Defense shows depth in first scrimmage
Take out one starting defensive end, one starting linebacker, one starting defensive tackle, and one starting safety; then put what's left over on the field against the first-team offense for the first scrimmage of training camp and see what happens.
For Pitt, that was the scenario in the South Side on Saturday. And what happened was, the first-team defense - with four replacement players - held the first-team offense in check.
"We held four starters on defense, so it really limited us on what we could do," head coach Dave Wannstedt said after the scrimmage. "I thought overall we were solid on defense. I don't think there were as many big plays as we would like, but we were solid."
All told, Pitt's first-team defense was without redshirt senior defensive end Greg Romeus, redshirt junior defensive tackle Myles Caragein, redshirt junior weak-side linebacker Tristan Roberts, and senior safety Dom DeCicco in the scrimmage.
Redshirt junior Brandon Lindsey and redshirt senior Nate Nix filled in for Romeus, redshirt junior Greg Williams took over for Roberts, redshirt freshman Tyrone Ezell filled in for Caragein, and redshirt freshman Jason Hendricks took over for DeCicco.
But even though the defense was playing without four veterans, the first team managed to keep its opponents in check. The Tino Sunseri-led top offensive group did put together a drive on its first series, marching 53 yards to the 17 before settling for a field goal on fourth-and-12.
All told, the first-team offense got into field-goal range on three of its four drives, but the fourth ended with a 30-yard touchdown run by Devin Street, and that was a little too much yardage allowed for sophomore linebacker Dan Mason.
"We weren't playing like how we usually play, and I know I wasn't either," Mason said after the scrimmage. "I'm a MIKE and I take responsibility for all of it. No matter how hot it gets, no matter how hard it gets, we always give it 110%; that's how we've been taught, that's how we always play, that's why we're here at Pitt."
Pat Bostick's second-team offense produced three touchdowns, all on passing plays.
"I thought Pat had a good day," Wannstedt said. "He moved around the pocket and made some good decisions and some nice throws. That was good to see."
Still, the most encouraging thing to come from the scrimmage had to be the play of the defensive reserves. Hendricks recorded a scrimmage-high seven tackles, and a number of true freshmen were big contributors. Cornerback K'Waun Williams played on the second team and recorded two solo tackles and one tackle for loss.
On the defensive line, Aaron Donald and Bryan Murphy were moved to the second team due to the injuries at the top of the group, and both shined. Donald recorded five tackles in the scrimmage; all were solo stops and three were tackles for loss, including a five-yard sack. Murphy had three solo tackles and two tackles for loss.
"Those guys are balling their hearts out," Mason said. "Aaron Donald, I see him in the backfield every other play. And K'Waun, he's balling, making big plays. He's making plays every practice. He's consistent and Aaron Donald's consistent. They're ballplayers.
"It would be better if we had some of those players that are hurt, but at the same time, the guys that back them up are still good players. They still understand the defense. Coach says it all the time: we have more depth than we ever had here at Pitt. Guys that are backing up, they're players also."
Dion Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin, and Jabaal Sheard were all removed from the scrimmage after about 10 plays. Jason Douglas and Chris Burns each gained 19 yards, while freshman Salath Williams was the leading receiver with 85 yards on two catches. Sunseri completed five-of-11 passes for 61 yards; Bostick was nine-of-15 for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman quarterback Mark Myers threw for one touchdown, and fellow frosh Anthony Gonzalez threw for two touchdowns and the day's only interception, which was picked by freshman walk-on linebacker Mark Giubilato.