Pitt junior Fields stepping into a new role

| Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009

It's now or never for Scoot.

Pitt junior free safety Elijah Fields will begin an increased new role when the Panthers play host to Navy on Saturday at Heinz Field.

"Opportunities come in different ways at different times," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "His is now."

Fields became a full-time starter for the first time in his career when sophomore Andrew Taglianetti sustained a torn ACL in his left knee Saturday at Buffalo.

The season-ending injury means the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Fields will get another chance to finally achieve the potential he showed when he picked Pitt (2-0) over Penn State and Ohio State as one of the top high school safeties in the nation.

"We have 100 percent confidence in Elijah," middle linebacker Adam Gunn said. "He's a great athlete. He played a lot for us last year. Now, he's just stepping into a different role."

Against Buffalo, Fields showed the infuriating inconsistency that has marked his days at Pitt. He was out of position, missed a tackle or took a bad angle, leading to big plays.

But he also made a nifty open-field tackle on fourth down to end one drive and intercepted a pass with 3:26 to play to set up a touchdown.

"For not getting all of the first-team reps, I thought he went in and played well," Wannstedt said. "I expect him to take the torch and move forward."

Fields is focusing on football this week. He wasn't made available for questions after Wannstedt's news conference Monday, and Pitt officials said he's off limits until after the Navy game.

Fields can make a statement Saturday.

His first career start at free safety comes against a Navy offense that preys on mental lapses and ranks among the nation's leaders in rushing. Fields' two starts last season came at strong safety — against Iowa and Syracuse.

Fields has never played against Navy. He was suspended for the 2007 season, taking a redshirt, and he didn't play in Pitt's 42-21 victory over Navy last year — the only game he sat out all season.

Wannstedt said Fields' absence wasn't any lack of faith in the former Duquesne High School star against a Navy triple-option attack.

Rather, because Fields played primarily in the nickel and dime packages, he wasn't needed against a Midshipmen offense that attempted only eight passes.

"Last year, it was not a concern of him getting in," Wannstedt said. "He just didn't play. He was a nickel back and ... we really didn't even use that package."

Fields, tied for fourth on the team with eight tackles, will be backed up by redshirt senior Irvan Brown and redshirt freshman Jarred Holley.

Fields, asked to play different positions in varied sub-packages over the years, finally has a defined, set role.

"He's ready," Gunn said. "He's played in big games. He has experience. I think he's definitely ready."

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