This is the sixth 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 in ’16. We will not factor in true freshman at this point.
First off we all better take a minute to read digest the following chart – the key info is in red:
|10||Keyshon Camp||6-4/285||DL||RS FR||0/0
|66||Mike Herndon||6-4/315||DL||RS JR||6/0|
|90||Rashad Wheeler||6-3/290||DL||RS FR||0/0|
|93||Shane Roy||6-4/280||DL||RS JR||10/0|
|95||Zack Gilbert||6-1/240||DL||RS FR||0/0|
OK – got that? We have a single interior lineman returning who started a game as a Pitt Panther and him with only one start at that.
Gentleman, start your wishful thinking engines… and keep your fingers crossed while doing so.
But this scenario that is exactly what hard, tough practices are for… and spring camps and fall camps and scrimmages also… to get these younger kids ready to ascend into the two-deep ranks and start playing the type of football they were recruited to do.
And we do have younger kids on the current roster – at least the ones I feel will get the most playing time are still mostly virginal, save SO Amir Watts who got the whole way around the bases once.
Also, and let’s not kid anyone here, we were depending very heavily on dismissed rsSR Jeremiah Taleni to return in that Nose Tackle position and, as a senior, guide these younger kids in practices and then games. He had only three starts last season but he played in a total of 21 games over the three years after his redshirt season and was effective in those times he played:
Played in seven games, starting three…starting assignments came in the final three regular-season contests…totaled 24 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and three sacks…had a career-high eight stops at Miami…in a start at Clemson, had four tackles and a personal best 1.5 sacks…had five tackles and a sack against Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl.
He had the 2nd most tackles for loss (5.5) and the 2nd most sacks (3.0) of the interior linemen behind the leader Shakir Soto (10 TFLs & 4.5 sacks). If we want to play with stats and we tend to do – extrapolate his tackles and TFLs over ’16’s last four games, when he played the most, and he would have had 45 tackles and 16.0 TFLs over the full season.
Just for fun that would have put him up with Soto at 46 tackles and 10.0 TFLs and Price with 45 tackles and 23.0 TFLs. Not too shabby for a guy who had very limited playing time. That is what I expected him to do this season and we will be the worse for him not being in the lineup.
What is telling about TFLs and sack totals, and actually about how defenses usually work, is that the interior defenders are not really ever going to be up among the top leaders in tackles unless you have an uberstar freak like Aaron Donald in there. Over the last five years he’s the only DT to be in Pitt’s Top Five in total tackles (5th in 2012 with 59 tackles and 28.5 TFLs).
That means 48% of Donald’s stops were behind the line of scrimmage. We will not see that out of anyone this season I don’t think. The only other player in recent years to be so effective at penetration, however slight, was our prized DE Ejuan Price who finished 51% of his stops last season behind the LOS.
Speaking of who did what on defense here are the Top 15 tacklers for us last year:
Ah well, Taleni is gone, as is Price so attention turns to the returnees. This was the interior two-deep going into the Clemson game toward the end of last season:
The question now is who will see playing time out of the group listed in that first chart in the beginning of the article. One thing to note is that because of the nature of these articles and with discussing only players on roster at this time means we will not address DT Kam Carter, who isn’t on the roster yet after transferring in from a junior college. When we revisit the team’s individual units after fall camp closes in a reprise of these articles he’ll certainly be in the discussion then.
Well, three of the top six (not really a two-deep at that point, eh?) inside players do not return for 2017. So if I was making out the lineup right now I’d have JRs Mike Herndon and Shane Roy at NT – hoping Roy has put on some pounds since last season.
Herndon, if you recall, was an offensive lineman when he came to Pitt but switched to defense prior to the start of last season – he may just be the surprise ballplayer on the DL this year.
But both of those guys are rather tall for the nose spot at 6’4″ where the nature of the action there is to get down and disrupt the middle of the opponent’s offensive push. That moves the ball carriers to the outside so that the DEs and LBs have a better shot at them. Remember Aaron Donald was even a bit small at 6’0″ & 285 but his quickness and bull strength made him one of the best that has ever worn any team’s football uniform – college or NFL.
