Dave Wannstedt and his assistants return from the recruiting trail this week, just in time for Memorial Day, and the Pitt coach said that his staff “had a good month” and “covered a lot of territory.”
Wannstedt said Pitt coaches spent more time in Ohio – Akron, Canton and Youngstown, specifically – than last year. Wannstedt took a four-day trip to the Maryland and Northern Virginia region, a new point of emphasis because of its talent and proximity. Wannstedt believes driving distance factors heavily into prospects’ decisions and his five-hour radius of recruiting territory reflects that.
Wannstedt spent 17 of 20 recruiting days on the road, focusing on Pitt’s primary targets and introducing himself at schools where the Panthers aren’t as well-known. He said Pitt is developing a strong following in Harrisburg and eastern Pennsylvania, which could help the Class of 2008.
“That’s how I adjusted my time,” Wannstedt said, “trying to spend more time not necessarily closer to home but in areas where we haven’t spent as much time in years past that had been very productive areas for us.”
= NO THUMB-TYPING: Sometimes it’s surprising when Wannstedt doesn’t appear to get agitated with NCAA rules, especially in regards to recruiting. Many Division I coaches were up in arms when the NCAA banned text-messaging prospects, which takes effect Aug. 1.
“That’s fine because I do it and the minute I start texting them, I’m online,” Wannstedt said. “It won’t affect schools like Pitt as much as it will affect the schools that don’t have access to a lot of players within driving distance.
“We get enough access to enough kids that it’s not going to have a major effect on us. It doesn’t bother me at all. My wife will love it. You know how many nights I’ve fallen asleep with the phone on my chest, with it beeping?”
= READY TO GO: Wannstedt said five incoming recruits are already enrolled and taking classes in the first summer session: quarterback Pat Bostick, defensive lineman Tommie Duhart, linebacker Max Gruder, tailback LeSean McCoy and receiver Aundre Wright.
Wannstedt anticipates that every recruit – with the possible exception of one player who has a family vacation – will enroll by the second summer session next month.
“I think it’s an advantage for anybody from a football/school standpoint,” Wannstedt said. “When I look back on it from two years, there is no question that these guys get in here and take three credits or six credits and get oriented to the campus, the dorms and library, and they’re not forced to take as many credits the first year.
“It’s really been helpful to our incoming freshman. That’s the No. 1 advantage I see, is from an academic standpoint. The second thing is we can’t do any football, practicing or any stuff with the coaches, but they can lift and run. The quicker they get involved with our off-season program with Buddy, the better off they’re going to be.”
= STILL SIDELINED: Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Greg Webster remains sidelined while being treated for Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammatory of the digestive tract. Webster is enrolled in classes but has not been cleared to participate.
That has compounded the depth issues at linebacker, where Scott McKillop is slated to start in the middle and Shane Murray appears to have the lead on the weak side. At worst, Webster was expected to be a backup in the middle.
“It’s something from all the information that I have, when he gets his strength back he should be able to handle it with the medication,” Wannstedt said. “There are several players in the (NFL) right now that have this. It’s just a matter of getting him stabilized after the first setback.”
= POSITIVE FEEDBACK: Linebacker is an area of concern, although not as major as you might think after the Panthers lost three senior starters, including NFL Draft picks in H.B. Blades (Redskins) and Clint Session (Colts).
It looks like Pitt has found at least two starters, as Wannstedt said he was “very pleased” with Murray and called McKillop “probably the most underrated player on our defense.”
“Scott McKillop’s a lot better player than I gave him credit for,” Wannstedt said. “Watch what happens. He’s going to get in there and be a very good player for us.”
The big question will be finding a starter on the strong side between Adam Gunn, Dorin Dickerson and Nate Nix, and then finding capable backups to provide depth. Remember, Jemeel Brady (shoulder) and Steve Dell (knee) missed spring drills with injuries, and there are talented incoming freshmen in Gruder, Brandon Lindsey, Tristan Roberts and, possibly, Shariff Harris and Greg Williams.
“We’re going to be fine there,” Wannstedt said. “I really think with Shane Murray that, today, we might be as good there – or better. You’re going to miss some leadership, but I think that leadership is going to fall on (defensive linemen) Joe Clermond, Chris McKillop and Gus Mustakas. I love what these guys bring up front, from a production standpoint and leadership standpoint.”
= ON THE DEFENSIVE FRONT: Wannstedt continued to rave about the defensive line play in the spring. If his philosophy that defensive play begins with the front four holds true, this could be a breakthrough year.
Not only do all four starters return (Clermond, Chris McKillop, Rashaad Duncan and Mustakas) but so do interior backups John Malecki and Mick Williams and Wannstedt likes the potential he sees in freshmen ends Justin Hargrove and Greg Romeus.
That’s not to mention Duhart, who could play either end or tackle but is expected to do the latter, or incoming freshmen Myles Caragein, Jabaal Sheard and Tony Tucker.
• THE MISSING LINK?: Wannstedt can’t wait for August when he will be watching intently the development of sophomore safety Elijah Fields.
Fields was the star of the spring game, especially after his interception return for a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has the athletic ability and physicality to change the defense dramatically, if he understands what to do.
“He’ll be one of the most interesting guys for all of us – and I’ll be watching just like you guys – on the first day of training camp,” Wannstedt said. “Does he show up the first week like he did the last week or two of spring camp or is it back to square one? That’ll be interesting to see because if he picks up where he left off, he’ll be tough to leave out of the lineup.
“Boy, he played tough in the spring game. Not just the interception. He made a couple plays, a tackle for a 1-yard gain on the line of scrimmage.”
For now, Fields is behind Mike Phillips at strong safety but that could change quickly. Phillips knows both safety positions, and Fields can be used in multiple roles. Wannstedt didn’t rule out using schemes suited for Fields.
“You’ve got to try to make sure that you’re doing enough things on defense to give young players like Elijah an opportunity to play,” Wannstedt said. “At the same time, you have to make adjustments to stop people. I’ve been preaching that it won’t happen until we start to get some domination up front. I like what I saw during the spring. We had defensive linemen making plays in the backfield.”
• INJURY STATUS: Wannstedt said the only player not expected to return in time for training camp in August is redshirt sophomore defensive end Doug Fulmer, who suffered a torn ACL during spring drills.
That’s good news for fifth-year senior Mike McGlynn, who had spring surgery to repair a torn labrum. Recovery was expected to last into September, but Wannstedt didn’t rule McGlynn out for the start of training camp.
“He’ll be working into camp. We’ll be smart with what we do. He’ll be limited,” Wannstedt said. “He’s right where he needs to be. Being a senior, he knows what to do. I expect him to be ready to go.”
• Speaking of McGlynn, the three-year starter at right tackle might be a man without a position. Not that Wannstedt has lost confidence in McGlynn. It’s just that the possibility of McGlynn moving to center appears to be closer to a reality than a rumor as the season approaches.
“The depth chart is not set now,” Wannstedt said. “The offensive line is an area that is a little bit unsettled. If Jason Pinkston comes on, McGlynn would be the guy that would have a good possibility of moving because he’s played center, guard and tackle.”
FAREWELL: Lastly, Wannstedt confirmed that neither redshirt junior defensive tackle Corey Davis (Peabody) nor junior outside linebacker Tommie Campbell (Aliquippa) will return to the team this fall. Both were suspended indefinitely before spring drills and are expected to transfer, possibly to Youngstown State or Indiana (Pa.).