Who is Behind the Defensive Line?

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.2016-lbs

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.

58 Quintin Wirginis 6-2/240 LB SR
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
?? Cameron Bright 6-1/210 LB FR

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.new-lb2I 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.  17-dlBut 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.




37 thoughts on “Who is Behind the Defensive Line?

  1. Reed there is one player missing from the list. Elias Reynolds ILB, from good ole Brooklyn NY NY. 6’2″ 225, I hear good things about the young man. I expect him to play a lot..

    Moving Floston and Zeise might be a tough one. They both were asked to add weight for strength at the sacrifice of some speed.

    About Jalen Williams. I like this young player but he’s a twiner and listed at safety. He could help at LB though??


  2. well, here we go again (posted at the Combine a few hours ago)

    Eric Galko‏Verified account @OptimumScouting 4h4 hours ago
    Eric Galko Retweeted Charles Robinson
    James Conner a fringe top-100 RB pick and a solid prospect, but I’d love to see him at LB. He’d be open to playing it, per @Marcus_Mosher.


  3. back to the blog topic. Definitely less experience but more speed. I really believe it will pay off come league time .. but worried about the 1st 4 games


  4. I remember one interception downfield by a PITT linebacker and one linebacker who ran down an opponent from behind downfield at he was the same player. Salem Brightwell. Goodby last years senior linebackers.


  5. I would take anything written about Zeise, with a grain of salt.

    Defending some WR from Seneca Valley or North Hills, is a little different than doing in in the ACC.


  6. Brightwell made the biggest play of the year, as Clemson was going in for a score, instead it became a Pitt score. It’s been years since a Pitt LB made such a YUGE play. For that play alone he should be the starter, as Pitt has had so few playmakers on defense.


    1. Rocky, see above. Elias Reynolds is held in high regard. He may be your man to back up Wirginis.


  7. The inexperience on defense is just plain scary. That said adding a good deal more speed to the lineup may make for some happy surprises. And it’s not like the Pitt 2017 team defense has any great reputation to live up when being compared to what Pitt put on the field the past two seasons.


  8. It is scary, both offense and defense for the start of the season. Here is hoping we get some positive suprises on both sides of the ball because we will be greener than the grass on defense and a few positions on offense. Don’t want any more Youngstown State embarrassments. The Nitters will be itching for payback. H2P


  9. Let’s be honest for a moment in regard to Pitt’s defense. Whitehead missed 5 games last year because of injury. Hendrix and Zeise missed the entire season. Hamlin missed most of the season and was never even healthy. Jarrett missed 5 games. The defense was already rail thin in talent and we lost most of our best defensive players for at least half of the season. Somewhere along the line every sports beat writer seems to leave this little tidbit out. Whitehead was a freshmen all american and we didnt have him for half the season, think about that. We even lost Maddox for 4 games.

    Now take it a step further. Idowu, Galambos, and Caprara had 3 sacks for the entire season combined. I think the defense will be considerably better next year just by getting these players healthy and with another year experience for all the younger players.


  10. Check out the video of TE Grant Carrigan practicing catching on Dokish’s twitter… excellent hands especially with the one- handed grab


  11. Speed will spell trouble for the opposition this season. The lack of experience will mean trial by fire but the talent in the defensive backfield will only get better as the season progresses.


  12. Injuries are part of the game and we must accept that we will have them again this season. Especially with our schedule.
    Hence, hope for the best, prepare for the worst. #H2P


  13. I’m going to hop on the Reed bandwagon…. our defense was TERRIBLE in 2016. The linebackers were devoid of talent and speed. The defensive backfield was embarrassed game after game. And while I don’t expect a drastic improvement, we can’t be worse. We did have quite a few injuries which exposed our lack of quality depth. It didn’t help that Pat Narduzzi (who I otherwise like a lot) refused to adapt to his personnel until later in the year. It has to get better. If it doesn’t, we lose 6 or 7 games, because the offense will not be nearly as productive as it was in 2016.


    1. I don’t think anyone was disputing the fact that the defense was terrible. The disagreement here seems to be if it was the Jimmys and the Joes or the Xs and the Os.

      As in most situations, it was likely some of both … but our society apparently doesn’t believe anymore in mutually inclusive blame. (Political input from a dying breed — a Moderate.)


  14. Not to change the subject, but does anyone know when the Jon Gruden QB camp shows on ESPN will begin airing?


  15. Hopefully that Michigan State linebacker grad transfer matriculates to Pitt because he would start due to his ability and experience. I haven’t heard much on the kid since it was announced that he was leaving the school due to the incident with a teammate. He’d be a nice bridge to 2018 and allow the younger LBs more time to get acclimated to college football.


    1. Yep, he would be a good get considering the inexperience at LB for Pitt currently. What’s also interesting is that he may have two years of eligibility left if granted a medical red shirt on his freshman season.


  16. The MSU transfer LBer’s name is John Rescke. It’s good that he probably was recruited by Narduzzi and knows his defense but he does come with a potential big problem. John is white and he has made some not so nice racy comments. I’m not sure of the details but…… He would help a young defense. Pat will sort all that out.


