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Analysis: New DT Anthony Johnson Gives Pitt Needed Veteran Presence



Pitt defensive tackle Anthony Johnson

There isn’t a Calijah Kancey on the roster, it’s unrealistic to expect a unanimous All-American to emerge from the rotation randomly, but the Pitt coaching staff has pulled off somewhat of a miracle.

It’s very hard to secure defensive linemen from the transfer portal. The going rate is costly, look at former Pitt defensive tackle Deandre Jules bouncing to South Carolina, but Pitt has secured two. Two intriguing defensive linemen at that.

Nebraska transfer defensive end Chief Borders was a nice pickup. He’s a potential Day 1 starter. Anthony Johnson is in the same boat.

Johnson — a 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle who played at Youngstown State but flipped to Illinois for most of the spring season and eventually flipped again to Mississippi State — committed to Pitt Wednesday night, he announced via social media. He’s an experienced veteran, with some starts under his belt.

Johnson logged 403 defensive snaps at Youngstown State last season, playing in 13 games for the Penguins, and he recorded 25 tackles (10 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and a fumble recovery.

According to Pro Football Focus, his 16 quarterback pressures were the sixth-most amongst FCS interior defensive linemen.

It’s a bonus that Johnson has positional versatility, able to line up inside and outside of opposing tackles, but he will play inside. Pitt needs him more inside. He’s listed at 300 pounds but doesn’t look that big on tape. His pass-rushing is a major draw, but the way he plays is the major draw. He may not be a traditional defensive tackle, but he’s big and quick enough to make an impact inside.

Pitt lacked speed and agility on the interior of the defensive line last season, and the very worst, Johnson will provide an experienced option who can provide both. If he can further break out in Pittsburgh, that’s ideal. If he’s a guy who can help ease in the talented, young defenders, that’s excellent.

He decided to leave Youngstown State in December. While he spent time at Illinois and Mississippi State this spring, he received offers from Arkansas (twice), Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Kansas State, Memphis, Michigan State (twice), Mississippi State, Pitt (twice), Rutgers, SMU, Texas A&M, UAB, Wisconsin in the process.

Johnson initially set a final four of Arkansas, Michigan State, Mississippi State and Pitt following his decommitment from Illinois. And he initially chose the Bulldogs. But obviously, he’s going to finish his college career as a Panther.

Johnson initially — way back when — committed to Bowling Green out of high school. But even then, he spent his junior season at Jeannette High in Jeannette, Pa. before moving to Cleveland Heights in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s been a long journey for Johnson, but he’s coming home. He hasn’t played at home since his junior season of high school.

Pitt will need Johnson in 2024-25. He’s played as many defensive snaps in the last year as just about the entire defensive tackle unit combined.

It isn’t easy to replace 90% of snaps from any unit. But at the same time, change was needed on the interior of the defensive line. The unit didn’t make splash plays and didn’t stop the run. It was missing twitch and quickness.

By all accounts, the returning defensive tackles aren’t. Nahki Johnson and Sean FitzSimmons are leading the way, and Nick James, Isaiah Neal and Elliot Donald will rotate. Pitt likes to rotate on the interior, even if someone like Kancey is on the roster, and that isn’t going to change when there isn’t someone like him around. It’s about finding the right combination now.

Even young players like Francis Brewu and Jahsear Whittington could be in the mix entering the season, despite their newness.

Johnson is an unknown, having spent his entire career at the Group of Five level, but he was highly sought-after this spring. He’s a veteran who should immediately slot into the starting rotation. He’s agile enough to play inside and outside. And most importantly, he’s another solid addition to the unit.

Anthony Johnson is the newest Pitt Panther, joining Borders and Kentucky transfer Jaremiah Anglin Jr. as the newest Panthers.

Potential 2024 depth chart

DT — Nakhi Johnson OR Anthony Johnson – Isaiah Neal OR Elliot Donald

DT — Sean FitzSimmons – Nick James – Francis Brewu – Jahsear Whittington

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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21 days ago

YSU is FCS Karl, not Go5.

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