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Panthers headed to the NFL


Four Pitt players were selected this past weekend in the NFL Draft, with tailback LeSean McCoy going to the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round, middle linebacker Scott McKillop to the San Francisco 49ers in the fifth and tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling to the Arizona Cardinals and receiver Derek Kinder to the Chicago Bears in the seventh.

Believe it or not, that’s a lot for the Panthers.

Although McCoy’s slip to the second snapped a two-year streak of Panthers being selected in the first round – cornerback Darrelle Revis went 14th overall to the N.Y. Jets in 2007 and tackle Jeff Otah 19th to the Carolina Panthers last year – the four picks were the most for Pitt since 2004 and second-most since the NFL Draft was shortened to seven rounds.

In ’04, the Panthers had six players selected: receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the first, cornerback Shawntae Spencer and tight end Kris Wilson in the second, defensive end Claude Harriott in the fifth, punter Andy Lee in the sixth and running back Brandon Miree in the seventh.

The four players picked also is the third-most by Pitt since 1992, when the Panthers also had six players drafted: defensive end Sean Gilbert in the first, defensive back Steve Israel in the second, offensive lineman Jeff Christy, defensive end Keith Hamilton and linebacker Ricardo McDonald in the fourth and tight end Dave Moore in the seventh.

Here’s a look at where other Pitt players agreed to free-agent deals:

* Long snapper Mark Estermyer, with the Steelers. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was a walk-on from Blackhawk High School who earned a scholarship with the Panthers, where he was a four-year starter. He is expected to compete with Greg Warren for the long-snapper job, with incumbent Jared Retkofsky out with an injury.

“I’m pretty excited,” Estermyer said. “The Steelers were the main people that contacted me, so I decided to go with them. I’ve been a Steelers fan my whole life. This is a great opportunity, so hopefully I can go in and show what I can do. Whether it’s to compete with Greg or give him a break, I’m going to do my best.”

* Offensive lineman C.J. Davis, with the Carolina Panthers. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder from West Allegheny was disappointed that he wasn’t drafted after being a four-year starter at left guard before switching to center at midseason last fall. Davis will rejoin former line mate Otah.

“I’m feeling pretty good about it,” Davis said. “Hopefully, I can come in and work a miracle, like I did at Pitt.”

* Punter Dave Brytus, another West Allegheny grad, with the Baltimore Ravens. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Brytus spent his first two seasons at Purdue – where he was a candidate for the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter – before transferring to Pitt in 2006.

“I’m really excited about it,” Brytus said. “The situation will be good for me. I’m hoping to punt and kick off.”

* Defensive tackle Rashaad Duncan, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder from Belle Glade, Fla., played in 48 consecutive games for the Panthers and had 35 starts. One of his best games came at Raymond James Stadium this past October.

“I thought about that,” Duncan said. “That’s where we played South Florida. I won’t be far from home and I’ll have my family there to support me.”

Joining Duncan with the Bucs will be fullback Conredge Collins.

* Kicker Conor Lee is still deciding on offers, but his brother-in-law, former Pitt punter Adam Graessle is expected to receive a free-agent tryout with the Green Bay Packers. Graessle hasn’t played since his career ended in 2006, but has been working out again the past couple of months. His sister, Katie, and Lee were married in January.

* I’m also hearing that former Pitt punter Adam Graessle, who hasn’t played since his career ended in 2006, has been working out again and could receive a free-agent tryout with the Green Bay Packers.

* Although the NFL Draft probably gets the most hype of any event I’ve covered, with exception of the Super Bowl, one of the most difficult parts of covering it is having to call those who weren’t chosen. As much excitement as there is for those selected, to hear the devastation in the voices of those bypassed is heartbreaking.

Every college football player dreams of playing in the NFL, even if it’s more unrealistic for some than others. Yet it’s worth noting that this will turn out to be a bigger weekend in the lives of several former Panthers who weren’t selected, as Collins, Davis and Duncan were among those who earned their undergraduate degrees in four years.



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