Last week we discussed the Defensive Line on here and the fact that we have some real questions there. A major one is if Dewayne Hendrix is as healthy and as good as advertised. We’ll see about him in about four weeks when Spring Practices start… along with other players we have yet to see in action.
But with the main defensive question mark staying the same – which is who is going to be in the defensive backfield for us – because God knows we need all the help we can get there. That’s been discussed to death.
But I think our Linebackers are going to play a huge role in how well this season’s version of our defense plays.
Looking back at 2016’s LB corps we saw SR Matt Galambos as a constant four-year player and a three-year starter. He was in there mainly for his football knowledge, his devotion during practice and classroom sessions, and his ability to call the defense… which isn’t going to look great on his resume’ considering our defense was a pile of dung on Heinz Field’s 50 yard line.
He was not a star by any means but he also didn’t make many mental errors and for a middle linebacker that is paramount. Slow afoot though.
Next to him we saw SR Mike Caprara in at the “Money” LB slot with SR Bam Bradley and rising JR Oluwaseun Idowu switching out at the “Star” LB position – with the Star usually lining up over the TE. There isn’t a whole lot to say about those four starters other than Paul Chryst didn’t really know how to recruit defensive players very well.
Backing the starters up was JR Quintin Wirginis at MLB and he really made the most of his chances when in for relief of Galambos – or as another LB in a blitz package. He’s one of the quickest players on the team and it shows with his four sacks in limited play. He’ll be the starting MLB for his SR year almost assuredly.
Starting next to him at the Star LB will be returning starter Oluwaseun Idowu who kind of came out of nowhere as a walk-on player and who busted ass in the camps and practices to get a scholarship and starting position.
Rising SO Saleem Brightwell was in the two-deep as the second up as the Money LB and he did some nice things in relief but not so well that he’s a lock to be a starter this year in my opinion. When other players are redshirted for a year and some aren’t it doesn’t necessarily follow that the one who played is either better or assured of a job the next season.
So after Brightwell there are some variables that we can’t really get a handle on yet because some solid LB candidates either haven’t put a uniform on yet or are just coming off that redshirt FR year. Here are the LBs we will have on roster for this year less one I think have no chance at real playing time.
I’ll list them in what I think is the order we may see them play in our 2017 base defense.
|23||Oluwaseun Idowu||6-0/215||LB||RS JR|
|25||Elijah Zeise||6-2/225||LB||RS JR|
|39||Saleem Brightwell||6-0/210||LB||RS SO|
|28||Anthony McKee Jr.||6-2/210||LB||RS SO|
|41||Jalen Williams||6-2/215||LB||RS JR|
|31||Kaezon Pugh||6-1/210||LB||RS FR|
|36||Chase Pine||6-2/220||LB||RS FR|
|37||Erik Sellers||6-1/230||LB||RS SO|
A couple of things with this listing – the green & bolded player are Paul Chryst recruits (not many left) and there is already talk of moving Kazeon Pugh to the Defensive End position to get help there. The staff hopes to catch another lightning bolt in a bottle with him like the previous staff had done with Ejuan Price.
The players I like in this bunch to start are Wirginis in the middle with Idowu and Brightwell bracketing him. I suppose we can get our hopes up for Ziese but here’s the thing – we haven’t seen him take a snap on defense in a real game. But I’m wondering why we don’t consider dropping him even further away from the line of scrimmage and making him a cornerback…
“A big-play wide receiver and shutdown cornerback at Pennsylvania Class AAAA power North Allegheny…selected All-State Class AAAA by the Pennsylvania Sports Writers..etc.”
Get that second part? If ever we need a “shutdown corner” it is going into this season. Of course that means the younger LBs really have to show their mettle in their unit’s two-deep.
But a real concern has to be the inexperience of the LB unit. Here is what our returning LBs have in terms of defensive production and you can see we have very little experience there.I added Folston because he could go back to help out at LB from his now-DE position where he was switched to before last season’s fall camp. Folston was recruited as a LB although at 6’3″ and 245 lbs he may be too big for a LB in college. I’d like to see him back there anyway – even though we are short on depth at DE also.
As we Pitt fans all know, this 2017 season is the real litmus test season for just how good Pat Narduzzi is as the Head Coach of Pitt. Now he’s playing with most of the prospective two-deep being his recruits and transfers and they have to grow and produce right now – especially the older upperclassman such as Hendrix and Browne.
We are currently ranked by one pundit as the pre-season 52nd team in the BCS. The reason we are ranked so low is the question marks on defense we have going into this season and mainly in the defensive backfield. But with new starters in the interior front four also (save Taleni’s few games) I think the players backing up our DL are just as questionable.
If Narduzzi’s recruits are as good as most Pitt fans think they are then we should see a real and measurable uptick in our defensive production. Giving up 35 points per game won’t be nearly good enough for 9 or 10 wins this season. We have to improve early and dramatically and cover our opponents until our own semi-new offense starts to click in the beginning of the season.
We may have the talent – that is what is great about college ball, the cast of characters change every season and you never know who is going to come onto the scene and play either above or below expectations. We think Zeise was going to be an answer last year… and we are still waiting.
But if kids like McKee, Jalen Williams and Pugh can play to what is expected then we may be pleasantly surprised and maybe win a game or two by our defensive showings and not have to hope our offense can win wild shootouts like last year.