Pitt dealing with off-field problems, injuries

If only Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt had just No. 19 Miami to worry

about.

It’s a short work week before one of the Panthers’ biggest

non-conference games in years, and yet game preparation isn’t all

that’s occupying the coach’s time.

Wannstedt is being forced to defend a program that has had three

players arrested in a two-month span. His best defensive player is

out for most of the season with a serious injury, and is dealing

with the death of his mother. His second-team All-American running

back is trying to bounce back from being benched in the last game.

An assortment of injuries only two games into the season means

backups are playing in key positions.

And there’s this – if Pitt (1-1) loses Thursday night’s game

against the favored Hurricanes (1-1), Wannstedt must put up with

the perception that a team picked to win the Big East Conference is

badly underachieving before its conference schedule begins.

”We’ve had some early season obstacles and adversity, but it’s

nothing that we can’t handle,” Wannstedt said. ”We’ve been there

and done that. We have a lot of good young men on this football

team that are ready for a challenge. They’re doing things the right

way, but things happen.”

In the last 10 days, offensive lineman Keith Coleman (aggravated

assault, disorderly conduct) and running back Jason Douglas

(aggravated assault, driving while intoxicated) were arrested. In

July, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, formerly considered one of the

Panthers’ role models, was charged with aggravated assault and

disorderly conduct after throwing a man through an art gallery’s

glass door. Coleman and Douglas were suspended, but Sheard was

not.

Also, starting middle linebacker Dan Mason was demoted to second

team after being with Douglas on the night the running back’s car

struck a pedestrian.

”We’ve had a couple of bad decisions in the past month and a

half, but that is not an indication of our football team,”

Wannstedt said. ”We are doing everything that we can to get that

resolved. It’s not what we were in the past. It’s not what we are

now, and it’s not what we’ll be all about in the future.”

Still, the former NFL head coach understands that the actions of

a few can taint the positive work done by dozens. In college

football, such incidents potentially harm recruiting because they

can create a perception that a program isn’t being run

properly.

”One or two incidents is not an indication of 120 kids. … I

don’t think you can lump everything together, like some people want

to do,” Wannstedt said. ”Obviously, there are consequences, but

if your son plays for me, I would think that you would want me to

be fair and that things are handled the right way. If you’re wrong,

you’re wrong, and you will lose your scholarship.”

On the field, Wannstedt wants to get running back Dion Lewis

going again following his 27-yard effort against FCS opponent New

Hampshire. Lewis got only one carry in the second half as backup

Ray Graham finished with 115 yards on nine attempts.

Lewis, the nation’s leading returning rusher after gaining 1,799

yards as a freshman, was held to 75 yards on 25 carries in Pitt’s

opener against Utah. Lewis is running behind a rebuilt line that is

missing both guards and the center from a year ago – and he’s

opposing defenses that are better prepared for him than they were

last season.

”I wouldn’t say he’s frustrated,” quarterback Tino Sunseri

said. ”He understands it’s a team game, and he’ll do whatever it

takes to win as a team. … He knows that sometimes you’ll bust out

for more than 100 yards and other times you get only 20. We’re

still going to try to get him the ball any way that we can, but

when something doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”

Against New Hampshire, that something else was Graham, who will

get some carries against Miami.

”We’ll go in this week knowing that they’re both going to play,

but with no specific plan that Dion will get so many carries and

Ray will get so many carries,” Wannstedt said. ”If we get a hot

hand, we’ll play the hot hand.”

Wannstedt also is playing backups at defensive end, middle

linebacker and the secondary. Defensive end Greg Romeus, the Big

East co-defensive player of the year last season, won’t return

until late in the year after having back surgery last week – only a

few days before his mother died. Defensive backs Dom DeCicco

(hamstring) and Andrew Taglianetti (groin) also are limping and

their status for Miami is uncertain.