Here are some notes from Tuesday’s press briefing with Dave Wannstedt and some highlights from interviews with defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley, new middle linebacker Max Gruder and new right tackle Jordan Gibbs.
*** Max Gruder, who will take over at starting middle linebacker for Dan Mason, was refreshingly outspoken when asked about his role as a team leader. Gruder, a redshirt junior, was visibly bothered with the off-the-field issues, saying he’s “disgusted,” and took to task some of the younger players who, he said, “don’t really know how this team works so far.”
“I need to step up personally, especially now that I’m the middle linebacker,” Gruder said.
There will be much more about Gruder’s candid interview in Wednesday’s Trib.
*** There aren’t many bright spots this season, but Jarred Holley is one of them. The sophomore free safety is tied for second in NCAA Divison I at 1.0 interception per game. He is tied for ninth in the nation in passes defended. Only Texas Tech’s Jarvis Phillips (1.33 ipg) is averaging more interceptions per game. Holley made a highlight-reel one-handed, off-balance interception against Miami to give him six career interceptions in 16 games.
*** Pitt coaches and players stressed Tuesday there is no panic after the 31-3 loss to Miami at Heinz Field dropped the Panthers to 1-2. The players practiced on Sunday and returned to workouts Tuesday.
“Obviously, we weren’t pleased with the results,” defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here that we’ve had a game that we really couldn’t get in the game. (But) the things we’ve addressed are all correctable.”
*** With safety Andrew Taglianetti getting close to full strength, Pitt will have some additional sub-package options against Florida International’s spread attack. If strong safety Dom DeCicco (hamstring) can’t, redshirt freshman Jason Hendricks will get his second start.
“I think this week we will be able to get a little better rotation and maybe be able to play some more guys,” Bennett said.
*** One day after Wannstedt said redshirt freshman Shane Gordon would be the top reserve linebacker at all three positions, Bennett said the rotation is not set in stone.
“I’m not ready to say that yet,” Bennett said. “We’re going to find out the best players.”
Other candidates at outside linebacker include redshirt freshmen Kevin Adams and Carl Fleming and sophomore Joe Trebitz.
Here are some quotes
Quotes from Dave Wannstedt
“They are very similar to Utah. We will see a lot of the same plays as Utah. There will be some carryover. Playing these spread teams it’s more of premium from a defensive back standpoint than a linebacker or even a defensive line standpoint.”
On leadership from veterans
“That’s a big key to keeping tradition alive. … As guys take ownership of the team and for us to continue on building and building every year, that has to happen.”
Quotes from defensive coordinator Phil Bennett
“They really put on a show at Maryland last week. The quarterback (Wesley Carroll) is a proven player. He’s done it at a very high level at the SEC. We are going to have to be on the top of our game.”
On defensive effectiveness against Utah’s spread
“We played 72 plays against Utah and I would take 70 of them that were good plays.”
Quotes from defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley
On reserve strong safety Jason Hendricks
“He’s done a really good job so far. He brings speed. He brings toughness. He’s a good football player.”
On injuries to DeCicco and Taglianetti
“We went into the season thinking it was the deepest we’d ever been at the position. By week one, we were back to where we were.”
On attitude in locker room
“They are staying positive. We are just talking about going 1-0 every week. If we can continue to do that, we are going to put together a heckuva season. By no means is anybody panicking in that room. By no means is anybody down. They are working hard. There is a sense of urgency that we’ve got to come out and get it done.”
Quotes from right tackle Jordan Gibbs
On his chance to start
“I’ve been working hard at practice and they are giving me a shot, so I’m going to run with it.”
On switch to right side
“I don’t think there’s a big change. The assignments are the same. It’s how I come off (the ball).”
Quotes from Max Gruder
On team’s slow start
“It’s tough right now. Going into this season I don’t think in anyone’s mind – even in the worst scenario – did we think we would ever be 1-2. Everyone fully expected to be 3-0. We are not where we want to be.”