Previewing the Panthers is a series looking ahead to Pitt’s 2020 season. Each day, PSN will focus on a different coach or position group and look at all of the changes, battles and predictions that can be made in advance of the 2020 season.
There is an undoubted tinge of pessimism to the Pitt fanbase. That’s not to say it hasn’t necessarily come honestly, as the Panthers have stumbled through the better part of four decades of various forms of heartbreak since their last run of sustained success ended in the mid-1980s.
So when all-everything Pitt defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman decided to opt out of the 2020 season, there was more than a touch of the “here we go again mindset” from the faithful.
Twyman, a likely first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft was supposed to be the lynchpin for a defensive unit that had a chance to be one of the very best in the nation and in Pitt history, with Twyman, defensive end Patrick Jones and safeties Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin all turning down potential NFL futures to return to the team.
Don’t count Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi amongst those panicking, though. Twyman is a tough-to-replace talent with an elite combination of size, speed and skill. But there’s a reason Pitt’s defensive line was one of the best in the country in 2019, even after losing starters Keyshon Camp and Rashad Weaver for the most and all of the season.
The team has recruited quality depth at the position and line coach Charlie Partridge has gotten the best out of the talent he’s been given, from blue-chippers like Camp to relative unknowns like 2019 breakout end Haba Baldonado.
What’s left behind at tackle with the departure of Twyman at defensive tackle at Pitt is still more than enough to get many a fanbase excited about the season.
“There’s depth there,” Narduzzi asserted during an early training camp Zoom meeting with the Pittsburgh media. “Any time there’s an injury … or there’s an opportunity that someone’s got to take to move on, that’s just more opportunity for other guys. Guys have stepped up in there.
“Tyler Bentley. Devin Danielson has been really good so far. David Green, Central Catholic guy, has been playing really well. I’m happy with those guys in there. It’s not like the cupboards were bare and it’s, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’ We play a lot of D-linemen. All those guys will play for us this year. All of those guys played last year except for Kancey. Wait until you see this guy. This guy is electric, he’s fast and he can rush the passer.”
Though the depth chart is just five men deep at this point, Pitt could also move end Deslin Alexandre back to tackle, where he’s played previously, if necessary moving forward.
Camp’s only battle — see what I did there? — will be health. The redshirt senior has missed time with injury in all three active seasons and played in just one game. If he’s healthy, he’s the anchor of the unit.
While Bentley and Danielson are battle for the other starting spot, the real battle is farther down the depth chart. Pitt will play four tackles in a rotation and has five solid contenders for one of those jobs.
Narduzzi has been complimentary of redshirt freshman Kancey. If the athletic Florida product wants to make a big impact this season, he’ll have to leapfrog Green to do so.
At least to start the season, Camp could get significantly more reps as the other spot rotates, similar to what he and Amir Watts did in 2018.
The other spot is anyone’s guess, but Danielson is probably the most stout against the run of the remaining contenders, which is something that is always a priority for Narduzzi, and should give him an early advantage.
That could change as things move into the season, and as stated above, Pitt will probably play four tackles, so even if he remains the starter, how many reps each player gets will end up being more important than who goes out for the first snap, anyway.
Jaylen Twyman — Opted out of season
Amir Watts — Graduation
R-Sr. Keyshon Camp — (1 GP, 1 tackle, .5 TFL, .5 sack, 2 hurries) Injury redshirt
R-So. Tyler Bentley — (13 GP, 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 PBU)
R-So. Devin Danielson — (13 GP, 12 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 hurries)
R-So. David Green — (12 GP, 2 tackles)
R-Fr. Calijah Kancey — (1 GP) Redshirted