Yesterday we discussed the offense and which new players we may see for the first time out on the turf at Heinz Field. Because of Narduzzi’s background as a defensive coordinator while at Michigan State it is normal that we fans think that the big improvements we’ll see in the Panther’s play will come now in year 2 of the Narduzzi Era.
Especially because this is the soonest he can field some of his own recruits as the first recruiting class is always a hybrid between the old HC’s kids and the new HC’s kids. That was our 2015 recruiting class.
Maybe I’m overstating that. Looking further Narduzzi did land these guys after he was hired:
These guys are the base for the young players we may actually see this season, especially Camp, Hamlin and Watts on defense. We talked yesterday about what WR Mathews may bring to the offense.
Come to think of it that late flurry of commitments was what made us think Narduzzi was some sort of great recruiter and let’s hope that turns out to be true. Now that we’ll see more of his own recruits in action it will be a better gauge then just their star rankings.
That ’15 class is made up of Narduzzi’s players who either played very little last year (save Whitehead) or redshirted and sat out the season completely.
We are counting on these kids to provide immediate help and especially immediate depth is some key areas. And well we should as we pretty much dropped the ball on defense last season. In every main indicator we were a bit above average at best…
We did OK in total defense which helped us in a decent Time of Possession (31.42) but then again our scoring defense was only 57th at 26.1 ppg. In other words we need help and fast, especially with the passing defense.
We gave up too many big passing gains last year which showed up in 214 ypg allowed and even more important our passing efficiency defense was a poor 126.97.
So how do we fix those problems? With an influx of talent where needed and deploying that talent in ways that keep the defensive players fresh in the latter part of the season. Narduzzi stated that he felt the team was ‘tired’ in the last three games of the year as our defense gave up an average of 36 ppg against Louisville (W), Miami (L) and Navy (L).
That is unacceptable especially when you factor in that we scored over 32 ppg in those games also, which should be enough to get us wins.
Then what tools have Conklin and Narduzzi to work with this season that they didn’t have last year?
For starters it looks like we’ll have a decent new Defensive End to put out there in rsSO Dewayne Hendrix. We fans know his story by now and are excited to see him play. As with any transfer kid there is an air of uncertainty with him but the staff is talking about him as if he’s already won the job opposite SR Ejuan Price.
JR DE Rori Blair really hasn’t panned out the way we hoped he would after a good-in-spots first year when he actually led the defense with five sacks. Wow – and just how putrid was our pressure that season if five sacks led the team (out of a total of only 19)!
I think rsSO James Folston will be a player to watch at DE. He slid up from LB and is fast and smart. He’s an under the fan’s radar type but I think he gets more PT than one would think looking at the two-deep.
Narduzzi will also have players who redshirted last year with rsFR LB Saleem Brightwell and rsFR LB Anthony McKee to bolster the LB corps. I don’t see them starting – I think Conklin will stick with Bradley, Caprara and Galambos but who knows.
I have been hoping for two years that LB Quentin Wirginis would overtake Galambos at that MLB position. But since LB Coach Rob Harley figured out a way to pry Galambos out of the somnambulist state he was in his first two years that won’t happen now.
The staff isn’t giving us any info at all as far as how the individual players are performing other that rote coach speak like:
“I think we’ve got good depth there. I think when you look at it overall, especially with the starting group of [Matt] Galambos and Mike Caprara. [Quinton] Wirginis is doing a great job. Saleem Brightwell just continues to make plays. He doesn’t always get lined up the way we want him to, but he’s a football player. Out there at the star position, Seun [Oluwaseun] Idowu does a nice job. Elijah Zeise had a nice scrimmage. Bam Bradley, who I haven’t mentioned, he’s kind of been floating around doing a little bit of both. He’s much improved. We’ve got a lot of depth at that position.”
OK, maybe not all coach speak – this part was pretty honest:
Saleem Brightwell just continues to make plays. He doesn’t always get lined up the way we want him to, but he’s a football player.
That made me laugh a bit. But hey, as long as he knocks the snot out of players in the different color uniforms who cares where he lines up? Todd Thomas did OK with that and he had no idea where he was supposed to be on any given play.
As to the DL interior; they better get FR Keyshon Camp and FR Charles Watts (this kid plays hard and fast with no emotion on his face whatsoever…) ready to play or we are in a world of hurt. Here is who we fielded on the DL going into the ’15 bowl game against Navy:
You can see that the even though the two men we lost from last season in DT Darryl Render and NT Mosley-Smith were not the greatest of defenders, it looks like their replacements are even worse. Hell, let’s be honest here – I don’t care if KM-S is on the Steelers, those guys stunk.
But keep an eye on rsSO Shane Roy – I watched him in drills last week and while he’s tall and somewhat thin (as thin as you can be at 280 I suppose) he’s quick off the ball and seems to have a good motor and pursuit. sleeper for sure but with the existing personnel in front of him we can dream, right?
At defensive back we need to make some changes. Really, the only position that is untouchable should be Whitehead’s as everyone else is expendable IMO.
The listing below is whot the staff floated out as the DB two-deep going into camp and as I said other than the Wunderkind at Safety I don’t see anyone we can’t replace.
So maybe we’ll see new names like local hot-shot FR Damar Hamlin or Central Catholic’s FR Brice Garner (who probably isn’t even Catholic – those Priests have been lying about that forever just to get good football players! BTW – the current Principal there was a Coast Guard shipmate of mine) and rsFR Malik Henderson, in the lineup.
DBs are guys you can rotate in on a regular basis if needed so we’ll do that. Expect the oldsters to be out there first against Arch-Rival Villanova but then soon after expect to see the young blood flow in.
All in all I’m worried that our defense isn’t going to take the leap ahead we all want it to. I know that Narduzzi has more of his own resources to put out there now but I just don’t see any playmakers on the defense with the exception of Whitehead and possibly, fingers crossed, Hendrix.
The beauty of college ball is that we do see kids come out of nowhere and surprise. But I can’t remember that really happening on defense for us for some years. Whitehead was expected to jump in and contribute right away. Perhaps Blair two years ago gave us more than we expected.
This season Hamlin looks to be that kid who grabs a starting job ASAP but we need someone in the front seven – preferably the front four – to blow up and dominate at his position. Again, save possibly Hendrix, and he’s no sure bet, I don’t see that happening with our current roster personnel.