big, but I was able compete against them. That was a big help to show me I could do it.''
And with each passing game, Romeus and Sheard are showing the Big East and the rest of the country what they can do as well.
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