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Mike Phillips was disappointed about the season-long suspension of Elijah Fields, even though the sophomore from Duquesne would have been Phillips’ primary competitor to start at strong safety.

“We need every guy we’ve got. When you lose anyone, it’s a big blow,” said Phillips, a fifth-year senior who started five games last season. “He can really do some things. Just his athleticism and speed, he can really have advantages over other players that we can use. It’s going to be a big loss.”

Phillips said he talked with Fields last week and advised him to “keep his head up and stay positive.” Fields can practice with the Panthers this fall, although he’ll likely be relegated to the scout team. Phillips, for one, hopes Fields doesn’t transfer.

“Everybody has to overcome obstacles,” Phillips said. “A lot of people can take a turn for the worse. If he keeps working hard, he can come back bigger and faster and be better. I hope he was listening. We won’t know until next season.”

= With the suspension of Fields and the July 21 arrest of fifth-year senior defensive end Joe Clermond – marijuana possession charges were dismissed Monday – Phillips was asked if discipline is an issue at Pitt.

“The coaches have pretty much taken care of it,” Phillips said. “Coach (Dave) Wannstedt says he wants character first. No matter what you can do for the team, he wants character first. Sometimes, people think he’s just blowing smoke but he’s not playing around at all.”

= I asked Phillips which player stood out during seven-on-seven play this summer, possibly someone that hasn’t received much attention, and his answer might be considered surprising:

“Billy Stull,” Phillips said, without hesitation, of the junior quarterback from Seton-La Salle. “He’s the frontrunner for the job. The way he’s stepped in, he’s showing a lot, like Tyler Palko did. It shows he wasn’t goofing off. He studied a lot and learned a lot from Tyler. Billy is walking with his head high. He’s showing that, even though he’s got the big shoes to fill, he’s capable of doing that.”

= I checked on the Internet rumors circulating about Pitt trying to schedule a home-and-home series with the University of Georgia, and a Georgia athletic department spokesman confirmed that the schools did discuss playing “a while back” but it went no further.

Pitt is trying to find a replacement for Clemson, which backed out of its games against Pitt in 2010 and 2011. Georgia has an SEC game scheduled for Pitt’s open date (Sept. 18) in 2010, so that ruled the Bulldogs out. Georgia does have open dates in 2011 and 2012, so it’s still a possibility that the schools could schedule a series.

But, at this point, it doesn’t sound good.

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