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. (more…)