Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Pitt’s defensive line is absolutely loaded. The two best players on the roster will line up on the defensive line this season and a handful of legitimate breakout contenders will fight for playing time alongside them.
Pitt’s defense is good, yes. But how good can it be? If Pitt wants to repeat as ACC champs, the defense — the linebackers and the defensive backs especially — will need to clamp down and stop the heavy slate of good ACC quarterbacks on the schedule.
So, who do I think will be starting on the defense this season? Let’s take a look.
Habakkuk Baldonado — John Morgan — Nahki Johnson
Deslin Alexandre — Dayon Hayes — Chris Maloney OR Samuel Okunlola
Pitt is, without a doubt, loaded along the defensive line. Baldonado and Alexandre form a strong end duo, and Morgan and Hayes also provide a strong pairing simply on their own. All four will play an awful lot in 2022, and Baldonado is already drawing strong NFL Draft hype. Hayes is perhaps the biggest breakout candidate on the defense.
Johnson and Okunlola are highly rated recruits who could make an impact in depth roles this season, and Maloney is an experienced option who will push the whole group.
Tyler Bentley OR David Green — Bam Brima
Calijah Kancey — Devin Danielson — Elliot Donald
Kancey is the best player on Pitt’s roster, full stop. He’s a game-wrecker who will be a first-round draft pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but he isn’t surrounded by scrubs.
Bentley and Green will continue to compete for the starting spot alongside Kancey, and Danielson will provide a key depth role upfront. Those four provide a known entity. Brima has been hyped all spring as an option who will play both inside and outside on the defensive line. And Donald is entering his second season, working on consistency, but he’s as strong a candidate as any to fight for a starting spot.
If there’s any unit on the team with players primed for roster spots, it’s the defensive line. This is a loaded unit, with Dorien Ford, DeAndre Jules, Sean FitzSimmons and Jimmy Scott also pushing for playing time.
Solomon DeShields — Tylar Wiltz — Aydin Hennigham OR Buddy Mack
SirVocea Dennis — Brandon George
Bangally Kamara — Shayne Simon
I’m feeling pretty good about Pitt’s relatively inexperienced linebacking corps, after a lot of growth throughout the spring, and I think training camp will only help the unit grow.
At Star linebacker, DeShields has fully emerged as the starter. He’s no longer deciding between wide receiver and linebacker, and he’s perfectly built for Pitt’s Star spot. Dennis is… yeah, no words needed there. And Kamara has grown beyond belief this spring to lock down the Money linebacker slot.
With Dennis in the middle, this is a unit with a very, very, very good leader, flanked by players with insane potential. There will be growing pains, but this is a limitless unit.
And Wiltz, George and Simon will all play a lot in 2022, and funny enough, all three have actual college experience. This is a linebacking corps that has questions, sure, but it has a lot of potential.
Marquis Williams — MJ Devonshire — Ryland Gandy
A.J. Woods — Rashad Battle
Williams returns as Pitt’s previous field corner, and his previous partner is being replaced by Woods — another freakish athlete at the boundary corner position. It’s a tough position, but the pair has a lot of confidence.
Devonshire, especially, and Battle will both play a lot in 2022. Gandy, an early enrollee, has impressed Pitt’s coaching staff and will likely see the field in 2022.
Erick Hallett — P.J. O’Brien OR Khalil Anderson
Brandon Hill — Javon McIntyre or Judson Tallandier — Stephon Hall
Hallett at field safety and Hill at boundary safety provide a solid, veteran safety duo that played together in 2021. Hill, especially, is a player who has emerged as one of Pitt’s very best players.
Anderson raised eyebrows this spring, drawing comparisons to former Pitt star Damar Hamlin, and McIntyre is a player to watch as a breakout contender this season. However, O’Brien also earned praise this spring.
Opening Defensive Depth Chart
DE — Habakkuk Baldonado
DL — David Green OR Tyler Bentley
DL — Calijah Kancey
DE — Deslin Alexandre
LB — Solomon DeShields
LB — SirVocea Dennis
LB — Bangally Kamara
S — Erick Hallett
CB — Marquis Williams
CB — A.J. Woods
S — Brandon Hill