PITTSBURGH – In his fifth season at the helm, its appears as though Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has finally assembled a defense similar to those he masterminded at Michigan State.
While the ferocious defensive line and dynamic secondary may be grabbing the majority of the headlines through six games, the unsung hero of the Pitt defense thus far has to be outside linebacker Kylan Johnson.
A graduate transfer from Florida, Johnson has provided speed, athleticism and experience to a group of linebackers that had major question marks heading into the season, attempting to replace three veterans in Oluwaseun Idowu, Quintin Wirginis and Elijah Zeise.
Through six games, Johnson has been a force at the boundary linebacker position. He is third on the team with 29 tackles, and tied for the team lead with seven tackles-for-loss. Johnson has also sacked the quarterback four times, broken up two passes and forced a fumble. He has been everywhere.
What is even more impressive is how seamlessly Johnson was able to pick up Pitt’s defensive scheme, allowing him to make the immediate impact he is having. Narduzzi attributes it his dedication to the game.
“He’s very coachable and very smart,” Narduzzi said Monday. “He can fit in I think into any defense just because he’s a smart kid that loves the game of football, that goes after it every day.”
Johnson credits his teammates for the ease with which he has integrated himself into the defense.
“Honestly I got to give it to my D-line,” Johnson said. “I feel like they are the reason I’ve been able to make some of the plays that I’ve made. Also, Saleem (Brightwell) and Cam (Bright) or Phil (Campbell), all of them, we all communicate.”
It certainly has been a team effort for the Panthers on defense, and Johnson is an important part of that. They are tied for second in the nation with 27 sacks, 16th nationally in rush defense, allowing 97 yards per game on the ground. They have also recorded eight takeaways over their last three outings.
Whether rushing the passer, plugging up the run or dropping into coverage, Johnson has looked at home wherever the Panthers have needed him and Narduzzi believes his versatility will lead him to an opportunity on Sundays.
“Obviously he’s got talent, a ton of talent, I think NFL talent.” he said.
Johnson spent four years in Gainesville, playing in 33 games with nine starts over his Gator career. He totaled 83 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack over three seasons.
Halfway through the season, Pitt finds itself at 4-2 with a path towards another Coastal Division title. If the Panthers plan on making a second consecutive trip to the ACC Championship Game, they will need Johnson to continue his stellar play all the way to Charlotte.