Earlier this week, we took a way-too-early look at Pitt’s offensive depth chart for 2018. Today, we’ll tackle the other side of the ball.
Though it’s still too early, Pitt’s defense should be a lot easier project than the offense. That’s because the Panthers graduated just two players from their defensive unit: defensive end Allen Edwards and cornerback Avonte Maddox.
While Jordan Whitehead’s status remains up in the air and could change things, for the most part, Pitt’s defense is about set when it comes to offseason moves.
Let’s take a way-too-early look at Pitt’s 2018 defensive depth chart.
1: Rashad Weaver OR Dewayne Hendrix OR James Folston
Weaver had a fantastic debut as a redshirt freshman and garnered some votes for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Hendrix and Folston will both be seniors. All three players saw significant playing time in 2017 and should do so again in 2018.
2: Patrick Jones II
Jones should replace Edwards in the primary rotation at defensive end. As the fifth end as a redshirt freshman in 2017, he got a good bit of playing time, especially down the stretch.
3: Kaezon Pugh and Jim Medure
Pugh will be a redshirt sophomore and the highly-touted Aliquippa grad has yet to make an impact after moving from linebacker to defensive end. Look for Pitt to try to find him a role in 2018, perhaps as a sub-package pass rusher.
Medure is a walk-on that has played a lot of special teams and has impressed the coaches in doing so. Redshirts Deslin Alexandre and Carson Van Lynn could compete here, as well, as could true freshmen Noah Palmer and John Morgan.
1: Shane Roy OR Keyshon Camp OR Amir Watts
Camp and Watts are talented players that should be expected to make an impact in 2018, but Roy, who will be a redshirt senior, will push them and likely demand playing time of his own. The biggest challenge for this group will be finding a way to be tougher at the point of attack in the running game. Much like at defensive end, all three of these players will play a lot.
2: Rashad Wheeler OR Kam Carter OR Jaylen Twyman
Wheeler bested Carter for more playing time as 2017 went on, but that battle will be renewed with Twyman now in the mix after redshirting as a true freshman.
This is a three-man battle for basically one spot, as Pitt has used a four-man rotation at defensive tackle. Freshmen Devin Danielson and David Green could be in the mix, too, but that would be a lot of bodies to pass.
1: Seun Idowu
Idowu was one of two returning starters for the Pitt defense in 2017 and as the team’s leading tackler by a large margin and sack leader, he’s a lock to do so again in 2018.
2: Jalen Williams OR Henry Miller
All three of the options at Star are former safeties, and Williams and Miller fit the physical mold of what the Panthers are looking for at that spot. The difference is that it will be Williams’ third year, while Miller just made the move in-season in 2017. Miller is probably a better athlete, but Williams’ experience might win out.
1: Quintin Wirginis OR Saleem Brightwell
Pat Narduzzi said that he expects Wirginis to return and be the starting middle linebacker in 2018 after missing all of 2017 with a suspension and then a season-ending wrist injury.
That will mean something has to change for Brightwell, who was the team’s second-leading tackler while starting every game at Mike in 2017.
2: Elias Reynolds
Reynolds, a redshirt freshman, got expanded playing time down then stretch in 2017 and ended up with 1.5 sacks in limited minutes. Regardless of who starts at the Mike, he’ll probably be the backup and be expected to compete for time in a meaningful way.
1: Elijah Zeise OR Saleem Brightwell
Here’s the big logjam. Zeise started every game and was fourth on the team in tackles while playing much better as the season went on in 2017. But with Wirginis returning to action, something has to give somewhere.
Brightwell started out at the Money position, filling in for Mike Caprara when he was injured in 2016. A return to that spot would open up playing time for Brightwell, but limit it for Zeise. Wirginis can play outside, as well, should the team want to take that route.
2: Chase Pine
Like Reynolds, Pine was a redshirt freshman that got stronger as the year went on. After a personal foul penalty against Syracuse, he was sat down for a few weeks, but came back even better at the end of the year against Virginia Tech and Miami. A natural pass-rusher, he’s improved in run defense. He can play the Mike or the Money and will push those ahead of him for time.
1: Dane Jackson and Phillipie Motley
Jackson was probably the most improved Pitt player from 2016 to 2017 and has wrapped up a starting job. Motley was having a fantastic offseason before a training camp injury sidelined him in 2017. He didn’t play as well as he’s capable of when he returned, but the redshirt senior to-be should get first crack at a starting job.
2: Therran Coleman OR Damarri Mathis OR Jason Pinnock
With Pitt utilizing more Nickel defense in 2017, there’s more playing time to go around than there has been in the past. Expect Coleman to play in the slot in the nickel, while Mathis and Pinnock push the upperclassmen on the outside, but all three players can be looked at as potential future starters and all will probably contribute in a meaningful way in 2018.
3: Judson Tallandier OR Marquis Williams
Both of Pitt’s incoming corners are likely talented to see the field as true freshmen. It’s doubtful that the Panthers will want them both to play, though, so one will have to stand out to get a spot.
1: Jordan Whitehead OR Dennis Briggs.
What a mess. If Whitehead returns, he’s a no-brainer as the starting boundary safety. If not, Dennis Briggs started at that spot when Whitehead was suspended in 2017. After a rough game against Oklahoma State, Briggs seemed to play better in more limited minutes as the season went on.
There’s also a possibility that one of the field safeties moves over to help out.
2: Phil Campbell
With Miller moving to linebacker, Campbell seems to have secured a role at strong safety despite spending part of 2017 at running back. Campbell is a physical player and a hard hitter. The coverage schemes will probably take some more time getting used to now that he’s getting reps with the main group.
1: Damar Hamlin OR Bricen Garner OR Paris Ford
This is an embarrassment of riches. While Hamlin was recovering from offseason surgery, Garner performed better than expected in his first starting action. Hamlin then passed him later in the season before another injury took the wind out of his sails.
Then there’s Ford, Pitt’s top defensive prospect in the Class of 2017, who was a late arrival to camp and sat out the 2017 season as a result. All three of these players are probably talented enough to start, which is why one may move over to replace Whitehead if he heads to the NFL.
2: Jazzee Stocker
Stocker got better as the year went on in 2017 and was a frequent contributor on Pitt’s passing-down Delta formation. The talent level above him is significant, but the coaches trust him on third downs and that says a lot. If one of the above players moves over, he could get even more playing time.