Panther-lair - How will Pitt replace Twyman?
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How will Pitt replace Twyman?

Jaylen Twyman’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season is a tough one for the Pitt football team. Twyman was a productive defensive tackle and an anchor of the Panthers’ defensive line, which was expected to be the strength of the team - not just the defense.

The defensive line should still be strong, but not as strong as it was with Twyman on the field. But if there is a season, Pitt will have to move forward without him. Here’s a look at what the Panthers have at defensive tackle in 2020.

Replacing 10.5 sacks is not easy, and when those 10.5 sacks come from a defensive tackle, it’s even more difficult. The last time Pitt got that kind of production from a defensive tackle was in 2013 when Aaron Donald recorded a team-leading 11 sacks.

The next year, when Donald was gone to the NFL, Darryl Render had the most sacks among Pitt’s defensive tackles.

He had two.

It’s a long way from 11 to two, and while the drop-off from Twyman’s 10.5 may not be quite as severe, it’s almost inevitable that the production will take a hit. Pitt returns four defensive tackles with on-field experience: redshirt senior Keyshon Camp and redshirt sophomores Tyler Bentley, Devin Danielson and David Green.

Combined, those four players have recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks over the course of 59 games played.

Now, stats are not always a great indicator for defensive tackles. Players like Donald and Twyman are the rarities; more often than not, the interior linemen eat up blockers and create space for other players to get to the quarterback or stop the ball-carrier. So the numbers from Camp, Bentley, Danielson and Green don’t tell the whole story.

It’s also not out of the realm of possibility for a player to experience a jump in production from one season to the next. Twyman had 10.5 sacks in 2019, but in 2018 he played in 13 games and had just 1.5 sacks.

Is there potential for a similar jump among that group of reserve linemen?

Camp is the most intriguing option. A fifth-year senior who came to Pitt in the class of 2016 with a fair amount of hype, the Florida native’s biggest hurdle has been health; he redshirted in 2016 but has not played a full season since then, appearing in 10 games in 2017, seven in 2018 and just one last season.

If Camp can stay healthy, he probably has the most potential to make a Twyman-esque leap from minimal production to something more. In 2018, when he played in seven games and started three, Pro Football Focus credited Camp with 18 pressures on 92 pass rushes. That’s a success rate of 19.6%; for comparison, Patrick Jones had a 14.9% success rate last season. Twyman was at 8.1%.

Camp was already projected to be a starter for 2020, and Twyman’s departure shouldn’t affect that. Instead, it opens up the spot next to Camp. Danielson is the only other reserve defensive tackle with a start on his resume - he started the Ohio game last season - and he would appear to be the most likely option to step into the starting lineup.

Danielson played three games as a true freshman in 2018 and then appeared in every game last season, making 12 tackles and one tackle for loss.

To back up Camp and Danielson, the coaches have Green and Bentley. Green, a Central Catholic grad, had two tackles in 12 games last season; Bentley had seven tackles and two tackles for loss in 13 games.

Barring a surprise, that should be Pitt’s two-deep to open the season: Camp and Danielson ahead of Green and Bentley.

The interesting player to watch is Calijah Kancey. He redshirted last season, but at 6’0” and 270 pounds, he’s an undersized defensive tackle who makes up for his height by being explosive and tough to block. He recorded 110 tackles as a senior on Miami Northwestern’s defensive line, and various sources have said that he was impressive during his redshirt year. Pitt’s coaches stuck with a four-man rotation at tackle last season after Camp got hurt, but Kancey could work his way into some reps as No. 5 in the 2020 rotation.

Beyond those five, the Panthers also have redshirt sophomore Noah Palmer, who converted to defensive tackle from defensive end. And redshirt freshman Deandre Jules could potentially make a similar move.

Pitt didn’t sign any defensive tackles in the class of 2020, but the coaches have dedicated multiple scholarship spots to the position for the 2021 class. They already have a commitment from four-star Central Catholic standout Elliot Donald and they continue to pursue Baldwin three-star Dorien Ford, among others.