Pitt's 2nd Scrimmage Preview

With the top three rushers gone from last season, the Pitt football team had to replace a lot of yardage and experience with youth and potential this fall.

But according to Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt, the main competition right now will be for the backup spot. And freshman Dion Lewis, who took charge during spring drills after an early enrollment, has not let up.

"I'd be pretty comfortable saying that Dion is our starter if we were playing today,'' Wannstedt said. "But the backup tailback spot is a battle right now with Chris Burns making some serious headway.''

Lewis has been consistent from the time he stepped onto campus. He has proven to be a tough inside runner with good hands and enough speed to break away once he gets past the front seven.

"I think I'm doing well so far,'' Lewis said. "But I don't want to let up now.''

If Lewis opens the season as Pitt's starting tailback, it will only be the third time that happened since Tony Dorsett in 1973. The next time occurred 25 years later (1998) when Brandon Williams was the starting tailback. Williams later moved to linebacker and actually became a starter. The last time it occurred was when Ray Kirkley opened against East Tennessee State in 2001.

The quarterbacks will get a good look, too, but there are several other positions that the coaching staff must concentrate on to determine a starter or fill out the depth chart there.

The main one will be at left offensive guard where redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson and senior Joe Thomas have both performed well when getting first-team reps. Jacobson appears to have an edge, since he has taken more snaps with the first group, but Thomas is a three-year starter.

"They're both doing well, so it's going to be a tough choice,'' Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise said. "Lumpy (Jacobson) is just so strong and powerful, and Joe Thomas is a veteran with good technique. He does a lot of good things.''

While junior Dom DeCicco is becoming the glue needed in Pitt's secondary at one safety spot, while the other one is between redshirt junior Elijah Fields and sophomore Andrew Taglianetti. However, Fields missed about a week in camp, including the first scrimmage, so Taglianetti appeared to secure the spot.

But Wannstedt said that isn't necessarily the case.

"At the safety position, because Fields has missed time, Taglianetti has made a move there,'' Wannstedt said. "So, we have to take a close look at that.''

Wannstedt also mentioned the fourth wide receiver spot after sophomore Jonathan Baldwin and fifth-year seniors Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee. Redshirt freshman Mike Shanahan had the inside track after the first week in camp, but a hand injury shelved his chances for now.

"Now that (Shanahan) is hurt, you have Aundre Wright, Aaron Smith and Cam Saddler battling it out,'' Wannstedt said.

Along with those position battles, there will be other situations going on in the scrimmage Saturday from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

"We've talked about that, and it'll be a scrimmage, but last year we didn't go as much on the Saturday one that we did on Tuesday,'' Wannstedt said. "We also came out a year ago today and had a mild practice before the scrimmage. But today, we did goal-line and short-yardage, a full-blown thing.

"So, we made the decision last night that we needed the practice time and needed the work, to take advantage of the heat a little bit. (The scrimmage), I would expect each player to get 30 plays each, but we'll limit some guys -- Greg Romeus, Mick Williams, Dom Decicco and guys like that.

"(And) we'll do some situations,'' Wannstedt added. "We'll put the ball down tight in the red zone and coming out from the goal line. So, we're going to try to create a few more live situations, as compared to just putting the ball on the 30 to see what happens. So, we've got a good game plan.''

Wannstedt added that a Big East officiating crew would be utilized to call penalties and make it as live as possible.

"It's a nice opportunity for our kids to get as close to a game situation as they will until we play for real,'' Wannstedt said. "So, we want to take advantage of (the scrimmage). We're going to do kicking. We'll punt in the middle of the scrimmage and do field goals and extra points to try to create a game likeness and evaluate the two kickers under game-like conditions.''

Pitt has several more practices after Saturday, including a third scrimmage Wednesday afternoon.

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