When Pitt opened training camp last Monday, the wide receiver position was almost overflowing with players. The Panthers had 14 receivers on the roster, with three seniors, two juniors, a slew of sophomores, and couple of freshmen.
Then the numbers started dwindling.
Redshirt sophomore Salath Williams decided to leave the team in the first week of camp, taking the numbers down to 13. Redshirt senior Mike Shanahan got sidelined in the first week with an injury. Redshirt junior Devin Street has missed the last few days with an injury of his own. Redshirt junior Ed Tinker has missed time, as has redshirt sophomore Brandon Ifill.
All of it added up to a receiving corps in Wednesday morning's practice that looked somewhat less physically-imposing, since the seven receivers who lined up for position drills had an average height of just under 5-foot-10.
But the diminished receiving corps didn't keep the coaches from working on the passing game in Wednesday's two-a-day practices, and Paul Chryst is anxious to see what some of the younger receivers do with the extra opportunities they're getting.
"They're going to make a case for themselves either way: whether they're in if they earn more reps or they're not getting it," Chryst said this week. "The good news is they're getting a lot of reps. It's either good news what they're doing with the reps or it's bad news, because they put it on film."
Among the chief beneficiaries of the injury-related extra work have been sophomore Ronald Jones and senior Josh Brinson. Both entered camp firmly on the second team behind Shanahan, Street, and redshirt senior Cameron Saddler. But with two of those three on the sidelines, Jones and Brinson have ascended to the first team.
Jones may have been slightly overlooked due to his diminutive stature - 5'8" 170 - but he has been one of the more impressive receivers in camp. In recent practices he has been working at several positions, not just slot receiver, and making catches on a variety of routes. His speed allows him to turn the corner and be a threat on crossing patterns, but he has also used that speed to create separation running down the sideline or down the seam.
But Jones has also been reliable on medium-distance routes as well, showing sure hands and a good feel for getting the ball. His work this week has shown that he has potential beyond the spread-offense speed-machine many considered him to be when he came to Pitt last year.
Brinson, a junior-college transfer from El Camino College, has also made the most of the opportunities he's getting with Shanahan and Street out. His consistency in route-running seemingly improves with every practice, and when the pass is on target, he comes down with it more often than not.
Walk-on freshman Chris Wuestner has also impressed in his extra opportunities this week, and at 6-foot-2, he's the tallest of the Shanahan/Street-less receivers.
Still, some of the other receivers could do more with their opportunities. Redshirt sophomore Brendon Felder impressed on the scout team last year and showed some of his ability in spring camp, but he needs to be more consistent in almost every aspect of the game. His speed is a constant, though, and he is a threat to take off almost every time he makes a reception.
With the depth quite diminished, redshirt sophomore Kevin Weatherspoon is also seeing extra opportunities, as are true freshmen Chris Davis and Demitrious Davis. But Chryst is quick to point out that those opportunities won't last forever, so the receivers need to take advantage while they can.
"Whenever you get that opportunity - and you don't know when that opportunity's going to come or why it's going to come - your preparation's going to dictate what you do with that opportunity," Chryst said. "Every guy in camp will get an opportunity; what they do with it is on them."