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Notebook: Brytus leads special teams

By Zack Chakan

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It’s called special teams for a reason, and Pitt’s unit has lived up to its name so far in 2008…. It’s called special teams for a reason, and Pitt’s unit has lived up to its name so far in 2008. The special teams, led by punter Dave Brytus, took center stage toward the end of Pitt’s 21-20 triumph over Iowa on Saturday. Brytus was plenty busy in the final three quarters of action, punting eight times for a 47.8 average and one downed inside the 20-yard line. That one cemented Pitt’s victory. With Pitt up one in the final three minutes, the offense’s final drive stalled. Brytus lofted a 57-yard punt that rolled out of bounds just inside the 1-yard line. Five plays later, Tony Tucker forced Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen to fumble. Greg Romeus recovered, and the 21-20 outcome finalized. Brytus also boomed a 60-yard punt in the fourth quarter. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who also serves as the team’s primary special teams coach, was proud of his unit’s accomplishment. ‘Our punt team with Dave Brytus has done a real good job,’ said Wannstedt at his weekly press conference. ‘Dave obviously had a fantastic game last week. Those two final punts were a huge lift for our team. He’s a conventional punter all his life, and he’s accepted the challenge of this new formation, and he’s done a great job.’ Pitt has three blockers between the snapper and the punter for another line of defense should someone slip through the line. Brytus was named the Big East Special Teams Player of the Week from his big game. Kicker Conor Lee has remained solid. The senior has connected on all eight of his extra-point attempts, extending his school record to 83 straight point-afters. Lee is 3 of 4 on field goals, his only miss coming on a 42-yarder in Pitt’s opening defeat to Bowling Green. Wannstedt said he was very proud of the special teams for blocking a kick in some regard for the third straight game. Freshman Andrew Taglianetti got a piece of an Iowa punt in the first quarter. One place where the unit can improve is in the return game. Starting cornerback Aaron Berry handles punt returns, but only averages 3.9 yards per return through three games. The longest kickoff return on the team is only 26 yards. Wannstedt thinks that will change soon. ‘The problem we had last week on the punt return is that we didn’t stop their flyers,’ he said. ‘We didn’t give Aaron any space. Their punter did an outstanding job. ‘With that being said, we’re working on it. I thought we were real close on breaking some kick returns.’ Ready for impact New Panthers Greg Cross and Jonathan Baldwin received increased playing time last week against Iowa, and the trend could continue Saturday at Syracuse. Cross, a junior college transfer, scampered for a 17-yard touchdown run on his first play from scrimmage in a Pitt uniform. The formation used on the play included usual starter Bill Stull in the backfield, along with Cross. His second play didn’t go as well. While rolling to his right, he was sacked for a 10-yard loss. Cross could be used again this week, but might have more options. ‘We do have a series of plays for him other than the two we ran last week,’ said Wannstedt. ‘We’ll see how things unfold. He’s been practicing and doing everything since day one in camp.’ Meanwhile, the freshman wideout Baldwin has yet to catch a pass despite being targeted by Stull and Wannstedt. ‘He played 10 snaps out of 60 or so on Saturday,’ said Wannstedt. ‘The first time we tried to get him the ball, they jumped into coverage and jammed him and he wasn’t able to get open. We’re going to try and get him a little more action.’ Murray getting healthy Outside linebacker Shane Murray was supposed to make his grand return against Iowa from a nagging knee injury, but Austin Ransom remained the starter while Murray stayed on the sidelines. Ransom has filled in nicely and may continue to see action, but Murray is improving every day. Wannstedt still doesn’t know who will get the majority of the snaps against Syracuse. ‘Austin deserved to be the starter after the way he’s progressed,’ said Wannstedt. ‘Shane is close to 100 percent, so we’ll evaluate him this week in practice.’

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Notebook: Brytus leads special teams