This is the fifth of a longer POV series looking at the individual positions which need to be re-filled in 2017 and whether we will meet the PRODUCTION we had in those positions. We will not factor in true freshman at this point.
We have been blessed as a team to have had Ejuan Price at the defensive end position on our defense these last six years… that’s not a typo as two of those years were injury redshirts seasons. His constant and stalwart play masked some other problems we had on defense last season; mainly pressure on the QB from his fellow defenders.
Wait! you may say we had a ton of sacks and we sure did with 43 which was good for 6th nationally. But what is hidden there is that translates to only 8% of the times 592 times the opposing QBs dropped back to pass. As we know those same QBs ripped us apart on the other 92% of those pass plays.
So – as we know and are reminded all the time, stats can be deceiving. Here we see 43 sacks and think that is fantastic and it pretty much is, but is was the lack of constant pressure from the other DE position and the LBs that fell by the wayside… and helped to account for those 331 yards passing per game against us.
But that is the heart and soul of a Narduzzi defense. Stop the run and put strong pressure on the quarterback.
That worked out pretty well in 2015; 2016 was a completely different story however as the other team’s passer had more than enough time to throw those intermediate and deep route completions for a substantial 12.4 ypc rate and 28 TDs. You may think 12.4 ypc given up isn’t so bad but let’s remember that it happened 350 times to our defense.
That is a recap of what happened. Here are who helped it to come about from the DE position. First, as mentioned, we had Price who was just plain fantastic from that spot. 13 sacks for losses of 92 yards and 23 tackles for loss (TFL) for a total 123 yards… ‘Nuff said. He was great for us.
On the other side we mostly had Rori Blair who as a JR played in 11 games and started eight. Blair had an average year at best and that’s given some benefit of doubt. The bold fact was that we had no one else to put in there really, at least no one with any experience or starting talent. Blair ended up with 3.5 sacks and 5.0 total TFLs for (-) 36 yards. Here is his game log.
Blair seems to have never really bounced back from his off field problems two years ago and, at least in my opinion, never lived up to what looked like solid potential as a real DE producer that he showed in 2015. He’s returning as our most experienced DE this season and as a SR will be expected to be one of the vocal leaders on what will shake out to be a very young defense.
If his play doesn’t improve rather drastically we will be in some real trouble because every DE on the roster after him is either inexperienced, not that great a ballplayer or a complete cipher.
Hell, let’s start with the Ghost DE first. That would be highly anticipated rs JR Dewayne Hendrix who, after transferring from Tennessee two years ago has become a player who gets more publicity without having done anything that any Panther I can remember.
Hendrix played two games as a true FR down south then just wasn’t happy there so he bagged out and came to Pitt. Good for us. He started last season;’s opener after getting good reviews in the off-season camps then an injury took away his playing time for the season.
He might be a good one but I get this feeling from reading Pitt fans comments about him that they are expecting star status right away. It almost pains me to point out there is no basis for that… yet. it may come about and he’ll certainly get a good chance to show his skills – one pundit has him doing just that.
ESPN has said this about our Phantom Pass Rusher:
Pitt’s Dewayne Hendrix finishes with double-digit sacks.
Ejuan Price (and his 13 sacks) are gone, and Pitt looks particularly thin up front. But Pat Narduzzi’s defenses tend not to sit back and relax. They attack the QB, so someone is going to pick up the slack.
That someone might as well be Hendrix, a talented defensive end who transferred in from Tennessee two years ago but has seen just one game of action since. An injury ended his 2016 campaign on the third series of the year, but he figures to be a starter from Day 1 again this season, and if he’s healthy, Hendrix could easily join the ranks of Bradley Chubb, Harold Landry, Clelin Ferrell and the other top pass-rushers in the ACC.
Huh – double-digit sacks from a guy who hasn’t played a full game in college yet and has one solo tackle under his belt. While that isn’t impossible, Ejuan Price was a converted LB who blew up to stardom at DE so good things do happen, it still may be a reach. But it is reachable and we’ll desperately need him to do that as the drop off into the two-deep talent is rather significant.
As shown by the 2016 Bowl game starting lineup in the graphic above one of the most probable second string DEs is rsSR Allen Edwards who has played sparingly since being a JUCO transfer. I don’t expect much from him and he may drop from that spot given how well JR James Folston and rsFR Rashad Weaver do in camp this fall.
Neither of those two have played much at Pitt – Weaver none at all because he redshirted last season, but they have the makings of good ballplayers. Folston is a ‘tweener in size and is a converted LB also. At 6’3″ and 245 he’s one of the quicker defenders and that might com in handy.
Weaver is an interesting kid and if you believe his offer sheet was well pursued even as ranked only a Rivals 2* (other sites have him at 3*s). He’s one of those Florida kids we keep saying we need to see more of and the fact that it came down to Pitt, Penn State and Michigan (more on this in a minute) shows some potential chops on his part.
So… Michigan. Weaver was the kid who UM’s Jim Harbaugh tossed aside after Weaver had been verbally committed for over seven months. That generated some press and their poor actions may be a real godsend for Pitt starting as soon as this year. Beside – I like his sense of style…
Watch – I’ll say all the nice things about Weaver’s potential at the DE position and OC Shawn Watson will steal him from DC josh Conklin to play TE this season – and that may happen as we are very hinky there also with the “TE Traveler” in Chris Clark.
I guess I’m more of a fan who looks at potential of the younger kids and wonders how well they can do early on in their careers at Pitt rather than crossing my fingers and hoping incoming transfers will do the same.
But I fully understand the role of transfer players in college football today as it is the way of the world now.
We wouldn’t have gotten close to eight wins last season if it wasn’t for our transfer QB Peterman. This season we are pegging our hopes on another transfer QB in Max Browne, so we’ll see this type of player movement somewhere in the Pitt two-deep from now on I believe. Every school does it; some work out and some don’t.
So I’m not holding my breath for Dewayne Hendrix to shoot into stardom right off the bat, if ever. But I do think if there is any position on the DL which needs that to happen in a big way it is at defensive end as we are weak there.
I don’t see any other sterling talent at that position yet. Blair isn’t the Big Answer and the others players in that unit are all question marks going into (and coming out of) fall camp. Hendrix is going to be the focus of attention in a big way this season – let’s hope he plays to the expectations, however high, our fans have for him.
We should have begged James Conner to come back for another year and switch over to DE for us – he’d probably be an All-American had he stayed at that position out of HS.
As a treat for Friday – here is what college football should be all about. We strive for that balance at Pitt and I truly believe we reach it way more often or not… and it starts with the head coach ensuring that happens. (Note Inoke Brecterfield pretending to be Penny Semaia.)
(The Roundtable Call-in on Wednesday experienced technical difficulties – will do it again on the 21st.)