    1. The story has blown over and is pretty much forgotten about as it really made no real noise outside of Lansing, MI. Imagine what a non-story it would be come August camp if this kid did in fact join the Pitt program. The only guy who’d think Pitt is rogue if Rescke transferred there is Ron Cook. If the kid transferred to PSU, Cook would say how great the Nitters are for giving him a chance to rehab his image.

      norocketscience: Sounds like a done deal that Pugh is going to play defensive end. That’s why Pitt needs Rescke.


      1. Couldn’t agree more with you Tx, I’m tired of PITT taking the straight and narrow if the player has been extremely vetted. Instead of just crossing them off the list initially.


  17. Injuries were a problem for the D last year but were not that much of a factor the first couple games when PS and OSU passing killed us.I liked what I saw of the young talent when forced into the game by injuries later in the season, especially speed. H2P


  18. The new improvements to Heinz announced by the Steelers will not help improve the Pitt students bus ride to Pitt games. Sorry for being negative.


  19. Here’s a name to watch out for….. Devin Danielson, 6’3″ 295 lbs out of hometown Thomas Jefferson. He likes/loves PITT. Offers from UCLA, IVA, VT, WVU, VT and many others. Would be a nice pick-up.


  20. Great stuff Reed, I appreciate your analysis and the discussion it generates.

    This is the year we need multiple guys to step up and make tackles and force turnovers.

    Lots of opportunities for guys to move up the depth chart. Speaking of depth, there should be much more this year at least in shear numbers, but they will still be very young.

    Turnovers are the key for any great defense these days, pretty much the only way to stop good teams.

    The Clemson game is the best example.

    You cause fumbles by gang tackling, and interceptions with a great pass rush and skilled backs.

    One would think that the defense can only get better and that some of these redshirt freshmen and sophomores will have an impact.

    I still have major concerns for the pass rush and think we will need a lot of blitzing, with our faster linebackers and d-backs.


  21. Anonymous, the students aren’t the problem. Other than they leave early at times.

    We need 10-15,000 more fans at every game. We need season tick holders that show up for every game.

    We need creative marketers in the athletic department. Hire ten kids out of Pitt’s business school and put them to work, add another 20 as interns.


  22. Narduzzi and the D staff have much more physical although young talent to work with. Night and day between the level of talent on D than two years ago. DB’s Hamlin, Coleman, Garner, incoming Ford add in Pine, a healthy Ziese and Brightwell at line backer and DT Watts, Camp, Wheeler, DE Hendrix, Blair, Henderson, Pugh need experience and game pressure but at some point, they will be fun to watch this year in ACC play. ,


  23. @Chethejet, you left out Taleni, Jackson, & Edwards, all of them now seasoned veterans in this young defense, needing to now take on leadership roles, just like our our supreme midget CB commander, Maddox did last season as he blossomed into his own leadership role. A solid player in his own right, who’s on field results would have been so much better if he was only about 3 inches taller. Those guys all are critical to this defense’s performance because our new talent is better, their speed is faster, they are taller in the secondary and they are all hungry for “The Pursuit” of a ACC Coastal Crown.

    What these youngins, who will be getting their first taste of battle, totally lack is experience. That’s where leadership and on field mentoring by the veterans makes the difference between winning and losing.

    Say what you will about the lack of talent at LB but both Galambos & Caprara were students of the game and knew what they were doing. Losing them along with guys like Price & Jarrett leaves a huge void of Senior leadership that must be filled by these other veterans who are now the ones that need to step up and determine the attitude that this defense will play with.

    In the Clemson game I witnessed first hand how guys like Taleni, Edwards & Brightwell hung in there in an environment that many a lesser player could easily have wilted in under the pressure of the Death Valley home field advantage. Didn’t happen.

    I keep waving my Pitt banner for this upcoming young defense. They will prove out this coming season that they will be up to the task. You’re right Chethejet, this defense will be fun to watch develop, there will be growing pains this season, for sure but this defense gets better by the game. You’ll see. Big things coming defensively.


  24. Talking about just the linebackers.

    We had two walk-ons and a lowly rated 3* start last year. I actually thought Galambus would be a pretty good player considering his ranking and he was OK. Caprara did pretty well (for a walk-on) as well and started the year well before his injury. Idowa, made maybe two plays all year. The fact is Wirginis and Brightwell made more big plays then any other linebackers and should start next year. Ziese looked like the starter before he was injured. Another year of practice should make him better. I believe one of Reynolds or Pine will produce. Can’t see how we can’t be better at the linebacker position, the question is how much better. The MSU guy makes the depth look a lot better.

                Brightwell,             MSU guy            Ziese
                Pine                       Wirginis               Idowa
    Other: Reynolds, McKee, Williams and possibly Pugh.

    I think it says something when you go from walk-ons starting to high 3* and 4* players in the three deep. The MSU guy would be a big help if that situation works out.


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