This is Part II of my interview with Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt. You can read Part I here.
With Elijah Fields gone, how comfortable are you with your depth at linebacker and safety?
Dave Wannstedt: I feel good about it. I think we have some young guys who have ability and I think we'll be fine.
How big of a spring is this for Dan Mason at middle linebacker?
DW: I think it's his job to lose. He's had a great offseason and I expect him to be a great player for us. Greg Williams is back and Max Gruder is back. With Mason, I thought he would play more than he did as a freshman. It just so happened that Adam Gunn played well and we just stayed that way. When we recruited Mason, we didn't expect to get a sixth year from Adam Gunn. Mason was the Big East defensive player of the week against Navy last year.
How about the offensive line? You lost three starters but it seems like you've been grooming some young guys to take over.
DW: Center will be the biggest position. Left guard will be fine. Chris Jacobson, he started the bowl game and can play. He's a big, talented kid. Three years ago, he was the most highly recruited offensive lineman in the state of Pennsylvania. So he'll be fine. There's competition at right guard and the same thing at center. So we've got to fill two spots, but we've got some young guys who've been waiting for that opportunity. We'll see. I'm not sure how it's going to pan out.
On the defensive line, you lost both starting tackles. How is the depth there?
DW: Myles Caragein really was a starter for us; he was as productive as any of them. We've got Chas Alecxih. We've got Justin Hargrove back, Tyrone Ezell was a redshirt freshman. So we've got good depth on the defensive line. Same thing at defensive end. Brandon Lindsey and Shayne Hale will be backing up there. I feel good about our depth.
Mike Shanahan really came on for you at receiver at the end of the year. How excited are you to see how he steps forward as a starter?
DW: I think Mike will be one of those guys. I think we have an excellent one-two-three punch right now. We've got Jonathan Baldwin as the big play guy, Shanahan as the possession guy and then we've got a couple young kids in Cam Saddler and Devin Street, a redshirt freshman, who really have some ability. They have a chance to make a difference on our team.
DW: That will hurt us. We won't replace those guys. Mike Cruz will be the starter; he played a little last year and it's his time. He can catch, he's an athlete and he can block. Then we have a transfer, Andrew Devlin -- he went to Virginia and played as a freshman right out of high school, Mount Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh. Then we have Brock DeCicco, Dom's brother who redshirted last year. Then we have a couple of young outstanding tight ends coming in. So we have some pretty good depth there.
DW: Yeah, and we've got Chris Burns, who's a real good player and a little guy in Jason Douglas who has a lot of ability who we redshirted last year. Henry Hynoski is back at fullback, who I think is without a doubt the best fullback in the Big East and one of the best in the country. So I feel real good about the running back position. We've got ability there. We've got experience.
Can you lean on the running game a little bit more this year if you have a young guy like Sunseri at quarterback?
DW: When we're running the ball like we are it's going to open up some things and take a little bit of pressure off the quarterback. It's going to give us a chance to make plays in the play-action game when everybody doesn't know you're going to throw it. I think that's how you get the big plays, how you get guys open. On third down, it's tough. There are no secrets when you throw the ball on third down. As long as we run the ball like we do and are committed to it, we're going to have a chance to make some big plays in the passing game.
Any other guys who redshirted last year who you are looking at as maybe being impact players this year?
DW: We've got our long-snapper back, all our returners are back, our kicker is back in Dan Hutchins. We also have a kicker who's a redshirt sophomore in Kevin Harper out of Ohio, he'll be our kickoff guy. He has a lot of ability, and I think he'll be a guy who shows up for us. With the linemen, it's tough to tell. We redshirted four offensive linemen last year and four defensive linemen. Will any of the guys on the line step up and be ready? Who knows, we'll see.
It seems like you have the program to the point where you have enough depth to reload instead of rebuild.
DW: You know, as I sat here a year ago talking, I didn't know who was going to be our tailback, I didn't know who was going to be our quarterback, and we sure as heck didn't expect Dorin Dickerson to have that type of year. So when you look at the guys who had huge years for us, 12 months ago, and even coming out of spring, we didn't have that feeling. The thing that's great about college football is, those that stay will play. And if you get good kids who stay with the program and keep working, all of a sudden the light goes on.
The Dorin Dickersons and Billy Stulls of the world, they very easily could have quit, transferred or given up. And they both hung in there and stayed committed and ended up having storybook years. And I think that's a great lesson to all players at the college level. That will happen this year. There will be kids on our team and other teams that we're probably not talking about right now, but when it's all said and done they'll have great years. That's what makes it exciting.