The probable two-deep for Pitt’s season opener against Bowling Green at noon Saturday at Heinz Field settled a some position battles from training camp but has very few overall surprises.
First, a look at the starting lineup:
The offensive line, as expected, features Jason Pinkston at left tackle, C.J. Davis at left guard, Robb Houser at center, John Malecki at right guard and Joe Thomas at right tackle. The tight end position, however, has Nate Byham, Dorin Dickerson and John Pelusi as co-starters. Bill Stull is the quarterback, with Conredge Collins at fullback, LeSean McCoy at tailback, Oderick Turner at split end and Derek Kinder at flanker.
Defensively, the front four consists of Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus at end, with Mick Williams at defensive tackle and Rashaad Duncan at nose tackle. Scott McKillop is the middle linebacker, flanked by Shane Murray on the weak side and Adam Gunn on the strong side. The secondary has Jovani Chappel at the boundary cornerback and Aaron Berry at the field corner, with Eric Thatcher at free safety and Dom DeCicco at strong safety.
The specialists are punter Dave Brytus, placekicker Conor Lee, holder Andrew Janocko and long snapper Mark Estermyer with Berry on punt returns and LaRod Stephens-Howling and Aundre Wright on kick returns.
The backups is where it gets more interesting, although the Panthers took the easy way out in deciding some of the key position battles. Rather than do it position by position, I’ll just start with the most interesting choices:
* Despite missing much of camp with a hamstring injury, Buddy Jackson won the backup job for the boundary corner over freshmen Ronald Hobby, Jarred Holley and Antwuan Reed. Jackson had a strong final scrimmage and the Panthers coaches like his combination of size and speed.
* After starting at defensive tackle early last season, Gus Mustakas is now listed as the backup at nose tackle. This could be an indication that the Panthers will pair their tackles in a way to take advantage of their differences size and speed. Tommie Duhart moves from nose to defensive tackle, where he and Myles Caragein are the backups, meaning Pitt could use any combination of the five tackles together to exploit matchups.
* Jonathan Baldwin won the backup job at split end, which caused a co-backup listing at flanker between Cedric McGee and T.J. Porter. McGee started camp in competition with Turner for the starting split end job.
* Ty Tkach and Tony Tucker are the backup defensive ends, indicating that they beat out redshirt freshman walk-on Chas Alecxih, who was one of the top playmakers in camp and will likely see playing time at some point.
* Alex Karabin edged Wayne Jones for the backup job at center, a win for the walk-on from Greensburg Central Catholic. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, to see the Panthers use Dom Williams at center first if anything happens to Houser, just because Williams has game experience.
* The rest of the second-team offensive linemen are Chase Clowser at left tackle, Dom Williams at left guard, Chris Jacobson at right guard and Lucas Nix at right tackle. Other defined backups on offense are Henry Hynoski at fullback and Stephens-Howling at tailback.
* The backup quarterback job hasn’t been settled, as Pat Bostick, Kevan Smith and Greg Cross are listed as co-backups, although not in alphabetical order.
* Defensively, Max Gruder is the backup at middle linebacker and Tristan Roberts at weak-side linebacker – Austin Ransom isn’t on the two-deep, despite taking first-team reps at the Will late last week – with Elijah Fields at strong safety and Ricky Gary at field corner.
* The other co-backups on defense include Nate Nix and Brandon Lindsey at strong-side linebacker and Irv Brown and Andrew Taglianetti at free safety.
* Dan Hutchins is the backup at both punter and kicker, meaning Kevin Harper is likely headed for a redshirt. The backup holder is Brytus and the backup long snapper is McKillop. Kinder is listed behind Berry on punt returns, although he could end up as his lead blocker a la Darrelle Revis against West Virginia in 2006. Aaron Smith is listed as the third kick return man.
* The depth chart, of course, is subject to change on a daily basis. And, at this point, it might be on an hourly basis, as Dave Wannstedt holds his season-opening news conference at noon.
We’ll have more after that.