SirVocea Dennis played all but one snap against West Virginia, and he only missed it because he picked up an injury that forced him to the sideline for a play.
Bangally Kamara and Shayne Simon each played more than 85% of Pitt’s defensive snaps. But that was just about the extent of Pitt’s linebacking depth against WVU.
The linebacking corps was expected to feature heavy rotation this season, and while an injury that kept Brandon George from playing against WVU limited depth a bit, Pat Narduzzi expects a lot more rotation against Tennessee — it’ll be vital to so even.
“I expect Solomon DeShields and Tylar Wiltz reps as well, we’ll find out what they have as well,” Narduzzi said at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Thursday. “We’re going to get some different combinations out there, and we have to with the tempo. We’ve gotta play more guys at that position just because you’re looking at maybe 100 plays.”
In Tennessee’s Week 1 game against Ball State, the Volunteers’ offense ran 92 plays, for reference.
WVU ran 76 plays against Pitt in Week 1, and DeShields only took 10 of those — two in rush defense, three in pass rush and five in coverage — and Wiltz only took two — a rush defense and coverage snap. Nick Lapi also received a snap in coverage in the fourth quarter.
While George’s status for Saturday is still undetermined, Dennis said following the WVU game that he expects to see George on the field soon, Narduzzi will supplement his outside linebackers with DeShields and Wiltz more often.
It wasn’t a banner night for either Kamara or Simon in their debut games as Pitt’s starting outside linebackers, occupying the Star and Money linebacker spots, respectively, but there’s an expectation of continued growth as further experience is picked up throughout the season.
Kamara actually sought Narduzzi out after the WVU game to reassure his head coach that he’d be better going forward. Kamara led Pitt with eight tackles (six solo), but his inexperience showed at times. A practice on the South Side on a Wednesday morning is just a bit different than a Thursday night game against West Virginia at Acrisure Stadium with 70,000 in the crowd.
Narduzzi said the linebacking corps, the outside linebackers in specific, had some areas to clean up. And he was pleased with the response during practice this week. He saw a locked-in unit, and it will be an even deeper unit against Tennessee’s high-octane, quick-tempo offense Saturday afternoon. He wanted to rotate more against WVU, and that will change against Tennessee.
“I think we wanted to,” Narduzzi said after the WVU game. “For whatever reason, we just didn’t get to do it enough. We need to. Put it that way. We just need to keep them fresh. The D-line gets — freshness helps develop those guys, and I don’t want to find out what Tylar is like when he doesn’t have any reps under his belt, so he needs to get his feet wet with some Power Five ball.”
When it comes to what ailed the linebacking corps against WVU, Narduzzi pointed to the mental side of the game, hesitation, poor scheme fits and not being lined up to a T. Which, he said, often happen in season openers. But there won’t be much room for error against Tennessee.
A detailed approach, far more detailed than against WVU, will be the key to the leaps Narduzzi expects from his linebacking corps going forward.