The Pitt position group that has been hit hardest by injuries and other unexpected absences over the last two years has almost definitely been Charlie Partridge’s defensive line unit.
The Panthers played the entire 2019 season without starters Keyshon Camp and Rashad Weaver. This season, they lost Jaylen Twyman to an opt-out before the season started, Habakkuk Baldonado went down in the season opener, Camp was injured against Syracuse and David Green left last Saturday’s game against Boston College with an injury.
But it doesn’t seem to matter how many players go missing from Partridge’s group, the Panthers still seem to find playmakers.
Last season, Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre and John Morgan stepped up into greater roles after Weaver was lost for the season and Patrick Jones II elevated his game to an All-ACC level. Inside, Devin Danielson, Green and Tyler Bentley joined the rotation to help fill in for camp.
When the Panthers entered training camp, it seemed like a line overflowing with talent, and the biggest question seemed to be where and when they would all play.
But as the numbers have thinned this season, even more playmakers have emerged. Without Camp in the middle, redshirt freshman Calijah Kancey has emerged as a potential future star. Alexandre and Morgan have combined for five tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery in five games.
On Saturday, after Green was lost for the game and Danielson also suffered a minor injury, Partridge turned a page on his depth chart and inserted redshirt freshman DeAndre Jules at defensive tackle.
Jules came to Pitt in the Class of 2019 as a strong-side defensive end from Germantown, Maryland. He put on 20 pounds in a year, going from 250 coming out of high school to 270 entering the 2020 season, and made the transition to tackle.
Though initially far down the Pitt depth chart, Jules worked hard on the scout team and got noticed for his efforts.
“The compliments that he was getting from the offensive coaches on a daily basis was borderline overwhelming, talking about how hard he was working, how hard he was to block, and it was getting more pronounced every single week,” Partridge said. “And then we gave him a little couple opportunities in practice that he took advantage of. And he just kind of built from there.”
When the string of injuries caused No. 90 to enter the game on Saturday, there was no wonder or worry about how an untested young player would do when pushed into the fire of a critical conference game. Instead, the Pitt defensive line was fired up to see Jules get the opportunity to show what he can do.
“What was fun for me was when he went in, when I circled his number on our whiteboard on the sideline to really indicate that he was about to go in, the true joy from the rest of the group, for him to get out there and get an opportunity to play was fun to see,” Partridge said. “Because all the guys in the room, see how hard he’s working also, and he got chance to get out there on game day, which is fun for our guys to see the young guys growing up behind them as they’re having good season.”
The reaction after-the-fact was positive, as well.
“It’s amazing, especially when you turn on the tape and watch him,” Jones said. “When his number got called, it was amazing. That’s what you want as an older dude on the d line. You want to see the young dudes go out there and compete, because that’s a reflection of you.
Jones said just goes to show the depth of talent and the culture that Partridge has helped cultivate on Pitt’s defensive line, in what hasn’t even been a full recruiting cycle yet. Camp, Jones and Weaver predate Partridge in the room, but as they’re preparing to leave it, they’re excited about the future, as well.
“He did a great job,” Jones said. “It’s night and day. Completely different in a good way.”