Pitt blessed with deep defensive line
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Last updated: 6:16 am

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt sent a message five years ago that marked one of the turning points in his program.

At halftime of a game at West Virginia that Pitt eventually lost, 45-13, Wannstedt was asked by a TV reporter what his team needed to do in the second half.

Harsh, honest and hopeful in his first season on the job, Wannstedt said, "We have to run faster."

He wasn't worried about hurting anyone's feelings.

"I kind of laughed," said defensive line coach Greg Gattuso, also a first-year Pitt coach at the time. "Because he was kind of saying, 'We don't run fast enough.' So we went out and recruited kids that do."

[IMGL]http://files.pittsburghlive.com/photos/2010-08-25/0826scromeus-a.jpg[/IMGL]Today, Pitt's defensive line - bolstered Wednesday by the return to practice of All-Big East end Greg Romeus from back spasms - looks to be one of the deepest positions on the team.

"I feel good about our kids," said Gattuso, now the assistant head coach/defensive line. "I like our matchups. We are confident in our game.

"We have depth and the young guys are ready to play. We feel like we can play eight or nine guys, 10 if we have to."

Romeus' injury, which kept him out of virtually every practice since the start of camp Aug. 7, was especially fortunate for backup end Brandon Lindsey, a redshirt junior from Aliquippa.

"Greg being out in some ways is a blessing in disguise," Gattuso said, "in that we will be able to have a third end that can take a lot of reps right now."

Lindsey played well in the absence of Romeus, and Gattuso said he can trust him to back up both ends, including Jabaal Sheard on the left side.

The transition from star high school linebacker to college defensive end wasn't easy for Lindsey. He was redshirted as a freshman in 2007 and again as an unhappy backup linebacker in '08.

"It was rough, at first," Lindsey said. "Not that (the coaches) didn't like me, but I was lazy at first. I was just young and I was mad because I wasn't playing. I really didn't care.

"I was getting down on myself. It caused me to do worse in school and do worse on the football field. Once I talked to them and they told me what they wanted from me, what they wanted to see, I understood where they were coming from."

Lindsey's strongest support came from Gattuso, who continually asked Wannstedt to move him to the line.

"I begged for him for a year," Gattuso said. "He was playing linebacker and things weren't working. I said, 'Coach, this kid can play for us.' Thankfully, coach got to the point where he said, 'OK, let's try it.' "

Gattuso's insistence paid off last season when Lindsey recorded four sacks without making a start, two against Syracuse.

His first sack was indicative of Lindsey's maturation.

"I was tired and I just wanted to get off the field," he said.

Nonetheless, he ran down the quarterback from one side of the field to the other and stayed in the game for a few more plays.

"I tell Brandon every day, 'You have another level to go in your development, and you can get there,' " Gattuso said. "You just have to keep working every day. I see him inching toward being that type of player."

The emergence of Lindsey and players with his size and speed mean Wannstedt no longer needs to make negative pronouncements about his team on TV.

"We are a little faster and we do have some depth," he said. "For us to function as a defense, that is our lifeline. If we can't make plays with our defensive linemen, then this scheme won't work. It is really pretty simple."