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Redshirt freshman receiver catching on at Pitt

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt receiver Chris Wuestner (left) is fighting for the starting wide receiver spot opposite all-conference selection Devin Street.

Pitt's Chris Wuestner talks about the injury that robbed him of his freshman season like it was a bloody nose or an annoying hangnail — even though it was actually a displaced collarbone.

“It got pushed back toward my throat,” he said, unfazed by what must have been a painful experience last year. “It didn't break. It just got pushed back a little bit.”

If Wuestner, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, won't allow such a potentially dangerous injury to bother him, don't expect the cornerback facing him every day in spring drills to break his concentration.

Even if that cornerback is a former state sprint champion.

Wuestner, who distinguished himself as a pass catcher and center fielder at Carlisle High School, finds himself on many occasions matched against former Clairton cornerback Trenton Coles, who won PIAA titles in the 100 and 200 meters in 2011.

“Right now, I'm just trying to get back to where I was,” Wuestner said. “I'm working on my technique, and none of my routes are perfect.”

Wuestner, who is locked in a battle with several older players for a starting position opposite second-team All-Big East wide receiver Devin Street, is hoping to impress coaches with his hands, which haven't let him down much this spring. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he said he was timed in 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a scouting combine prior to last season.

“I ran pretty well for a white guy,” he said.

One of the objectives of Pitt's spring drills, which nearly reached the halfway mark Tuesday with the seventh of 15 practices, is to find depth at wide receiver.

Senior Ed Tinker, a Brashear graduate, flashed some ability late last season when he caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers. He knows he's running out of time, though.

“I have to go every play like it's my last,” Tinker said.

Others in the mix for playing time are redshirt junior Kevin Weatherspoon of Clairton and junior Ronald Jones, who has 24 career catches for 209 yards. Penn Hills' Brandon Ifill, a former defensive back, is rehabilitating a left knee injury.

Meanwhile, Wuestner is trying to show he still belongs after coming to Pitt as a walk-on and earning a scholarship at the end of summer camp. He chose Pitt over a Lehigh to prove a point.

“I knew I could play with these guys at the Division I level,” he said. “I know I'm not the most talented guy, but I know if I work at it I can get there.”

Notes: Running back Rushel Shell, who injured his upper leg Friday in practice, was excused Tuesday, although coach Paul Chryst refused to confirm that his absence was injury-related. “Couple things here,” Chryst said. “We'll kind of work through it and then we'll see (about Shell returning Thursday). “Not positive on it.” ... Chryst also said he's “not sure” if senior linebacker Dan Mason will return this spring. Mason has been held out of spring drills for undisclosed reasons. ... Eric Thatcher, a three-year starter at defensive back for Pitt from 2006-08 and a graduate assistant under former coach Dave Wannstedt, was named linebackers coach at Slippery Rock.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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