Scrimmage Two Preview

While most of the starters, if not all, look to be in place, there's a battle on the depth chart for a lot of backup spots. The offensive line, receiver, defensive line, linebacker and secondary positions will all be under the watch today.

With Pitt now in its 12th day of camp, Alex Karabin and Greg Gaskins have worked exclusively with the first team at their respective positions.

Earlier this week, Wannstedt commented on some of Karabin's positives, which point to Karabin starting that season-opener at Utah.

"Alex Karabin is playing well," Wannstedt said, prior to Monday night's practice. "The guy has been here four years, and has overcome a lot. He's waited his turn and taken advantage of it."

Wannstedt has not commented on anything that positive with the right guard spot, even though Gaskins looks like the lock to start there. He has mentioned Gaskins, Ryan Turnley and even Jack Lippert as being in the mix there. Turnley has played exclusively on the second-team at right guard, while Lippert has played some left guard, but mostly center this camp.

If there's anything that might be contested in Wednesday afternoon's scrimmage, it will be the spots for the sixth, seventh and even eighth offensive line spot. Based on moving him around, Lippert is in good contention to be the team's sixth offensive lineman. Jordan Gibbs may have him edged out, as the team's third tackle. When it comes to the interior spots, Pitt finally has a player that can play both. Brandon Sacco also has a chance to get in the mix, as he too can play both center and one of the guard spots.

The starting receiver spots are set, but there's still a battle between Greg Cross and Devin Street for the fourth spot. It's safe to say that both will back up Jon Baldwin and Mike Shanahan, but since Cameron Saddler has a role of his own as the team's slot receiver, who is the fourth guy that will come in?

Cross missed a few practices last week, while resting a sore ankle. Street came in and played well in his absence. Cross has caught up, as he's been a favorite target of Pat Bostick the last few days, with the second-team offense. Street--though he's made plays this camp, and has definitely been one of the camp surprises so far, he's a bit inconsistent. For one, he drops easily catchable balls. He'll make catches he shouldn't, then he'll follow that by missing ones he should have. It's called being a freshman. Since Cross is still relatively new to the position, and since both are pretty athletic, this is a competitive one.

Both players will have their chances this season, but one of them can take a big step towards being the fourth receiver, with a good performance on Wednesday.

If there's one position that's unsolved, it's the third defensive tackle. This one might need a few regular season games, and it may also depend on the opponent. Tyler Tkach and Tyrone Ezell have proved they can be valuable members of the rotation this year. The question is, which one goes in first? The toughest thing is that Ezell has more raw abilities, but has no experience. Tkach might not be as raw, but has more experience.

It looks like Tristan Roberts has one outside linebacker spot locked up, based on his return to the starting lineup. Roberts went down during Friday afternoon's practice, and did not return to full contact scrimmages until Tuesday.

In his absence, Greg Williams went back to starting with the first group. As it happens all the time, backups have a tendency to prove themselves, and eventually hold on to starting jobs, once an injured player is back in the lineup. Despite having 21 career starts--the most of anyone that is a redshirt junior on this Pitt team, Williams was moved to backing up Max Gruder's spot. Judging from that move alone, Roberts has the edge on that one.

The question becomes, what happens at the backup spot to Tristan Roberts? If there's one thing that's been proved, it's that Greg Williams seems to have a handle on both outside linebacker spots, hence his move to being able to backup Gruder's spot. Carl Fleming has surpassed Manny Williams, and even though he was the first redshirt freshman linebacker to move into a backup spot at the outside, Kevin Adams has been running with the second team since Roberts came back.

Both Adams and Fleming are still learning the system, and they're far from starters--from an understanding of the defense. They both have the abilities. Wednesday's scrimmage will be a good test for them, to see which of them is able to apply themselves, and make decisions without coaches being in their ears all the time. Right now, it seems like the coaches are higher on Adams, as that sixth linebacker.

The safeties, as they have been the past few practices, have been moving around a bit. As Pitt focuses on its passing downs, in practice, they're looking to see which one of these guys is a nickel back. Dom DeCicco is going to get a look as that hybrid linebacker/safety that Elijah Fields was last year. That's a boost from last year, as DeCicco has more experience and a better knowledge of the defense.

That move would also allow Pitt to experiment with the other four safeties--probably three of them--Jared Holley, Andrew Taglianetti and Jason Hendricks. All three can cover pretty well. For practice-sake, and to get a better feel of all the positions around them, any one of these three could also line up as the hybrid in today's scrimmage, as they have in practice in recent days. Each one of them got a shot while DeCicco was out with a hamstring pull.

Regardless, today is a big scrimmage for Holley, Taglianetti and Hendricks, to see who has the best cover skills in that group. Hendricks has taken some first-team reps this week, and Kolby Gray has taken a lot of significant second-team reps as well. Hendricks has filled in pretty admirably for Taglianetti, as he was recovering from a pulled groin, and now may push Taglianetti for that third safety spot.

If there's one position that is alternating reps, it's the backup spot at cornerback. Antwuan Reed and Ricky Gary seem to have a hold on the starting spots. Buddy Jackson continues to get better every day, and now there's a battle for the last spot between Saheed Imoru and K'Waun Williams.

Imoru might be the most physical of all the corners, but he doesn't have as good a grasp of the system that Williams seems to have. Williams has been making plays, and has looked good in run support too. Do the coaches start a freshman--over a coveted junior-college transfer that was brought in to start? Being that this coaching staff is reliant on veterans starting, it will take a big performance from Williams today to earn him that spot.

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