Earlier we discussed the overall feel and looks of the offensive players, staff and program at the first full pads practice. Now I’ll try to give you my impressions of the defensive side of the ball.
I always think it’s a bit crazy to say “The Xs are ahead of the Ys so far” because in limited time, and watching from ground level, it is hard to make that call so I won’t do that. What I will do is address the separate units and some specific players’ production and results, and make some opinionated predictions.
Defensive Ends – I paid more attention to the DEs than the interior DL during this practice, mostly because the idea of moving Conner over to fill in any talent gap we may have there is in rampant discussion. My feeling now is that we might be fine at that position as is because I think we have some really good raw talent there. Dave Durham is Dave Durham and he’ll be no better this season than last; he has a skill ceiling that has been reached. But the other DEs we have are looking pretty good and that’s encouraging.
The DE two deep yesterday was as follows: Soto with rsFR Luke MacLean as his back up on one side with Durham and Blair on the other. At first glance that isn’t murder’s row. Durham and Soto, who was 2nd string last year, are returning guys with game experience. The two we lost from DE last year, Murphy and Lippert are certainly replaceable by even average players and not to be rude but “see you later”. Soto has moved over to the right side as a starter and it looks like both Luke MacLean and Rori Blair will get early playing time as the 2nd stringers.
They are both very young and not super rated recruits. MacLean was a 3* and Blair was a 2*. However, if you look back at a couple of our past DEs who played as freshmen; 2* Greg Romeus and 3* Jabaal Sheard, and watched them play you can see how things could work out now. Both those veterans excelled as soon as they got to PITT and each progressed to being a star DE here. Here’s a taste of how MacLean played in HS. Also some Rori Blair highlights, along with his position coach Palermo on Blair’s recruitment.
Let me say this about FR Rori Blair; make no mistake, the only reason he was listed as a 2* recruit was because of the stroke he had prior to his senior year in high school. He’s a 6’3” kid who is a solid 230+ pounds; is bull strong and quick as hell. He was impressive during his reps yesterday and I’ll go out on a limb and say he’ll surpass Devon Cook or anyone else to be Durham’s back-up at some point during the season. I also wouldn’t be shocked if he even bettered that and started at one point. He’s one of those players who the chatter about his play will keep getting stronger and stronger the more camp and the season progress.
Luke MacLean made some great plays out there also and he’s another DE youngster, a rsFR who checks in at 6’5” and 260 lbs; a readymade monster waiting to be unleashed! What I noticed about him yesterday was his good strength in forcing his way through blocks on one play, then using technique and speed in beating his Offensive Tackle to apply outside pressure on the QB on another.
3* FR Shane Roy is another kid who had us scrambling around to find his name on the roster after he made some fine plays. He’s another big kid at 6’4” and 245 pounds and I was impressed with his speed off the ball. He’ll probably redshirt this year but he’ll be a big part of the defense in the future. So, I really think we’ll see a lot of PT from MacLean and Blair this season along with rsJR Devon Cook getting equal time in the field also. I’m not down on Cook, I think he’s played well in spots in the past and he’s a pretty good ballplayer but I’m just very impressed with Blair and MacLean.
rsJR Nick Grigsby was getting reps at both LB and DE so he might be one who the staff feels his experience will help at the DE position. At 6’1” and 220 he’s undersized for DE though and that might be a problem, especially if the coaches want more muscle at the position, but he’s got the speed and tackling ability to be successful also. His will be an interesting issue to watch.
Defensive Tackles – in all honestly I couldn’t see the interior line play worth a damn from the sidelines, PITT should really put in a bigger set of bleachers for us to stand on. If anyone says they can tell what’s happening in that scrum out there they are freaking lying; I’m 6’6” and can’t see a thing. I was going to take my soap box to stand on then realized…
Anyway, rsJR Mosley-Smith, JR Render and 3* rsFR Justin Moody (6’3″/280) all stood out at one time or another. Mosley-smith had a great play when he shot the gap from his nose tackle position and stood up Conner right after he received the handoff. As far as I can tell the projected starting DL is Mosley-Smith and Render as 1st string with SO Tyrique Jarrett and Moody as their respective backups looks like that is what the staff wants to field. I really like Jarrett from these reasons; he went to my almost-alma mater Allderdice and more importantly came to us from the football factory (seriously, that’s its only purpose apparently) Milford Academy. Also, he’s 6’3″ and 335 and very strong, a good combo for the Nose Tackle position.
