Panther-lair - Is Dayon Hayes in line for an elevated role?
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Is Dayon Hayes in line for an elevated role?

Dayon Hayes was not expected to make a major impact in the 2020 season. It was not so much a knock on his talent, as he was Pitt’s top rated recruit in the class of 2020. It was more out of the depth that Pitt had in front of him. Defensive end is one of the deepest and most talented positions on the Pitt roster heading into this year.

Hayes got an opportunity in Saturday’s 55-0 win over Austin Peay and made his presence known in a big way. The Pittsburgh native and former Westinghouse High School star recorded two sacks and forced a fumble in his college debut. It may have been in the fourth quarter of a blowout against an FCS opponent, but Hayes jumped out to a lot of people.

Can he now find himself in the rotation?

It looks that way, for one reason of another. Rashad Weaver missed the season opener with a positive COVID test. Sophomore Habakkuk Baldonado was carted off the field following an injury he sustained during the Austin Peay game.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has never been one to reveal information about injuries, so the statuses of Weaver and Baldonado are unknown heading into Saturday’s game with Syracuse. When asked about Baldonado, Narduzzi said he is ‘day-by-day’ and Weaver’s status with a positive COVID test is a little murky, as it is a 10-day window from the initial positive test.

So that leaves Pitt with Patrick Jones, Deslin Alexandre, and John Morgan as the top three defensive ends for Saturday. Does that give the freshman Hayes a chance to see the field? It’s possible according to Narduzzi.

“Dayon, we're going to look at it,” Narduzzi said on Monday. “We know if something happens, we're not afraid to put him in a football game. I don't want to call him a gamer, but he showed some things that he's not afraid of that scene either. So he helped himself a lot.”

Hayes was the prized recruit in the 2020 class. The 6’3” and 250-pound Pittsburgh native was billed as a hometown hero and he was a priority recruit for the staff. He chose Pitt over offers from Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and more.

There were high expectations for Hayes later on in his career, but nobody really expected him to be leading the ACC in sacks one game into his freshman season. Narduzzi noted he wants to bring his star freshman down a little bit and not let his head get too big after one impressive game.

“Got to bring him back to earth,” he said. “I may take his phone away because he's tweeting a lot, feeling really good. We'll get him back to earth and get him away from Mars.”

The 2020 season is going to be unique. Pitt had as many as 10 players miss due to COVID related absences on Saturday, and that could be a lingering issue each and every week. It also creates an unknown heading into every Saturday with the potential of more players being held out at the last minute. Of course, the game of football lends itself to everyday injuries like what happened to Baldonado as well.

It’s fair to assume more players need to be ready to see action each Saturday than it would be in a normal season. Given some uncertainties at a once very deep position, Dayon Hayes may work himself into a role as soon as this Saturday against the Orange.