Wannstedt Wrap

Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt clearly believes he has more than one starter at multiple positions this year and isn't shy about showing it.

Wannstedt lists co-starters at tight end and strong safety, and let's not even get into the backup spots where either-or situations are at quarterback, flanker, free safety, weak-side linebacker, strong-side linebacker and defensive tackle.

Even though Nate Byham has started the past 13 games he's played he is listed even with Dorin Dickerson and John Pelusi at tight end. And even though Elijah Fields played extensively in the Pittsburgh win against Buffalo, he is listed as a co-starter with Dom DeCicco at strong safety for the Panthers game against Iowa Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

"They'll both play,'' Wannstedt said. "They've both been alternating with the first unit. We'll announce our starting lineup -- what's the NFL rule? -- an hour-and-a-half before kickoff.

"Just like with other positions on our team, it's a real positive. It's a win-win situation when you've got two guys you're comfortable with playing, and that's what the circumstance is there.''

Fields was not made available to the media this week. However, when Wannstedt was asked further about Fields, he was effusive with praise.

"Elijah is one of the better athletes on our team, to be quite honest with you,'' Wannstedt said. "He's a good tackler, and I think Elijah was going through a little bit like Dom. Last year, Dom played about 30 plays on special teams, and he was more of an offensive player in high school.

"Now, all of a sudden, it's his second year here and he's starting. Elijah missed the year last year and didn't play as much as Dom did as a freshman. So you're really looking at two kids that have ability and are going to be great players for us, but there's some inexperience there. That's what we're working through.''

Other young players, like freshmen Jonathan Baldwin at wideout and Lucas nix at right offensive tackle, appear to some to be ready to take the next step. The Panthers coaches apparently feel differently about them.

"At certain positions, we have a real definite plan when you're going to substitute,'' Wannstedt said. "Other positions, with some of the younger kids, you just say you're going to get them in and play them, and you hope that the game unfolds that way, to give them an opportunity. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't.''

Junior quarterback Greg Cross is in the same situation. Cross likely will be used in specialty offensive packages like the Wildcat and is not considered to be a serious backup at the position even though he's listed that way.

"It's more of a situational thing,'' Wannstedt said. "Cross would fall into the category of Jonathan Baldwin and Lucas Nix and some of these guys. We'd like to get them some playing time and the intent is to get them some playing time -- more than what we have. So, we'll wait and see what happens.''

Wannstedt also is Pitt's special teams coordinator, and he made a switch on kickoffs this season. Punter Dave Brytus handled the Panthers kickoff duties last fall and was average, at best, so place-kicker Conor Lee kicked off during the opener against Bowling Green. But Lucas Briggs took over against Buffalo.

"Briggs did well,'' Wannstedt said. "I wasn't sure when it started, when he kicked the first one out of bounds, but ... after that he was good. His hang times, you always look for a four-second hang time with it going as deep as can be. But I'd almost rather have it higher. So, both he and Conor can do it.''

Brytus was underwhelming with his punting last season as well, and Wannstedt assessed him through two games this year.

"The No. 1 thing is that we've got a good snapper, and Brytus gets it off fast,'' Wannstedt said. "So, I'd rather have that than stand back there and get another five yards (in distance) and take a chance to get one blocked.

"So, our operation time is very fast, and that's what you're looking for. Our spread punt, as opposed to the conventional, is where we changed to get the ball off a little quicker. So, that's what we're looking for there.''

Wannstedt noted that redshirt junior Shane Murray likely will play against Iowa, after missing the opening two games with a right knee strain, but he probably won't start even though he's been listed as the starting weak-side linebacker for each game. Fifth-year senior Austin Ransom, then, could get his third start.

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