Pitt RB LeSean McCoy: "I'll Be Back.''
LeSean McCoy will be back for his junior season with the Pitt football team and so will the entire Panthers' coaching staff, Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said during a season-ending teleconference Monday afternoon.
LeSean McCoy determined that he would be better-served by returning to Pittsburgh after conversations with Wannstedt and his parents.
"He's excited to come back for another year, and LeSean and his mom and dad (said) that he's excited about being here,'' Wannstedt said. "He enjoys what he's doing, and we all believe that this next year will do nothing but enhance his opportunities for the National Football League.''
McCoy recently received feedback from the NFL, but Wannstedt said he did not have the liberty to discuss that information that right now. However, there were many other topics Wannstedt broached during the 25-minute Q/A with the program's beat writers. As one might surmise, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and quarterback Bill Stull were other key discussion points.
"We continued to make strides in our running game, but the passing game, we still have a lot of work to do there,'' Wannstedt said. "However, I feel like we have the players to make the plays, but for whatever reason ... I'm not going to base the season on just one game.''
That was Wannstedt's mantra throughout the interview session. And as far as Cavanaugh and Stull were concerned, "Matt Cavanaugh knows more about quarterbacks than 99 percent of the people. ... He's forgotten more about quarterback play than most of the other guys know,'' Wannstedt added.
"Billy ended up the season as the starter, and the first day of spring practice --unless something happens between now and then -- he deserves an opportunity to be the starter on Day 1. But it's going to be as competitive as it's ever been with Pat Bostick and Tino Sunseri and depending on which direction we go with Greg Cross with his little package.
"Tino Sunseri's going to get a hard, hard look this spring, and so is Pat Bostick,'' Wannstedt added. "And so will Billy. So, we're going to be more demanding at that position than we've ever been, because I think we all know that for us to take the next step we have to be more productive there. So, it's going to take more of a commitment on my part and more of a commitment from Matt Cavanaugh and a bigger commitment on our players' part for that to happen.''
Wannstedt wouldn't rule out Cross changing positions to safety and the other quarterback, Kevan Smith, moving to either H-back or tight end. Both have been discussed, but no final decisions have been made.
"We have to re-evaluate that, to be quite honest with you,'' Wannstedt noted, "and that'll be a big topic of discussion between myself and the offensive coaches. There were two scenarios that happened. We had to see if he could make enough throws and do enough from the standpoint of having a little package with him where it can go in and be effective.
"And we weren't real comfortable as we wanted to be with him throwing the ball. More importantly, we wanted to get the ball in Shady's and LaRod's hands as much as we could. So, that was a tradeoff. In my gut, I believe there's a place for that, but how it's going to fit in and how much work he'll get are points to be discussed. (But) I'm not disappointed in Greg Cross at all.''
Also, freshman offensive tackle Lucas Nix would have played in the Sun Bowl if circumstances had been different, but since the staff didn't know until pre-game that starter Jason Pinkston (shoulder) couldn't play Nix wasn't prepared. He practiced all season on the right side, so fifth-year senior Chase Clowser was used. The same for redshirt frosh Chris Jacobson, who worked at right guard.
"Lucas Nix and Chris Jacobson will be in the lineup next year,'' Wannstedt said. "(But) depth is a concern on the offensive line, but our plan is to recruit another four freshmen this year. And some of the redshirt freshmen, Greg Gaskins, Jacobson, Lucas Nix, Dan Matha, John Fieger, we're going to have to get two or three of these young kids to step up and play.
"You've got (redshirt freshman) Jordan Gibbs and the veteran guys coming back. The depth on the offensive line is a concern, not from a numbers standpoint, but from the number of guys who have played.''
About 15 recruits will be in town this weekend, and Wannstedt said that Pitt plans to sign between 18-20 recruits in this class. He said they have four or five players who could graduate in August, and if those players are contributors in the spring and offseason, then they'll have the option to stay with the team. If not, then those spots will be open as well for new scholarships. But only frosh cornerback Ronald Hobby will not return to the team this spring. There will be an addition, as incoming freshman running back Dion Lewis from New Jersey has enrolled for this semester and practice this spring.
Along with Pinkston, who had an MRI Monday to determine the extend of his shoulder injury -- which Wannstedt believed did not need surgery -- junior tight end Nate Byham will be out this spring after shoulder surgery this week. And freshman cornerback Jarred Holley from Easton had his knee scoped.
Pitt will have to replace Scott McKillop at middle linebacker next year, but returning backups Steve Dell and Brandon Lindsey are candidates for the job. Redshirt frosh Max Gruder could also be moved back there this spring. Shane Murray (pre-season knee surgery) will only take part in non-contact drills this spring, but no full-speed workouts. He is expected back for the season.
Wannstedt did not believe that Adam Gunn would get a sixth season after an appeal due to his neck injury in the opening game. "It's a long shot,'' Wannstedt said. "I'd love to see it, but I would not count on it.''
Pitt opens spring practice in mid-March.