Loss of Greg Romeus big setback for Pitt

The Big East has been hit by a lot of injuries early in the season. None are bigger than Tuesday's news that Greg Romeus could miss a large part of this season after he undergoes back surgery on Thursday.

Romeus's back appeared to be a major issue in fall camp when he repeatedly missed practice. Head coach Dave Wannstedt tried to downplay it and said Romeus would be fine. But the star defensive end did not look like himself against Utah and then didn't play at all against New Hampshire last week.

No one knows for sure how long Romeus will be out. Pitt officials said they expected to have a better idea on a timetable for him once he begins rehabbing. But backs are tricky injuries. Wannstedt said he hoped to have Romeus back "for the conclusion of the season." Which could mean a lot of things.

There's no replacing a guy like Romeus, who won the Big East's co-defensive player of the year award last season and is a load to contain with his combination of speed and size. (And think about how bad things could have been if fellow senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard had earned a lengthy suspension after his altercation this summer.) The one bit of good news for Pitt is that the program has done a great job of developing defensive linemen. Brandon Lindsey started in place of Romeus last week and did a good job, recording a pair of sacks.

But he's not Romeus, and New Hampshire isn't Miami or Notre Dame, two teams Pitt will face in the next three games. Not having Romeus to generate a pass rush without blitzing, which is so key to the Panthers' entire game plan, puts a lot more pressure on Sheard and defensive tackles Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein. Justin Hargrove and Shayne Hale will have to improve as well to give the team enough depth to rotate fresh bodies at the end spot. Impressive true freshman Aaron Donald could see more time as well.

It's also really unfortunate for Romeus, who contemplated going to the NFL draft last offseason before returning for his senior year. Now his senior year is in jeopardy -- and so too are Pittsburgh's Big East title hopes unless others step forward in his place.