PITTSBURGH — Going into the 2019 season, Pitt’s defense looks to use a mix of experience and youth to build off of the success they endured last year.
After making it to the ACC championship last season, Pitt will be returning eight to nine probable starters to the defensive side of the ball for the 2019 season and several key reserves, who made contributions to the defense last season.
In 2018, Pitt ranked fifth in the ACC in passing yards yards per game, allowing 193 yards. With the entire secondary returning, including senior and junior cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Jason Pinnock and senior safeties Damar Hamlin and Jazzee Stocker, look for this number to possibly improve.
Hamlin believes that the secondary is a strong part of the overall defense and is an area where several people could play if need be.
“I like it a lot, I feel like everyone in our room can go start,” Hamlin said after Thursday’s practice. “Even our young guys, they are already real mature and I just try to keep everybody together, be the mentor of the group and keep everybody going.”
Safeties coach Corey Sanders also likes what he has saw from the defensive back group as a whole. This spring, Sanders knew, in order to take the next step, they would need to improve on a couple certain things this that they struggled with at times last season.
“As we looked at, as we left the season last year of things we need to improve on, were certain coverages and techniques,” Sanders said after practice on Thursday. “I think the guys really had great focus in getting that accomplished and being better at that. I really do feel like our technique is better as we leave (spring practice) and really a lot of our coverages too. I feel like our guys took great pride in getting better every single day.”
The defense will also look to improve their rushing yards allowed per game, which according to the stats was worse than their pass defense. During the 2018 season, Pitt allowed 178.3 yards per game, ranking Pitt near the bottom of the ACC in ninth place. With a healthy Keyshon Camp, and the returning starters of Amir Watts, Patrick Jones, and Rashad Weaver, they could really create havoc upfront.
Havoc upfront will be needed as Pitt will look to replace all three starting linebackers from the 2018 season, who all graduated. Redshirt junior, Elias Reynolds has seen the most consistent game action as he is battling for the middle linebacker position. Reynolds ended up making seven starts during the 2018 season, filling in for Quintin Wirginis, who’s season was cut short heading into week seven. The outside linebacker positions are still in question as several players have been battling this spring for the two open spots. Whoever ends up playing in these positions, they will need to step up in a big way to help the defensive lineman stop the run.
Rashad Weaver is a big believer in the defense, and particularly in his defensive line unit. Weaver thinks that this spring, the defensive line has developed and continued to build off of the success that they endured last season.
“(We are) Continuing to run tracks and make dents in the offensive lineman,” Weaver said after Thursday’s practice. “Get back there to get TFL’s (tackles for loss), you know we have really be emphasizing getting more TFL’s. And then pass rush. The first (defensive) lines pass rush has been really good this spring and we are brining the younger guys along with us on the second (defensive) line. They have got better the whole spring in learning ratios and depth and where quarterbacks are going to step up and I think it has just been good overall.”
With the experience of the secondary and the defensive line along with talented up and coming linebackers, Pitt’s defense has the ability to be really good during the 2019 season.
When asked if this defense could take the next step, Weaver said,
“I know we have the team to do that and it will happen.”