Caragein Makes His Mark

When discussing which Pitt football player could step up to really make an impact down the homestretch this season, the usual cast of characters like LeSean McCoy, Bill Stull, Jonathan Baldwin, Scott McKillop, Mick Williams and Aaron Berry, among others, are included.

Add Myles Caragein's name to that group. The redshirt freshman defensive tackle saw his most extensive game action at Notre Dame, and he is expected to play even more when No. 25 Pittsburgh (6-2, 2-1) takes on Louisville (5-3, 1-2) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

"Myles played really good last week,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He didn't have the same number of plays as the starters, but his production numbers were as good as any defensive linemen we had last week.

"And in all honesty, we need to be playing Myles a lot more. He's ready to start contributing. (And) with Tommie Duhart (leg) being out, I think he played about (a dozen) snaps and he made some plays and did a nice job.''

Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso echoed those sentiments. During Caragein's time on the field at Notre Dame, there was no drop-off in production. He recorded just one official tackle, but clogged up the middle and allowed the linebackers to clean up the play more often than not.

"He had about a dozen snaps and had a couple tackles and a pressure on the quarterback,'' Gattuso said. "So, I'm real pleased with where he's at and his progress. He's a little combination of Gus Mustakas and Mick Williams in some ways, and hopefully he'll continue to progress. I think he will. I think he's going to be a very good player for us inside.''

After redshirting last season and rarely touching the field in the early going this year, Caragein understandably was just glad to be out there at all. He officially has played in seven of Pitt's eight games this season and has six tackles with one solo and a half a stop behind the line.

"It's nice being part of this defense and helping the team out a lot more,'' Caragein said. "It was nice to get in there and actually make some tackles and feel like I'm part of the team. The huge thing for me this year was to gain confidence. After not playing last season (and redshirting) and not getting any snaps on the field, it's nice to be a bigger part of things this year.

"At the beginning this season, I was a little nervous, because it was my first time really playing college football. So, now, I'm just building on that each game and gaining confidence every time I get out there. That's the important thing for me. ... Playing behind the veteran guys in practice, I get to learn from them and see what I can do that will work the best for me in a game.''

At 6-foot-2, 275 pounds, Caragein isn't Pitt's biggest defensive lineman, but he's among the strongest and quickest. He played at both tackle spots in training camp and during the first few games, but he appears to have settled in as a backup to Rashaad Duncan at nose tackle and is a likely candidate to replace the senior when he graduates after this season.

"It's not really a thought for me right now, but I guess it's a possibility,'' Caragein said. "I'm just happy to contribute now. ... Playing at Notre Dame, it was an amazing place. With all those people there and how loud it got, it was something. But in high school, I learned to put a curtain around the field and just worry about the game and not the fans.

"It definitely was a high point for me this season, that game at Notre Dame. It was a great win for us and a great atmosphere to play in, so I'm glad that I was part of it. I played quite a bit, compared to previous games, and it felt really good to get out there and make a couple tackles. (And) with Rashaad, I really can learn a lot from him, so it's a great opportunity for me.''

Like several Pitt players, Caragein is a former wrestler, and that training is helpful in the hand-to-hand combat that's prevalent in the trenches.

"It helps me a lot with my leverage and hand work,'' Caragein said. "And it's especially helpful with the mental part of being determined to do something and never giving up. So, I just have to keep pushing forward and keep trying to improve.''

And if that happens, Caragein will be a critical part of Pitt's drive to a bowl game this season.

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