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Elias Reynolds, Chase Pine to vie for ‘Mike’ linebacker spot

The starting role opened up after Quintin Wirginis’ season-ending injury

Pitt suffered a significant loss on defense on Wednesday with the announcement that senior linebacker and captain Quintin Wirginis would miss the rest of the season due to a non-contact injury suffered at practice. Now, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is tasked with replacing his star defender, and he said on his radio show that the role will go to Elias Reynolds or Chase Pine.

Reynolds has been listed as Wirginis’ backup this season at the “Mike” linebacker position, and Pine sits directly behind Reynolds on the Pitt depth chart. So it appears Reynolds is the candidate most likely to win the starting job with Wirginis’ career with the Panthers now over. But the fact that Narduzzi mentioned Pine at all indicates the competition is not quite locked up.

Both players are redshirt sophomores who joined the team in 2016, and at that time, Pine was the more coveted prospect, as he held a four-star rating from 247Sports and three stars from Rivals. Reynolds was given three stars by 247Sports but held a two-star evaluation from Rivals. However, there was little difference on the field in 2017, as both totaled 11 tackles and lettered.

Of course, Pine was able to reach 11 tackles in nine games, while it took Reynolds 11. But Reynolds likely rose to the top of the pecking order due to his knack for getting after the quarterback. Last season, he accounted for 1.5 sacks, taking down the signal-callers of Rice and Syracuse. That’s a skill Pine possesses as well, though it’s been dormant at Pitt.

Pine recorded four sacks in four games in his senior year at Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Virginia. He also added five tackles for a loss and amassed 16 total tackles in that brief span. Despite that, it seems he’ll be fighting an uphill battle to bypass Reynolds.

The second-stringer has already played in four games this season, totaling 10 tackles. Pine has played in just two games and accounted for three tackles. So while Pine has intriguing potential, it seems Reynolds is adapting better to the college game at the moment, giving him an edge.

Regardless of who wins the job, Pitt figures to take a step down in quality at the position, as Wirginis was the team leader in total tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. That kind of production will be difficult to replace no matter who steps in, and the issue has arisen at the most inopportune of times, with Pitt set to face No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon.

Narduzzi will take the rest of the week to evaluate Reynolds and Pine, as he noted this will come down to a game-time decision. The Panthers will face the Fighting Irish in South Bend, Indiana, for the first time since Narduzzi became the team’s coach in 2015. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. ET.