I expect to see redshirted Rashad Wheeler at 6’3″ & 290 to be up at 300+ pounds by September and get some playing time as a NT during the year also. Again, he’s a young and untested lineman though and not to be confused with Rashad Weaver over at DE.
“Wheeler with pressure up the middle, the runner spins away from Wheeler… runs wide with Weaver in pursuit along with Wheeler…now Weaver and Wheeler combine to make the stop for no gain!!”
That compacted bulk and strength is why you’ll see these inside lineman drop into a three, or even a four, point stance vice standing up as the DEs are wont to do, as the DTs need that rising first step movement and its leverage.
On passing plays they need to open pass rushing lanes for the LBs to penetrate and for the Safeties to blitz if that is called by the DC. Basically this means they have to manhandle 300+ or maybe 600+ pounds of offensive linemen out of the way for their teammates to execute their own responsibilities.
Over at the other tackle spot I’d start SO Amir Watts and have another redshirt FR Keyshon Camp, who Narduzzi stole when Camp was a USC commit, back him up over at the other DT slot.
However, depending on off-season weight room work and subsequent growth combined with how well these youngsters produce in fall camp, we may see these players slide in and out of the two tackle positions as the season progresses. I don’t think anything is etched in stone with the DL at this point at all.
We could also see a defensive end bulk up and move inside to provide interior run support as we saw happen with Shakir Soto, who played DE his first three years here and slid inside before last season. The tandem of Soto at DT with Tyrique Jarrett (from perennial football powerhouse Taylor Allderdice) next to him at NT worked very well for our rushing defensive.
We were in the national Top 10 almost the whole season before slipping down to 16th at season’s end – due mostly to late season injuries to both of those players.
But one of the big problems for ’17 is that no one, so far, seems to be the type of lineman who will demand a double team and thus free up lanes for the LBs to either rise and plug gaps on rushing plays or get in behind the LOS and after the QB on passing plays.
We are woefully thin in this area right now but our newer linemen, Watts and Camp especially, will get more playing time as the season progresses and the others will too. Narduzzi goes with experience in the beginning of each season then builds the youngsters into starters and solid backups as the weeks roll over. Although he may have to speed up the process here as Roy and Herndon really don’t strike fear into any opposing offensive coordinator’s hearts.
Right now and on paper, because we haven’t seen hardly anything of these lineman out on the field yet, I’ll mark this down as a (for now) …
Here is a truly excellent article written about DT Mike Herndon when he was still in high school. The author of this piece is a real wordsmith…
He became the first Riverheads player to earn a Division I football scholarship since Tommy Cooper signed with Virginia Tech in 1973. “I mean, it’s a big accomplishment, but I just try hard at what I do and it pays off,” Herndon said.
The decision came fairly quickly. After attending a football camp at Pittsburgh, Herndon visited the campus again three weeks later with his mother Patricia and his stepfather, David Wetzel.
The Panthers laid their cards in front of Herndon. He met with criminal justice professors. He visited the dorms, ate in the dining hall and was given an opportunity to meet Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and G. Reynolds Clark, the vice-chancellor for external relations. Then came the coaches, who discussed his future as a defensive tackle.
“Every kid wants to believe that someone will recruit him and say ‘Come play for me,’” Riverheads guidance counselor Katie Crabtree said of the process. “He was given that opportunity and he deserved every minute of it. ”
It came as a bit of a shock at first, that he was being recruited by major college programs. It hadn’t happened in 40 years at Riverheads, despite three state championships and a number of talented players.
But the attention allowed him to realize what he had the potential to do. Now, more than ever, he says, he wants to make an impact on the field, to prove those who had confidence in him that they were right.
“You don’t see 6-foot-4, 315-pound guys that can run,” Riverheads head coach Robert Casto said. “You don’t teach that. He’s worked hard to get there, but there are two things you don’t teach. One of them is size and one of them is speed. And when you have both, that’s what separates a Division I player from a Division III player.”
A trip down memory lane…
Next up: The Linebackers…