This is the seventh 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.
Here the lineup going into 2017 less true freshman who aren’t on the roster yet…
|23||Oluwaseun Idowu||6-0/215||RS JR|
|25||Elijah Zeise||6-2/230||RS JR|
|28||Anthony McKee Jr.||6-2/210||RS SO|
|36||Chase Pine||6-2/240||RS FR|
|39||Saleem Brightwell||6-0/210||RS SO|
|41||Jalen Williams||6-2/215||RS JR|
|44||Elias Reynolds||6-2/225||RS FR|
|48||Peyton Deri||6-1/205||RS FR|
|51||Jim Medure||6-2/220||RS SO|
|53||Brian Popp||6-0/235||RS JR|
In many ways you can say our linebackers were between a rock and a hard place last season being stuck right between our DL who did a good job at what they were tasked to do and our defense backs who didn’t.
The nature of Narduzzi’s defense is that Pitt is going to pack the box in almost any offensive scenario so our LBs are positioned just off the LOS for run support. On passing plays we have the OLBs maintain ‘inside leverage’ to force the short passes into the middle of the defense.
With that our DBs were trusted to go handle the passing game ‘out on an island’ with the safeties having an options to pick up receivers when they felt it right to do so (basically when it was apparent run support from them wasn’t needed).
At least that was the defensive theory going into and through 2016’s 13 games. While the common belief is that Narduzzi has his way of playing defense and our DC Josh Conklin just genuflects and gets on with trying to make it happen, logic would say that because of the almost complete breakdown of our defensive game last year it would mandate changes.
What we saw was a terrible pass defense that lost us games that we could have and should have won. I don’t think anyone is going to argue with that statement – no matter how good some of our opponents QB and WRs were.
But – Narduzzi seems to be confident that what worked so well for him at Michigan State will do the same here so Vegas money says we’ll see the same approach to defense this season as last.
Well, if Narduzzi isn’t going to change the fundamental tenets of the defense at least he can change, or is forced to change, the personnel. We’ll see that happen by dint of graduation this season in the LB corps. Three-year starter and leading tackler “Mike” (Middle) MLB Matt Galambos is gone as is his mate, the two-year starter at “Money” LB, Mike Caprara.
Playing alongside those two for almost the whole season was ex-walk on now rsJR Oluwaseun (Sean) Idowu who quietly built up quite a resume’ as Pitt’s 3rd leading tackler with 74 total tackles from the Star LB position over the TE as the pass rushing LB. He’ll be the sole returning LB starter for 2017.
Idowu’s is an interesting case as he wasn’t awarded a scholarship until right before last season began then he repaid that with a fine showing in his first year as a starter jumping over the heir apparent SR Bam Bradley to do so and logging 12 starts in the process:
Played in all 13 games, starting the final 12 contests at Star linebacker…finished third on the team with 74 tackles and added two TFLs and two forced fumbles…had a career-high 10 tackles at Clemson…notched seven stops in three separate games (Marshall, Miami and Syracuse)…had six tackles and a forced fumble against Penn State.
Here is a statistical listing for the returning LBs:
As you can see we are going to be replacing two LBs with a ton of experience, Galambos and Caprara, with players who got some playing time but had very little games started. However, given the fact that our defense’s play was so poor that might not be a bad thing as it is readily apparent we will fill those position with more speed.
I think we can assume two things about 2017’s LB corps; first is that 6’2″ & 240 lbs SR Quentin Wirginis, who has played in every game over the last three years, is going to replace Galambos at the Mike LB spot. The second is that rsSO Saleem Brightwell, who played well in the two-deep and finished with two starts, will be fleeting up to replace Caprara at Money LB.
Let’s address Wirginis first as his is a case of fans’ thinking ‘Why was he behind Galambos’ all that time?” Well, it basically had to do with defensive Field Generalship which Galambos excelled at. He was an adept leader on the field and had enough football smarts and anticipatory skills to make up for his lack of quicks… in some ways. Sometimes no matter what jump he got on the ball carrier he was just too slow to get him down at or near the LOS.
I think the bottom line is that Narduzzi has shown us here at Pitt that he values solid experience over raw talent in almost every instance and as such Galambos kept his starting position over the last two years.
But Wirginis is also very physically talented and has real acceleration from the standing position as shown by his 4.5 TFLs in his limited playing time. He’ll rack up sacks and TFLs by the handfuls and we’ll be extremely happy with his play out of the Mike position this season.
Here is an older article that describes what his first camp at Pitt was like… notice everyone commenting on his speed.
Next to him will be a rather small rsSO Saleem Brightwell who at 6’0″ and 210 lbs (15 lbs less than Caprara) isn’t going to scare any offensive linemen. But he’s quick as hell also and will bring the speed that Caprara didn’t have to the Money slot. See a trend going on here?
Those two, along with returnee Idowu, will be a distinct upgrade in speed across the LB board.
Another name to consider who will fight for that Star LB gig is converted WR Elijah Ziese. I know some fans are really high on Ziese given his good fall camp after his switch in positions during last year’s off-season but there is a bit of a twist here. I wouldn’t automatically assume he’ll be the starter over Idowu just because he had the starting nod going into the YSU opener last year.
You have to remember that was before Narduzzi and Conklin could see what Idowu could do in actual game situations. The bottom line here is that Idowu is a successful starting LB while Ziese isn’t. So I don’t think we can assume what was supposed to happen in the beginning of last season will carry over to 2017.
But that also begs the question “Did Idowu play so well he can’t be sat down?” and the answer to that is no, he didn’t. But then again I don’t think any defender last season, save Ejuan Price, played so well they couldn’t lose their starting job the next year – Whitehead included.
The names rsFR Chase Pine and rsSO Anthony McKee, who didn’t see any playing time as a rsFR last year, are bandied about also but I don’t think they will see starting time – but will definitely be in on the two-deep this year.
All in all I feel that while expereience and smart decision making is important, especially for linebackers, we will be putting more all-around speed and athleticism out on the field this season in Wirginis, Brightwell and Idowu.
Note: Roundtable Call-in at 8:00 tonight – I’ll set details down in a comment around 7:30 pm or so…
Here is an interesting look at recruiting regarding Pine’s dalliance with Notre Dame.