If you all remember I did a series of articles in June of 2017 that looked at the departing starters from the 2016 season and who I thought would be replacing them for 2017. With that I assigned a grade of “Upgrade“, “Downgrade” or “Draw‘.
What I’ll do first is look at each position, or unit, along the offense or defense as of today and write down who I think will be the starter and why it will be that guy. Then I’ll assign a ranking of “Upgrade” if I see an upgrade in player quality, “Downgrade’ if I see a lessening of talent or “Draw” if I think we’ll match last year’s player(s) in the position or unit.
OK – we have looked at just about every position unit on the team except for the interior of the Defensive Line (Defensive Tackle and Nose Tackle) and the Special Teams. Let’s concentrate on the defensive linemen first.
Here is what we fielded as our two-deep along the interior defensive line for the Miami game last season:
As you can see they will all return with the exception of Kam Carter who transferred (told to I believe) earlier this season. Good riddance to someone who shouldn’t ever have been taken on at Pitt in the first place.
Returning are starters rsSR Shane Roy at Nose Tackle and JR Amir Watts at Defensive Tackle. I have no reason to doubt that those two will be the starters again this coming season but I hope it changes. Now, rsSO Keyshon Camp started off playing the first eight games at Defensive Tackle, was surpassed by Watts then injured for the last two games against VT and Miami.
The reason I think Watts starts in place is because of the way he played against that good competition and really overall. While none of our DL players had gaudy, or even good, individual numbers last year Watts produced well when he had the opportunity. Here is an interesting bit of statistical info from SBNation regarding the effectiveness of our defensive linemen:
* Stuffs are rushes stopped at or behind the line. They are not necessarily tackles for loss (since they include zero-yard gains), so adding sacks and stuffs won’t necessarily equal TFLs. Also: the figure is based on how many stuffs a tackler has taken part in — solo tackles and assist tackles count for the same amount.
** For defenders, Success Rate is defined as the offense’s success rate on plays in which the defender made a tackle. The lower the number, the better for the defender. On average, due to proximity to the line of scrimmage, defensive linemen will produce lower success rates than linebackers, who producer lower rates than defensive backs.
That seven ‘run stuffs’ for Watts along with his five TFLs (with one sack) was pretty darn good considering he was 2nd string most of the year. He is an effective player and I think should get a lot more playing time.
So you can see the DEs accounted for more Tackles, Tackles For Loss and Sacks. That makes sense as they are the more active players and their job is to get into the backfield on every play. The “success Rate” for our interior linemen is deceiving because of the low number of actual tackles they made – that stat is more for the other units on defense like LBs and DBs.
The interior linemen, especially in Narduzzi’s 4-3 alignment, are basically there to clog up the middle to allow the LBs to get forward and make rushing tackles – at least that has been the case under Narduzzi’s defenses. But here is a good description of what should be happening:
Nose tackle (also nose guard or middle guard) is a defensive alignment position for a defensive lineman. In the 3–4 defensive scheme the sole defensive tackle is referred to as the nose tackle. The nose tackle aligns across the line of scrimmage from the offense’s center before the play begins in the “0-technique” position. In this position, frequently taking on the center and at least one if not both of the guards, the nose tackle is considered to be the most physically demanding position in football. In five-linemen situations, such as a goal-line formation, the nose guard is the innermost lineman, flanked on either side by a defensive tackle or defensive end.
According to Pat Kirwan, a traditional 3–4 defense demands “a massive man who can clog up the middle,” while a 4–3 defense is looking for “a nose tackle who relies on quickness to penetrate and move along the front.”
Get that last bit? “a nose tackle who relies on quickness to penetrate and move along the front.”? Well, that ain’t Shane Roy my friends. I know I have been singling him out a lot on here but I am truly astounded that Roy was the best we had to put out there last season. I’m sure he’s a great young man and probably a good leader of the younger players…but let’s all be honest here. We’ll be much happier if we see Camp, or another youngster out there starting instead of Roy.
Perhaps rsFR Jaylen Tywman can fill in there or maybe my pick, local Central Catholic product rsSO Rashad Wheeler? I think we need fresh blood in the DL and that is where I’d begin change – with Rashad Wheeler getting the start. If it is indeed Roy starting again then either Narduzzi is dead set on experience or his recruiting of DL players isn’t as good as fans think it is.
Overall our defensive line play was better last season then it was in the two years before under Narduzzi and that is a bright sign. We already covered the Defensive Ends in a separate article but the fact is that we were a good solid 41st in rushing defense at 142.4 ypg ast season. We still were very poor at Tackles for Loss (99th) and Sacks (74th with only 23) and some of that is on the interior DL, but the DEs should have been much better than they were at getting quickly to the RBs and putting pressure on the QB.
So, what do I expect this year’s interior DL unit to be as compared to last season’s? I’ll say that with an extra year of experience for Camp and Watts; Rashad Wheeler having played in all 12 games as a Nose Tackle (and ready to make a move to start) along with getting rid of Carter to make room for another younger player… I’ll label this an: