One of the biggest reasons for optimism concerning the 2019 Pitt football team are the players on Pat Narduzzi’s defense.
Thanks to a few successful recruiting classes, Narduzzi and defensive coordinator Randy Bates will be fielding the strongest and deepest unit since Narduzzi’s arrival from Michigan State.
Despite losing star defensive end Rashad Weaver, Pitt’s defensive unit will field a defensive line and defensive backfield with a ton of quality depth.
Until the offense finds a rhythm with Mark Whipple’s offense, the Panthers night rely on the defense to keep them in and at times win games.
Following Tuesday’s practice, Bates spoke to the media and gave his thoughts on his defense as they head into Saturday’s season opener.
How has Deslin Alexandre embraced the role of replacing weaver as a starter?
”Deslin has been playing it but he’s just been behind Rashad. Deslin has embraced the role of being the starter and he’s a real consensus kid anyways so I expected nothing less. We haven’t lost a beat because he’s a great player and I feel really good with him. I would’ve felt really good with him prior to this. It’s sad to lose such a great player but he’ll be back.”
Development of Patrick Jones?
”Patrick plays with an edge, there’s no doubt about it. Off the field, he’s one of the greatest kids you’ll ever meet but on the field, he’s got a bit of an edge and plays hard. I don’t think he’s cheap or abnormally above physical but he is the type of kid that plays to the whistle and through it. He’s certainly gotten a lot better also.”
Challenges that Bryce Perkins presents?
”He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the best, what did he do, throw for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,000. He’s multiple, he can run it, he can throw it, he’s accurate, he’s smart and they put him in great positions to make plays so it’s a real challenge to let alone keep him in the pocket and then tackle him.”
Challenge for Pitt’s defensive line to prevent his [Bryce Perkins] quarterback draws
“They’ve got to keep him in the pocket and they’ve got to be aware of the draws but many times it’s a scramble where guys miss him but in both cases it’s a situation where the defensive line have got to get off blocks and make plays.”
Alexandre’s first start comes against a quarterback like Perkins.
”I don’t think it’s different than anyone else. We see the same things week in and week out as far as read zones and stuff like that. With Perkins being such a great athlete, that’s where the real challenge lies as opposed to a guy that’s maybe not as athletic but you’re going to see that week in and week out in our league anyway.”
Why do you feel that you were so successful against Perkins last year?
”I would say the number one thing is that we kept him around the pocket. We had quite a few sacks. We were able to bring him down, you’ve got to be able to tackle him and in the first game that’s always a concern, tackling is always a concern in the first game, especially with a great athlete like that.
Is Dane Jackson maybe overlooked/underrated with Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford back there?
“In Dane’s defense, I think he’s been a great player for all these years and I think at the end of the year what matters most is at the end of the year he gets overlooked or not, not at the beginning of the year. If he plays the way he’s played the last three years, I don’t he’ll get overlooked. At this point, Preseason, it really matter what your preseason polls and rankings and all that . It’s what matters at the end of the season. I think his body of work this year will bring him what he deserves.”
Where has he (Jackson) grown most?
“He’s stepped up as a leader quite a bit. We had a great leader in Dennis Briggs last year and he’s kind of stepped into that role this year and has done a great job of leading the young guys because that’s real important because we have a lot of young guys that are going to play.”
Are the linebackers still fighting for a position?
“Boy they’re still fighting. We’ve got two at our field position with Phil Campbell and Cam Bright, at Mike right now, they’re still two there with Brightwell also. Those two positions for sure, have become really, both are going to play and probably weekly it’s going to change.”
How excited are you to see Hamlin/Ford play together in a game?
“They’re great talent so I’m excited to see them out there period from that standpoint. The big issue is communication and those guys are a big part of it so I’m looking for them to pretty much run the secondary and get everyone lined up and hopefully that’ll be as good as I expect them to be.”
During course of games, Could Brightwell play both money and middle?
“For sure. He’s experienced at both positions. Most of the linebackers can play all three positions. So if you’d have a guy go down, you’d be able to mix and match guys based on what you need.”