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After coaching changes and injuries, Saddler set to lead Pitt receivers

| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt linemen surround wide receiver Cameron Saddler in the huddle during practice Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt receiver Cameron Saddler stretches for a catch during practice Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune Review)
Pitt receiver Cameron Saddler runs during practice Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune Review)

No one doubts that coach Paul Chryst has a difficult job in trying to rebuild the Pitt football program.

But he already has achieved something two coaches before him couldn't. He has found a way to keep senior wide receiver Cam Saddler quiet.

It has become a simple matter of giving him a lot of work.

“The offense is a little complicated,” Saddler said after practice Tuesday. “It's kind of hard for me to run my mouth like usual. I have a lot of learning to do.”

The leadership role among Pitt's wide receivers was thrust upon Saddler this week, with veterans Mike Shanahan (hamstring) and Devin Street (knee) idled by injuries.

“I miss my big dog,” Saddler said of Shanahan, also a fifth-year senior.

But Saddler has little time for anything other than worrying about his assignments while he tries to unlearn what former coach Todd Graham taught him.

“Details,” said Saddler, when asked how Chryst's offense differs from last year's no-huddle attack. “Last year, it was, ‘Get to a spot and hope to get the ball.' Now you have to be in the right spot to get the ball.

“You have to hone in on the details — route depths, splits, little things. That's kind of the part I struggle with. I'm having a little trouble the first week and a half.”

Since arriving at Pitt from Gateway in 2008, Saddler, 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, has kept his sense of humor while dealing with adversity. He tore the ACL in his left knee during training camp of his freshman season, and last year, he suffered a season-ending fractured sternum on the longest reception of his career (40 yards) Oct. 26 against Connecticut.

This season, he finds himself battling for playing time with a long list of less-experienced receivers, including Brandon Ifill, Ronald Jones, Brendon Felder, Ed Tinker and Josh Brinson.

But Saddler's reliability has set him apart from others. He hasn't missed a snap since camp opened nine days ago.

“You appreciate the guys (practicing),” Chryst said.

Still, Saddler said he's “worn out.”

“I'm not going to lie. I'm tired,” he said. “But I'm having fun. I just love playing football. But I'll be happy when everyone gets healthier.”

Saddler reverted to some old habits Tuesday, chirping at freshman cornerback Jahmahl Pardner after making a tough catch against him.

“You can't play defense,” he shouted playfully at Pardner, before changing his story. “I don't think you can watch me. That's it.”

Mainly, Saddler has let his serious side show, pointing out that Chryst's way is helping him becoming a smarter player.

“Coach Chryst always says, ‘Try to understand the concept of the play.' If I can do that, I have a better chance of getting open. Now I have to notice little stuff. I am looking at coverages, seeing what leverages guys are playing. I have to pay a little bit more attention.

“No more fun and games. It's business. This is my fifth year.”

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

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