Safety Dom DeCicco probably never was in line to work on the scout team this season. A 6-foot-3, 210-pounder from Thomas Jefferson, Pa. High School, DeCicco went from probable to definite contributor when sophomore Elijah Fields was suspended for the season. DeCicco has performed well during Pitt's training camp, and he's been a backup safety from start.
"There's some bumps in the road, but the older guys and the coaches are helping me out a lot to get through that,'' DeCicco said. "It's just a lot of studying throughout the night, mostly just the mental stuff is what I have to get down. And once I get that I'll be able to go full speed all the time.
"That's what you want to do, but I'm not there yet. And the more reps that I get, the better I get, and I'm getting a lot. I came into a very good position here, and that's giving me a lot of experience learning the plays.''
The University of Pittsburgh went through some lean times at safety last fall, as injuries beset starters Mike Phillips and Eric Thatcher, while Fields was not ready to play on a regular basis. Phillips and Thatcher are healthy this year, but changes needed to be made in the depth chart. Sophomore Jovani Chappel, a backup cornerback last season, was moved to safety. And DeCicco stepped into the other reserve role with him.
"I knew they were real thin at safety when I came in here, so I thought there was a chance I could get a shot to play,'' DeCicco said. "And there is some pressure in that they don't expect me just to learn this season. So, I have to pick things up so that I can be ready for the season. I think I've done pretty well, so far, and everybody has been a big help.
"The coaches and the veteran players, they make it a lot easier for me. It's neat for me to get a chance to play, but I'm also very fortunate that I'm in a position to play early because of the circumstances. I was just in the right place at the right time, so I just have to take advantage of it. I'm just learning free safety right now, but we know both positions.''
DeCicco has been playing behind Thatcher, a redshirt junior, while Chappel's backing up fifth-year senior Phillips. Redshirt sophomore Irvan Brown would be in the mix, too, if he could get on the field. But he hasn't been healthy since the spring. Brown, though, has been a big help to DeCicco's development and he's been a strong supporter from the sideline.
Wannstedt has been hesitant to praise freshmen so far during camp, but he couldn't help it when DeCicco had a particularly strong practice.
"Dom, I should have mentioned him,'' Wannstedt said. "He's made some big plays. ... Dom's running second team right now, and he's making as many plays as anybody. So, he's in the mix. I look for him to be one of those freshmen that we're going to have to play this year. He's smart and tough. All the intangibles are good with him. He just needs more playing time.''
While there's been some speculation that DeCicco will move to linebacker once he adds another 10-20 pounds, if that's possible, he's just worried about honing his skills as a safety.
"Generally, it's been better than I expected,'' DeCicco said. "I'm getting a better grasp of the playbook a lot more than I did before, and I'm getting all the plays down. Now, all I have to do is make plays on the field.''
That shouldn't be a problem since DeCicco's getting the playing time.