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PITTSBURGH — Heading into spring practice, if you were to evaluate Pitt’s defensive line, I think it would be accurate to say it’s talented but has a lot question marks.
With players like Amir Watts, Keyshon Camp, Dewayne Hendrix, Kam Carter, and Kaezon Pugh, new defensive line coach Charlie Partridge definitely has material to work with this season.
The questions are: Can Hendrix stay healthy, Will Watts and Camp live up to their talent level, Can Pugh make the switch from linebacker to defensive end?
Yesterday, Partridge met with the media and talked about his new players and a lot more.
Has anyone really stood out to you?
“At this point, there are so many things that we’re trying to work on that I don’t want to single too many out because we’re going to have a lot of changes. I’ve been happy with the older guys Rori Blair is a senior and has been great since I walked in the door, Jeremiah Taleni has been great and so has Allen Edwards. Some of the younger guys, Keyshon Camp is starting to show that his talent is starting to transition into becoming a football player and there are a number of other guys as well.
How exciting is it to have so many options on the defensive line?
“Yeah, it’s young and some of it is untapped at this point but it’s fun because the guys are approaching every meeting and practice the right way and they’re thirsty to get better. It’s a fun thing to be a part of and exciting to see where we’re headed. Coach talks about getting 3% better everyday and we’re trying to do that as a d-line. If we do that, we have a shot to be really competitive.”
What’s the challenge in trying to get some of those younger players to reach their full potential?
“As far as reaching potential, regardless of hype, it’s a matter of putting in the work everyday that means in the film room, your fundamentals. From a defensive line perspective, a lot of these guys get away with playing without fundamentals in high school and then when things and contact happen right now an inch for us is a mile. If you step a couple of inches out-of-place you have a chance to get beat. As the talent equalizes, that becomes more and more true. What these guys are learning is that using your hands and such right really matters. This game has always been about fundamentals.”
What do you like about Hendrix that you’ve been able to see here or on film?
“We watch film in cut ups so I haven’t seen a lot. He got hurt early in the season as you know but I see two things. I see raw ability and someone who I only have to coach on once or twice and he then works hard to apply that fundamental or whatever we’re doing based on the call. He’s very coachable and has a ton of talent, if he can stay healthy he can be a really productive player for us.”
What’s Keyshon shown you this spring?
“He’s a guy that’s hungry to get better every single day. He’s got raw talent plus size. He’s done some things where we redirect on a movement and he’s shown with someone of his size that he can really change direction and go to the play which is fun to see. Him being able to do that will allow us to do more with defensive calls.”
Pat talked the other day about Taleni showing leadership skills have you seen that too?
“Yes, definitely. I can get a pulse on that whole group by talking to him. He’s acting and practicing and preparing like you would expect a senior to practice. I’m learning these guys just as they’re learning me. I walk in and I see a senior that’s acting like a senior and for that I’m proud.”
Is that leadership going to be more important this year considering you’ll probably be relying on some younger players at key positions?
“Really, as far as who leads, you’d like it to be a younger guy but it’s not a prerequisite. If it’s a younger man that takes care of his business. In my mind, a leader checks boxes off. Does he take care of your job, can you take one guy along with you and eventually you build to the point where you can take the whole group with you. Taleni is a guy that’s in that position right now so hopefully he can get some more leadership around him.”
What has Rori Blair shown you so far?
“Tremendous effort. He plays with a lot of emotion and I was told to be aware of how much emotion he plays with. I’ve seen a guy that’s controlled his emotions so far. So far, since I’ve walked in the door he’s played with tremendous emotion and control of that emotion and for that I’m proud.
The defense as a whole seems to have a chip on their shoulder because of all the points and yards allowed last year. How much are you guys aware that it all starts up front?
“Yeah, in my mind, with the best teams and championship teams I’ve been a part of, the presence of the d line has been felt as soon as they walk on the practice field and that’s something that we’re going to put on our shoulders everyday.”