How Good Is Pitt's Defense?

It was mentioned several times during training camp that Phil Bennett appeared to be a lot tougher on his players, and the second-year Pitt defensive coordinator had a quick response for keeping the heat on the Panthers.

And since Bennett knows the players much better now since he was hired at Pittsburgh, he has been able to make a more detailed evaluation about them.

"I think they've gotten some accolades, some of the guys playing, that are undeserving,'' Bennett said. "Those accolades last year, when we played Oregon State, we were a pretty damn good defense. And some of these guys weren't even on the field. So, I just think that you have to earn respect, and to do that we're going to try to be perfectionists.

"We're going to coach them hard, and we're not going to take anything for granted. But they're a fun group, and they can get there. (And) I like where we're at now. There's some tremendous room for growth. I think that we're not as far along as we were at the end of last season.

"When you lose a (Scott) McKillop,'' Bennett added, "Austin Ransom, Rashaad Duncan and (Eric) Thatcher, those were four productive players for us. A couple positions, I feel very good about, but a couple others I don't think we're there yet to the level that we want to get. But I think we can get there.''

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt hedged a bit on his comments about the defense when asked if this year's group could be his best in years.

"Potentially, it could be,'' Wannstedt said, "but we've got to stay healthy and stay together and play smart. But we have a chance to be pretty good, I think.''

Youngstown State should provide an interesting test for the Panthers Saturday at noon at Heinz Field. The primary concern for Pitt will be the Penguins' senior quarterback, Brandon Summers, who might remind some of Cincy's Tony Pike.

"I hope not,'' Bennett joked, referring to all the fits Pike caused for his defense in a loss last season at Cincinnati last year. "(But) he's a big, strong, physical guy, and I can see why they're excited about Summers. I feel like we have the ability to rush well, but getting him down will be a challenge.

"One of the things this guy does like Pike is throw very well on the run. (Also), they spread the field and are multiple with their personnel. They also try to create matchup (problems). The big receiver (senior Donald Jones) is very talented.

"Summers is a guy who's 6-foot-2, 215, and has multi-skills. He can run and throw, and he's a scrambling threat. So, I think it's a very good test for us, because we're going to see a lot of the things that we're going to see throughout the year in this game.''

Summers ran for nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns last fall and completed almost 63 percent of his passes for 1,540 yards and 18 more scores with just seven interceptions. Dominique Barnes and Donald Jones were two of YSU's top three wideouts last year with 38 and 31 catches, respectively. Barnes is a possession receiver with less than 10 yards a catch and three scores, while Jones averaged more than 16 yards per reception with seven TDs.

Senior tailback Jabari Scott was YSU's No. 2 rusher last season with 403 yards and five touchdowns in just seven games with five starts, while Clairton, Pa.'s Dana Brown, a senior fullback, was next with 259 yards and one score.

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