Linebackers Gunn, Mason create good problem for Pitt

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Coming into the season, Pittsburgh faced questions on how it would replace Scott McKillop, the star middle linebacker who was the Big East's defensive player of the year in 2008.

Three games in, it appears the Panthers have a multiple-choice answer.

Sixth-year senior Adam Gunn started the first two games, led the team in tackles and was named the Big East defensive player of the week for his performance at Buffalo.

Last week, Gunn had a sprained ankle and couldn't play against Navy. So Dave Wannstedt plugged true freshman Dan Mason into the middle linebacker spot, and Mason responded with an 11-tackle, two sack day that earned him the Big East defensive player of the week award.

Now Wannstedt has the best kind of problem for a coach. Which standout player does he go with this week at NC State and beyond?

"I don't know," he said Monday. "Once Adam's better, and he expects to play this week, we'll see.

"You can never have enough good ones, and Danny's just a freshman. We'll continue to play him and on special teams. How much playing time there will be for Danny, I can't tell you."

Wannstedt had been raving about the 6-foot, 225-pound Mason all offseason and predicted that he would have an immediate impact. Still, for a kid to be thrown into a situation where he has to make defensive calls and do so against an incredibly confusing offense like Navy's triple-option and perform so well was mighty impressive.

"Dan is one of those unique guys," Wannstedt said. "He stepped forward and was accountable and got the job done."

Pitt's defensive system funnels a lot of plays toward the middle linebacker spot, and the Panthers' defensive line is so active and so good that it allows linebackers to collect plenty of tackles. But someone still has to make those plays. And now Pitt has two standout options there.

"I look at as a win-win situation," Wannstedt said.