Having too many good players is never a bad thing, and Pitt defensive line coach Paul Randolph knows it first hand.
"I like my depth," Randolph said with a big smile. "I think I'm interchangeable up front; that lends to depth."
The Panthers will deploy a defensive line rotation of seven or eight players this fall and boast one of the deepest units in the Big East. Randolph said he's never had this much depth and feels very comfortable putting any of the players in on the defensive line. Each player brings something different to the field, but there's enough in common that Randolph considers them interchangeable.
Players on the line are moveable as well. Many of the linemen can play multiple positions, and some, like Aaron Donald and Khaynin Mosley-Smith, could potentially play all three positions.
"I'm just trying to keep working and get on the field. Whatever they need me for, whatever they want to use me for, that's what I'm looking to do," Donald said.
The knowledge that everyone will get playing time is a motivating factor for all of the linemen. Even with only three starting jobs, there is plenty of opportunity for the second-team players to be productive for this defense. Through a week of training camp, the starting unit has consisted of Myles Caragein, Chas Alexcih, and Justin Hargrove, with Donald, Mosley-Smith, and Tyrone Ezell behind.
But make no mistake about it: every player wants to start, and there's definitely competition brewing for the first three to lineup against Buffalo on Sept. 3.
"They better fight to be the starter," Randolph said. "I want them all competing to be the starter, the guy, and then understand their role if they're not."
One player who understands his role perfectly is Caragein. The fifth-year senior nose guard started 12 games last season, finishing with 30 tackles, 4.5 for loss and two sacks. He'll play a huge role clogging up the middle for the Panther defense.
Caragein plays an even bigger role off the field for Pitt. He came out of the summer as the unquestioned leader of the defense. In his last year, Caragein wants to leave his stamp on the Pitt program.
"I want to make sure the d-linemen understand where they're going what they have to do to be the best they can, help them out so they can be the best they can," Caragein said.
Randolph, who called Caragein's leadership "invaluable," added: "It is priceless his leadership skill and his willingness to lead. Not everybody wants to lead, but his willingness to lead has been a welcome sight for us."
Despite the change in scheme, the role of the defensive line hasn't changed much in 2011. Last season, the front four was solely responsible for creating pressure up front with little to no blitzing from the linebackers or secondary.
Even with more blitzes coming from the back seven, the three-man line will still be charged with making plays in the backfield, which is why depth is so important.
"That's one thing in our package we did not want to lose," Randolph said. "We felt great about our guys being athletic, big and able to rush the passer or make plays in the backfield."
The goal each game on the defensive line is three turnovers, nine tackles for loss and seven three-and-outs. Each one of those goals begins with the pressure generated by the defensive line.
Even though there is talk about the offensive numbers Pitt could put up this season, there's also no ceiling what the defense led by this defensive line can do.
"We're trying to reach the universe," Randolph said. "We're just going to keep striving. We're striving for perfection; we'll settle for excellence.