When Pitt released its first official depth chart of the 2011 season on Monday, one position's two-deep stood out among the rest.
At Spur linebacker, redshirt junior Andrew Taglianetti was listed as co-starter with redshirt freshman Todd Thomas. Todd Graham said during training camp that Taglianetti could see time at the Spur position, and on Monday, Graham specified what Taglianetti's role will be.
"He's more of a nickel Spur, so you're going to see him in the game if it's [passing personnel]; he's not a base-down Spur," Graham said. "Our base-down Spur would be Todd Thomas and Greg Williams.
"He's more of our nickel strong safety, and Todd's more of our true outside linebacker."
The Spur position has already been defined as a hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety, so moving a safety into that role is not inconceivable. Graham said that Taglianetti would continue to be the team's primary backup safety.
Since Buffalo will likely use a lot of passing personnel, Taglianetti figures to see quite a bit of playing time this Saturday at Heinz Field. As such, Graham, who has shown a desire for competitive secrecy, wanted the depth chart to be somewhat reflective of what will actually happen on the field.
"We're not trying to be deceptive on what guys are playing," Graham said Monday.
In the middle
Taglianetti and Thomas will split time at the Spur linebacker, and Brandon Lindsey and Juan Price are one-two at Panther linebacker. In between, things aren't quite as settled.
In Monday's depth chart, redshirt sophomore Shane Gordon is listed as the starting strong-side linebacker, while redshirt seniors Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts - both returning starters - are listed as co-starters at weak-side linebacker.
"We consider all three of those guys starters, and I think you'll see all three of them play," Graham said during his press conference on Monday.
But not all three can start. Graham said that Gruder and Roberts provide experience and knowledge, but Gordon clearly has the coaching staff excited. Graham referred to the Florida native as a "tremendous physical talent," and added that the coaches are "excited about what he can do."
As it stands, Gruder appears to hold the advantage of Roberts for the starting job next to Gordon.
"Tristan will play some [strong-side linebacker] as well, depending how he progresses. But we'll start the game with Shane. And Max will be at the WILL with Tristan as the swing guy there."
The other major depth-chart news
Walk-on freshman Trey Anderson and redshirt freshman Mark Myers are listed as co-backups at quarterback behind Tino Sunseri, but Graham said the coaches know which player would get the call if Pitt needed to put its backup on the field.
"Trey Anderson would probably be the first guy in the game."
Graham went on to talk about game situations and varying skill sets regarding the quarterback position, but the crux of his statement on Monday was that the walk-on from Pearland, Texas, is Pitt's No. 2 quarterback entering the season opener.
"The first guy, if something happened, would be Trey."
Sliding in the secondary
Lafayette Pitts has been destined for playing time as a freshman since he arrived at Pitt, and he finished training camp with a firm spot on the two-deep as the fourth cornerback. But the other three corners are upperclassmen, so the coaching staff decided to teach him another position in the secondary.
"Lafayette is going to play boundary corner and Bandit safety," Graham said. "The way we develop those guys is we play with boundary and field people, so if you're playing boundary corner, you should be able to learn boundary safety. Right now he's taking most of the snaps at Bandit safety, or boundary safety, and he's progressing well."
On the depth chart, Pitts is listed as the backup at Bandit safety behind Jason Hendricks.
"He's a guy that I think is going to help us this year. It's a little tougher on the back end because there's a lot more to comprehend. We're running over 20 different coverage looks, so there's a lot to learn.
"He's done very well at corner, but we're pretty solid there with the three guys we have at the corner position. So we want to provide a little bit of depth at safety, and we think that Bandit safety is going to be his primary position. And he'll also be in depth at the boundary corner position."
Graham opened his first game-week press conference as Pitt head coach by addressing three groups of people he is proud of:
The players. The coaching staff. And the fans.
For the players and coaches, he used the phrase "new and improved" when describing the approaches he hopes they take. And Graham added that the fans should have that mentality, too.
"What I want to ask of them is the same thing: I want it to be new and improved," he said. "I want to create an atmosphere unlike any atmosphere we've ever had at Heinz Field. I can't wait to hit that field, I can't wait to run out of that tunnel, and I want them to know how thankful and grateful I am for their support. It's been overwhelming, it's exciting; that's why I do this. I love competing and I love being part of a special group."
Other news and notes
- Another strength of the team is junior running back Ray Graham, who figures to be Pitt's top playmaker and one of the best in the Big East this season. Ray Graham will carry the ball and catch passes; Todd Graham said he knows how often he wants Ray to Graham to have the ball in his hands, but he's not saying.
"Oh, I don't know; as many as he can get," Graham said when asked about touches for the junior running back. "We definitely have a set number; I don't want to say what that number is, but we definitely have a set number of touches. But the key to what we will do as an offense is that we'll take what we can give us. So we're going to execute our system and attack. We'll spread the ball around.
"Ray will have plenty of touches. As long as we don't turn the football over, as long as we don't have stupid penalties that result in negative-yardage plays, then the key is making first downs. If you make first downs, you'll have a lot of plays; if we have 80 plays, everybody's going to be happy with how many times they touch the ball."
- Graham mentioned that Pitt would "use a lot of personnel" on defense, particularly on the defensive line, as well as at Panther linebacker, where Lindsey will start but both he and Price will take the field for third-down situations.
- The defensive line is one of Pitt's strongest positions, and Graham knows that well.
"I like our guys up against most anybody with that front. We have a really good defensive line."
- During the Big East teleconference on Monday morning prior to his official press conference, Graham said that redshirt sophomore linebacker Dan Mason (knee) will not be available for Saturday's game. But that appears to be the only injury-related absence for the Panthers this week.
"Everybody else, I believe, is good to go."
Quote of the day
Monday was a day for driving metaphors from Graham.
"I can't wait to put it in the left lane and put the hammer down."
"It's been fast and furious, to say the least, since the press conference in January."