Football: Shanahan, Street give Pitt impressive depth at receiver.

By Isaac Saul

One standout receiver on a football team is great. Two good receivers are even better. And three… One standout receiver on a football team is great. Two good receivers are even better. And three good wideouts?

Well, that’s the Pittsburgh Panthers this season.

Jonathan Baldwin gets a lot of the limelight. Everyone’s witnessed his spectacular athletic ability, his tremendous leaping catches and his body built for the NFL.

But Baldwin isn’t the only player Pitt has to represent its rising corps of strong receivers. That’s because this season, the Panthers have both Mike Shanahan and Devin Street lining up alongside Baldwin.

Last year, Shanahan emerged late in the season. He was the guy who put the cherry on top of a 10-win season with a 13-yard reception on a third and seven in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to keep the Panthers’ winning drive alive.

On the play, Shanahan absorbed a jarring hit and secured the ball — and with it the Panthers’ hopes of ending the season with a victory. That was just a taste.

This year, Shanahan’s game has really started to blossom. With 29 receptions for 391 yards and a touchdown, he’s already surpassed his season totals from last year (15 receptions for 211 yards) and is only continuing to get better with the help of Baldwin.

“He really helps me out in all aspects of receiving,” Shanahan said. “I really think the biggest thing he does is catch everything. He catches everything, and that makes you want to go out there and catch everything too.”

Although Shanahan might not possess quite the athletic prowess of Baldwin, his work ethic and knowledge of the game is recognized by his teammates.

“He’s always doing the right thing, always knows what to do,” Street said. “He knows when it’s time to go to work, and he always has his eye on the prize.”

At 6 feet 5 inches and 220 pounds, fans can expect Shanahan to draw more and more attention with each game. But if opposing defenses can figure out a way to slow down the combination of Shanahan and Baldwin, they’re quickly starting to learn that their work isn’t finished.

Street, who was redshirted as a freshman last year, stepped into the slot position this season and proved that he’s more than a viable threat.

A few weeks back, Pitt traveled to Syracuse for its first Big East game to face a team having one of its better starts in its history. After a loss to Notre Dame and a shaky start to the season, Pitt needed to pull it together fast. It needed a spark.

Ninety seconds into the game, on the Panthers first offensive play from the line of scrimmage, Street provided that spark with a 79-yard touchdown reception from Tino Sunseri to give Pitt a 7-0 lead. The Panthers never looked back.

That spark ignited a Pitt team that is now on a three-game winning streak and in a strong position to win the Big East Conference after falling short last season.

As a young receiver, Street shows his maturity when reflecting on his first year at Pitt.

“I wasn’t going to redshirt at first,” Street said. “But I think we realized one year of maturity is really going to help.”

Head coach Dave Wannstedt also offered high praise for Street, who even exceeded some of the coach’s expectations.

“The one thing that surprised me is how well he has progressed from a learning standpoint,” Wannstedt said. “A lot of these young kids who are redshirt freshmen like him, you’re always hesitant to put them in certain situations because it may be too much for them. But he’s made plays in almost every game, home and away.”

A big part of having success on a team like Pitt is understanding your role. Street is one player who knows what he needs to do, even though he might not get all the glory.

“I think I’m that third guy that can step in when J.B. [Baldwin] or Shanahan gets tired, and I can create mismatches in the slot,” he said.

For the season, Street has 14 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown.

With the rest week leading into the final stretch of the season, the players took advantage of free time to be critical of themselves. Street understands that there is always room for improvement, and he expects a lot of himself over the next few weeks.

“I want to show people I can run by defenders,” Street said. “I want to go up for the ball too, show I can be more than just a shifty player. Also, I’d like to be a more physical blocker, get some pancakes. Just be an all-around good player and contribute in any way that I can.”

Wannstedt believes that Street can turn into that player and recognizes his rare physical gifts.

“You either get big guys that can catch, but they can’t stretch the field, or smaller guys that are quick but they get beat up.” Wannstedt said, “He’s a size receiver that can run, and it’s difficult to find those guys.”

Street’s attitude is a healthy one for a Pitt team that has shown it can be great but also proven that it can also have its lows. With all that, Pitt still has a shot to do something great this year. Street understands the ultimate goal.

“We all have our eyes set on that Big East Championship,” he said.