PITTSBURGH — As Pitt heads into its 2019 season, the Panthers will need to replace all three starting linebackers from the 2018 season.
The Panthers lost senior Seun Idowu, Quintin Wirginis and Elijah Zeise to graduation, while redshirt junior Anthony McKee decided not to return to the team.
Wirginis battled injuries throughout his time at Pitt, and missed the final eight games of the season with an injury, which gave an opportunity to Elias Reynolds, who started seven games in 2018.
The Panthers will now look to the likes of redshirt juniors Reynolds and Chase Pine, redshirt sophomore Cam Bright and redshirt senior Saleem Brightwell to step up into those vacant positions.
Reynolds saw the most sustained action out of this group last year as he took over at middle linebacker after Wirginis went down. In total, Reynolds played in 11 games, while starting in seven. He ended the season with 49 tackles and one sack.
Pine and Bright appeared in all 14 games, primarily used on special teams and serving as reserves to the starters at linebacker and working in Pitt’s sub packages. Brightwell also played in all 14 games, serving as a backup outside linebacker after making the switch from middle linebacker the season before. He totaled 35 tackles during the 2018 season.
As spring practice continues into its third week, it appears as of now that it will be Reynolds at middle linebacker, with Pine and Bright flanking him at the Money and Star positions.
Redshirt freshman Wendell Davis is next in line at middle linebacker and looks to be used in an extended role during the 2019 season. Redshirt junior Phil Campbell moved from safety to linebacker this spring and will look for more playing time at the Star spot after being used sparingly at safety for the past two seasons. Those two are working with Brightwell on the second unit.
BEFORE AND AFTER
Pitt’s new wide receivers coach Chris Beatty utilized a different tactic in practice on Tuesday. Before the Panthers’ wide receiver ran routes with their quarterbacks throwing them then ball, Beatty took the receivers off to the side and worked on those routes with his charges first.
The routes here are hitches, where the receiver is going to break across the field and then fight back to the ball.
Here’s Beatty working with the receivers:
Here’s the finished product:
Finally, here’s some crossing routes, another route that Beatty has been working on a lot this spring, as it appears that Pitt’s receivers will be working the middle of the field significantly more under Mark Whipple than they did under Shawn Watson a year ago.
Former Pitt fullback George Aston was know as one of college football’s most fearsome blockers, but without that type of physical specimen in the fold, Pitt’s fullbacks might use a different tactic more often in 2019.
Here’s running backs coach Andre Powell working with Jim Medure, Grey Brancifort, Jake Zilinskas, Peyton Deri and Justin Sliwoski on cut blocks.
It’s an interesting crew working out at the fullback position, full of mostly local players. Medure (Neshannock) is a former walk-on that is on his fourth position after playing linebacker, defensive end and tight end.
The other five are all walk-ons and four have played other positions. Brancifort, who is also a long snapper, is the lone out-of-towner, from Pickerington, Ohio. Zilinskas (Indiana) came to Pitt as a quarterback, then moved to tight end before moving to fullback this spring. Deri (Norwin) is in his second season at fullback at after starting out as a linebacker. Sliwoski (Hempfield) is in his third season as at fullback.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Check out the rest of the sights and sounds from Pitt’s spring practice No. 6: