PITTSBURGH — Pitt’s defensive line is poised to be one of the strengths of the team once again in 2019.
After finishing sixth in the ACC in yards per game against, the Panthers will return almost all of the front-line unit that led the way in that department.
Inside, especially, Pitt looks stout, with returning starter Amir Watts joined by Keyshon Camp, who will return from injury to replace Shane Roy at the other defensive tackle spot. Redshirt sophomore Jaylen Twyman is poised for a breakout campaign in his second year of regular playing time and redshirt freshmen Tyler Bentley and Devin Danielson will provide quality depth.
At end, things look just as promising at the top, where redshirt junior Rashad Weaver could be a preseason all-conference pick.
Across from Weaver is where the Panthers will have the most replacing to do on the line, as Dewayne Hendrix and James Folston both graduated.
That means the other starting job will likely go to Patrick Jones II, another redshirt junior that came on in 2018 as a sub-package and rotation player.
Jones had perhaps his best performance of the season in the Sun Bowl against Stanford, when he was second on the team with five tackles and added a sack and two tackles for loss.
“That game, I guess it gave me a good stepping stone,” Jones said after practice on Thursday. “It kind of put my name out there. I’m just trying to build off that, keep getting better every day and keep doing what I do.”
There isn’t a ton of depth after Jones at that end spot. Deslin Alexandre has played both end and tackle, but is working out exclusively at end this spring. Redshirt freshman John Morgan played sparingly in his first season. After that, there’s redshirt freshmen Habakkuk Baldonado and Noah Palmer, neither of which saw a defensive snap in 2018.
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said the Panthers might go as far as to work on some cross-training some tackles to play at end because of Pitt’s depth being tilted inside.
“You’re going to have to have five or six trained and ready, so that if something happens, those guys that are maybe below the fourth spot, so to speak, can move up into that position or that role,” Partridge said.
Depth is fine, and necessary. But the starting positions are where most games are won and lost, and the fact that there is so little experienced depth behind him will put even more pressure on Jones to get the job done.
Partridge said his game isn’t quite where it needs to be for that to happen yet — he’s been hampered by a stomach virus this spring — but that he feels good about where Jones is in thew process right now.
“The good news is it’s March,” Partridge said. “We’ve got a lot of time to get him there, but we’re excited about where he is at this point.”
For now, Jones isn’t worrying about how he’ll do as a starter. He’s just focusing on making sure that when the Panthers run out of the tunnel on Aug. 31 to face Virginia, his name will get called first.
“I feel like I definitely have got to go out there and earn my spot,” he said. “I’m not going to have nothing given to me. I have to go out there and get mine.”