Today, we take a look at a few members of this upcoming redshirt freshman class who are going to find themselves in a battle for playing time immediately. Though the 2010 team returns a lot of key components, there will be room for more than a few redshirt freshmen to take the field. Here's a look at a few who should be in the two-deep by the time September 2 rolls around.
Twenty Questions Heading Into Camp
Pitt Redshirt Freshmen Expected To Contribute Significantly
DeCicco was highly coveted coming out of high school, choosing the Panthers over several schools from the Big Ten and ACC. DeCicco is a freakish athlete. At 6-5, 230 pounds, it'll be interesting to see what kind of size he puts on in the offseason. He has the ideal frame for a tight end, but just needs a little more weight for the college game. The Panthers need him to contribute at tight end right away after replacing both of their 2010 NFL Draft picks in Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson. Despite all that, the position still seems to be in good hands. In the past, Pitt has shown they can comfortably use three tight ends. This year should be no exception. Mike Cruz looks to be the starter, but the offense needs a player like DeCicco to be involved as well. That's what he was brought in to do. Andrew Devlin figures to be in the mix as a blocking tight end. However, if Pitt is going to use two pass-catching targets as tight ends, they're going to need Cruz and DeCicco. DeCicco needs to be ready.
One of the questions that might not even get answered until a few games into the season, is how many defensive tackles does Greg Gattuso plan to use. In the past, he's used as many as four in the rotation. Last year, he did. Amazingly, behind Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year Mick Williams and fellow fifth-year senior Gus Mustakas, Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih were able to get significant reps. Good thing too, otherwise this position would be in question heading into the season. Caragein was looking like an all-league player as the season wore on, and now that he will be taking increased reps, he will have an even bigger stage to showcase his abilities. After those two, who will the Panthers use? The safe bet will be with junior Justin Hargrove and senior Ty Tkach. However, it was Ezell, who took an awful lot of reps in the spring, which puts more pressure on the coaches when making the personnel decisions. He is a physical specimen that might be too good to keep off the field. Ezell is a solid 6-4, 270 pounds already as a redshirt freshman. He's already got the physical tools, but his strength is how mentally tough a player he is. He's not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anybody. If he grasps the concepts of the defense early on, he will be in the rotation.
Huh? Yes! Hendricks was a late addition to the 2009 signing class, yet after Dan Mason, Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, he was the next true freshman closest to seeing the field in 2009. Hendricks has had a year to learn the role of the safety position, but had a setback by having to sit out the spring with an injury. Pitt's safety position is the deepest it has been under Wannstedt, thanks to Dom DeCicco, Andrew Taglianetti and Jared Holley. All three players have started, and it should be interesting to see how those three battle for the two starting spots. DeCicco will have one locked up, with Holley and Taglianetti battling it out for the other spot. With Hendricks, Pitt has four solid safeties. He might be the fourth guy, but based on how injuries and other situations (I.e. Elijah Fields) have taken its toll on this position, Hendricks is more valuable than you might think. Funny how the position already looks deeper, even without Fields.
Alex Karabin has the lead heading into camp, as the starting center. He should win that battle. It is key, however, for Lippert to adjust to the position now. Throw in the additions of other players who can play center--Fernando Diaz and Brandon Sacco, with another in Artie Rowell arriving next year, and this position is in good hands for awhile. It all, however, hinges on Lippert. With Karabin, who has waited his turn, Lippert can take his time and really learn the position, and get used to playing offense as opposed to defense. Even though Karabin has the lead, Lippert being the backup for 2010, and at this stage of his career, is the most crucial building block for the offensive line for the next few seasons.
It might be hard, almost impossible, for any other running back to get any reps behind Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. You can also throw Henry Hynoski into the mix too, because the coaching staff is comfortable letting him share the load as well. However, Douglas might be the fastest player on the team. He could make a significant impact in the return game, if given the opportunity.
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