We ain’t going to have Aaron Donald back no matter how many times we click our ruby red slippers but those four have the talent to play well as a unit. LaQuentin Smith rotated between the 1s and 2s yesterday and made some tackles so I think he’ll be a 2nd string in that unit group, but really all five of those interior guys have talent… again depending on how well they are coached will be the difference maker.
One name to watch is FR Connor Dintino who is 3* 6’4” 290 and came to PITT out of Choate School in Connecticut. He is a strong young man who looks like a future DL starter and made some pretty impressive pressure plays on the QBs yesterday. BTW, Choate is the most prestigious of all private prep schools in the US and its alumni include President John F. Kennedy, two-time Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, playwright Edward Albee, novelist John Dos Passos, philanthropist Paul Mellon, and actors Glenn Close, Michael Douglas, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Paul Giamatti. Hey, Dintino’s no dumbass if he graduated from that school. He reminds me of Chas Alecxih for some reason, maybe because he’s big and white.
Linebackers – rsSR Todd Thomas and rsSR Anthony Gonzalez have the outside LB slots wrapped up and both played well yesterday. They are two players who have progressed with every year of experience they get and I expect them to have good solid senior years. They are real leaders of the defense and the young kids were talking with them on the sidelines a lot. I expect to see more Thomas blitzes this year, at least I hope so.
It looks like SO 6’2” 245 Matt Galambos has the inside track at starting MLB and from what I watched yesterday I’m OK with that. In his true FR year he started two games when Gordon was injured and ended up playing in all 13. Even then, in limited playing time he racked up 38 tackles, good for 8th on the team. He’s a good size for the position; seems to have a great instinct on where the play will develop and has a initial quickness that gets him into the right place at the right time. He has the ability and apparently the work ethic to be a very productive three year starter for us in the important defensive position.
Hometown favorite and slight undersized ( 6’0″/225) underdog rsSO Mike Caprara was backing him up in practice but didn’t really stand out to me, although the chatter is that he’ll see playing time this season. As all time leading tackler for Woodland Hills he has good instincts and ability and that can sometimes make up for size. Also we saw a lot of rsSO Bam Bradley yesterday and he’s become a playmaker. I think he’ll be in the on-deck circle should Galambos go down
Defensive Backs – We had CB L. Pitts (Lewis as backup) , FS Vinopal (J. Pitts) , SS Webb (Mitchell) and CB Coles (Maddox) as the two deep out there yesterday. All played well but it was hard tell to just how effective they were because the QBs weren’t doing that great. Either way it looked like they had good pass coverage of the WRs and since they can’t do anything about Boyd catching TD passes anyway I’ll discount that part of their play. I’m not so sure about their run coverage because in playing touch football it’s hard to tell who makes the better play – offense or defense.
The one thing I’d thought I’d see out of the DBs was The Glorious Leader Matt House’s stated goal of “More pass cover aggressiveness for INTs” but that didn’t happen or I didn’t notice it, probably the former. There wasn’t any breaking for INTs like we would all like to see since we sucked at turnovers last season. I’m all for more aggressiveness to create opportunity but with the good comes the bad and if they do that and miss we’ll see big YAC by our opponents. A risk/reward analysis is necessary and Dr. Tom needs to get on that right away please…( there’ll be a little extra in your paycheck if done in a timely manner).
One thing about turnovers last season, we didn’t create nearly enough with only nine INTs, hence the new aggressive approach by House. However, it isn’t like we didn’t create opportunities for turnovers as we forced 22 fumbles by our opponents, a very good amount, unfortunately we only recovered eight of those… way too low.
One great defensive play by a DB was Voytik hitting Parrish on a swing pass and as soon as Parrish caught the ball rsSO Trenton Coles knocked him flat on his ass. Great timing and very aggressive play in run support.
That’s about it and if its lacking it is because I’m always more interested in the offense than the defense when I watch live practices. I want to add one side note about how important coaching is because I mentioned it in regards to the DL above. We all drool over how great Tyler’s Boyd’s athleticism is and how effortless he looks out there. But we fans tend to forget that he never really played WR in HS. I firmly believe that having Bobby Engram as his WR coach helped Boyd immensely. Boyd had to learn the intricacies of playing a new position and he had to be taught to do it. COACHING MATTERS no matter how talented and skilled a player is.
For a bit more info, here are some other verbal notes I took yesterday:
- NOTE: The verbal notes were removed by the author.