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Pitt's LBs are experiencing growing pains

| Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012, 11:36 p.m.
Pitt's Todd Thomas returns a second quarter interception past Cinncinnati's Travis Kelce on Nov. 4, 2011, at Heinz Field. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

When Pitt coach Paul Chryst watches his linebackers, he sees a variety of athletes wrestling with the game at varying levels of skill and maturity:

• Those who are built and run like sprinters (Todd Thomas and Nicholas Grigsby)

• One who looks like a basketball player but has good skills in tracking a football (6-foot-3, 215-pound Eric Williams)

• One who might be able to create havoc with his size and speed (6-2, 223-pound Shane Gordon)

• Others who were injured but refuse to stay off the field (Dan Mason and Ejuan Price)

In this young, largely undersized group, Chryst also sees a microcosm of his team.

“There are a lot of question marks,” he said. “We have got to answer as many of those as we can.”

Practice started this week with Gordon in the middle of the 4-3 defense, flanked by redshirt sophomore Williams and redshirt freshman Grigsby. Williams and Grigsby are being pushed by Thomas and Price, sophomores who played extensively last season. Price, the heaviest of the top eight linebackers at 235 pounds, had four sacks in five games.

Gordon, a redshirt junior, is the most seasoned, playing in every game the past two years.

Chryst said Gordon is “instinctive,” and linebackers coach Chris Haering has definite plans for him: “Shane is going to be a guy that you need to find a place on the field for,” he said.

After the first two games last season, Gordon lost his starting job in the middle of the 3-4 scheme, replaced by seniors Tristan Roberts and Greg Williams. He also can play outside, but the new staff prefers to keep him inside.

“I'm still learning it, but I'm liking it,” he said.

Eric Williams, a redshirt sophomore, made a good first impression, picking off two passes and deflecting another Tuesday. For now, he is ahead of Thomas, who had left knee surgery in January and is easing his way back.

Thomas started six games last season, playing with a torn ACL in the final nine. He was given a scheduled day off Wednesday.

Williams' strong play and Thomas' experience only raise more questions. “How is Eric going to grow?” Chryst said. “Where is Todd at? Is he going to come along.”

Chryst said he is eager to find answers. “If they keep growing, it might be fun to watch,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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