One of the first noticeable differences with the Pitt football team wasn’t its new uniforms but the clean-cut look the Panthers were sporting at Monday’s media day.
Per Dave Wannstedt’s mandate, the majority of Pitt players were clean shaven, with short hair cuts and no jewelry. The exceptions were those who wear their hair in dreadlocks or cornrows.
Take that for what it’s worth but Wannstedt appears intent on instilling more discipline in this team, and the players are certainly taking his authority more seriously than their predecessors did.
• As for the new uniforms, the Panthers wore their navy jerseys with gold pants. The jerseys have the arched, block-letter PITT across the chest to match their helmets, with the numbers on the shoulders. The new, streamlined Panther-head logo is hardly visible on the left hip.
Like Pitt’s players, it’s a clean, new look.
• The football futures of a pair of redshirt freshmen appear to be in doubt. Neither quarterback Dexter Davidson (knee) nor linebacker Greg Webster (Crohn’s disease) have been medically cleared to play and will not participate in training camp. They also aren’t listed on the roster.
Although Webster was expected to challenge for the starting middle linebacker job when H.B. Blades graduated, he missed all of spring drills and was surpassed by Scott McKillop. The other Mike ‘backers are redshirt sophomore Steve Dell and freshman Max Gruder.
Davidson’s departure puts the Panthers in a precarious position. They now have only three scholarship quarterbacks, and two are freshmen. If one of those freshmen, Pat Bostick, were to win the starting job, it could lead either Bill Stull or Kevan Smith to opt to transfer.
Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said the Panthers will play the best quarterback, even if it’s a freshman. But that’s another reason why, in my mind, Stull opens the season as the starter.
• Wannstedt said the Panthers will hold split-squad practices starting Tuesday – per NCAA rules, the Panthers can’t practice in pads until Thursday – with the upperclassmen practicing in the early session (8:30-10:45 a.m.) and mostly newcomers in the second one (3-5 p.m.).
That way, Wannstedt said, Bostick will get as many repetitions as Stull and Smith. Bostick likely will split reps with one of the several walk-on quarterbacks: Steve Malinchak, Spencer Whipple or Andrew Janocko.
Freshman tailbacks LeSean McCoy, Shariff Harris and Greg Williams also will practice in the afternoon session, although Wannstedt alluded to the possibility that the latter two could also play linebacker. Both certainly look the part.
The one position where Pitt doesn’t have much depth is tight end, so sophomore starter Nate Byham will run strictly with the first team, but senior Darrell Strong and redshirt sophomore John Pelusi will alternate practicing with the underclassmen and walk-on Dustin Walters.
• With the season-long suspension of sophomore Elijah Fields, Pitt was expected to shift some players in the secondary. Sophomore Jovani Chappel, who has a penchant for making big hits, is the only player switching to safety.
That puts some pressure on true freshman Dom DeCicco to perform. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound DeCicco will work with the second-team defense.
Senior Lowell Robinson, recruited as a safety, will stay at cornerback. And fifth-year senior Jemeel Brady, who started the final two games at safety last season in place of Mike Phillips, is going to play outside linebacker.
• With 16 defensive linemen on scholarship, Wannstedt said someone will likely move to offense. Sounds like a good problem for the Panthers to have.
Pitt actually added an extra defensive tackle when Wayne Jones, who was scheduled to enroll in January, was given the available scholarship this fall after receiver Kyle Hubbard opted to play basketball at Cleveland State.
• Wannstedt made a point to note that while Pitt has only 11 scholarship seniors (plus walk-on offensive lineman Kevin Cimador), five are linemen.
Neither fifth-year senior offensive tackle Mike McGlynn nor redshirt sophomore defensive end Doug Fulmer will participate in contact drills during training camp. McGlynn is further ahead in his rehabilitation of Fulmer, who likely won’t be ready for the opener.
Wannstedt noted that redshirt junior Dom Williams had a “great” off-season and will compete with sophomore Joe Thomas at right guard. Freshman Chris Jacobson, a U.S. Army All-American, will be behind C.J. Davis at left guard. The competition at center will be between fifth-year senior Chris Vangas and redshirt sophomore John Bachman. McGlynn, for the time being, hasn’t been moved to center and Wannstedt isn’t sure if McGlynn will move.
• Although Jeff Otah appears to be locked in as the starting left tackle, Wannstedt surprised some by saying that although sophomore Jason Pinkston “had a good spring” in McGlynn’s place at right tackle “he’s probably getting more publicity than he deserves.”
Pinkston’s response? “I take it as more of a challenge to come out and go harder.”
Wannstedt later noted that “a lot of guys changed physically” in the off-season and pointed to Pinkston, Thomas and sophomore defensive tackle John Malecki as three linemen who have shed some serious weight.
Just another example of the new-look Panthers.