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Pitt linebackers measuring up

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 10:24 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas reacts to sniffing out a New Mexico fake punt during the fourth quarter Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas drops New Mexico quarterback Clayton Mitchem for a first-quarter loss Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at Heinz Field.

No one on the Pitt football team smiles easier than outside linebacker Todd Thomas.

But you surely can raise his ire if you question the size of Pitt's linebackers.

“Small, big, medium, large, it doesn't matter,” Thomas said. “If you can play football, you can play football.”

Pitt's starting linebackers — Thomas, Shane Gordon and Anthony Gonzalez — average 228.3 pounds, more than 9 pounds lighter than the group Florida State lined up against the Panthers in the opener.

Can that become a problem?

Defensive coordinator Matt House doesn't think so. He said lighter, faster linebackers are becoming a trend in college football.

“Unless you're in a 3-4 defense, linebackers have gotten smaller,” he said. “That's just kind of the way the game is going. As (offenses) spread the field, you have to add more speed.”

That's the case at Pitt, where Thomas, a receiver at Beaver Falls, brings uncharacteristic athletic ability to the position on a 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame. The 6-3, 225-pound Gonzalez, the other outside linebacker, was recruited as a quarterback and has played tight end, wildcat and safety.

Shane Gordon (6-1, 230) brings a stout presence in the middle, but his backup — freshman Matt Galambos, who has played well in his short time with the team — checks in at 6-2, 215. The backups on the outside — Bam Bradley and Nicholas Grigsby — are 230 and 220.

“I don't know that it's a problem,” House said, “but I would definitely say that right now we are more of an undersized group of guys that run than a big group of linebackers.”

House always is looking for ways to mitigate the lack of size.

“You try to put them in positions where they are running and the ball (carrier) is spilled to the side,” he said. “Saying that and doing that, it's not always easy to scheme that way. But you want to put them in positions where they are using their talents and are able to fit best.”

House has been pleased with the attitude Thomas has displayed since returning to the team last month after initial unhappiness over practicing with the second team. Thomas regained his starting job for the first time last week.

“He's prepared. He's been coachable. He gives great effort in practice,” House said. “Not only has he embraced what we do as a team and what coach (Paul) Chryst asks of everybody, but he's done it with a blue-collar attitude.”

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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