Pitt backups more than special
During their days at Pitt, Elijah Fields and Andrew Taglianetti have done some of their best work just after the ball left someone's foot.
Now, they are kicking around other duties.
The two safeties/special teamers have branched out to assume more valuable roles in an increasingly deeper Panthers secondary.
Fields, who hardly played against Navy and Rutgers, and Taglianetti made key plays in Pitt's 36-33, four-overtime victory last Saturday at Notre Dame.
The two emerging safeties look to stay involved when No. 25 Pitt (6-2, 2-1) hosts Louisville (5-3, 1-2) at noon Saturday at Heinz Field.
"I just like being out there," Fields said. "Every opportunity I get to get on the field, I'm happy with it."
Taglianetti, a season-long factor on special teams, took some rare snaps in the "dime" defense (six defensive backs) against Notre Dame.
"I think coach (defensive coordinator Phil) Bennett has a lot of faith in both of us," Taglianetti said.
During a seven-play span of the third quarter, the two former WPIAL stars made the most of their playing time. With Notre Dame leading 17-10, Taglianetti shot in for a third-down tackle on a screen pass and, on the next play, Fields alertly jumped on T.J. Porter's muffed punt return. After a Pat Bostick interception, Fields cut down Malcolm Floyd after a fourth-and-7 catch.
Fields was on the field for roughly 75 percent of the defensive plays against Notre Dame, one of his busiest afternoons of the season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Fields is showing the promise he brought to Pitt as a star recruit from Duquesne High School.
"I knew it was coming real soon," Fields said. "I just had to step up and make some plays, show people I can play. Big-time players make big plays, so I tried to do that."
Said coach Dave Wannstedt, "We feel good about Elijah."
While Fields came to Pitt surrounded by hype, Taglianetti wasn't even expecting to play this season. The former Central Catholic star planned to "gray-shirt" and join the team in January. But a scholarship opened up, and the son of former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Peter Taglianetti got his chance this summer.
"It's a blessing," the 18-year-old Taglianetti said. "I'm just trying to make the most of this opportunity."
Taglianetti blocked Eric Maust's punt midway through the first quarter to set up the first of Conor Lee's five field goals.
It was Taglianetti's second blocked kick of the season; he partially blocked a punt in the victory over Iowa. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Taglianetti blocked nine kicks at Central Catholic and blocked a field goal in last summer's Big 33 Classic.
Fields, who is on the kickoff and punt return teams, is second string behind strong safety Dom DeCicco. But anytime Pitt has more than four defensive backs on the field, Fields is one of them.
"Elijah Fields probably has as much to do as any player on our entire defense because he's in about four or five personnel packages," coach Dave Wannstedt said.
Taglianetti, along with junior Irv Brown, backs up senior Eric Thatcher at free safety. Taglianetti is part of all three block teams - punt, extra point and field goal.
Fields, who started against Iowa and Syracuse but lost his job due to inconsistent play, is staying positive despite his in-again, out-again season.
"It's pretty tough," he said, "but I'll just keep my head up and keep working hard because you know I'm going to get the opportunity to play."
Wannstedt said Fields and Taglianetti remain as important as ever on special teams.
"I approach the special teams and offense and defense the opposite way," he said. "I tell the players, 'If you're tired in a game, we'll give you a rest on defense, but we're not going to take you off special teams.' If you're a starter on special teams, that's a priority."