What's the post-spring two-deep on defense?
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Now that spring camp is over, we’re looking at the projected two-deep on defense as it stands after 15 practices.
Rashad Weaver, John Morgan
Patrick Jones, Deslin Alexandre
The top line of the defensive ends looks pretty good. Rashad Weaver should be one of the best defensive ends in the conference this season if he continues to build on what he has done the last two seasons and Patrick Jones looks like a potential breakout player in 2019.
The depth is a bit of a question mark, though. Neither John Morgan nor Deslin Alexandre has much playing time or production to speak of, but with the way the coaches want to rotate, one or both will be expected to see considerable snaps. Everybody has to get their first snaps sometime, and 2019 will be that time for both of those players.
Still, if Weaver and Jones stay healthy, Pitt should have its best one-two punch at defensive end in quite some time.
Amir Watts, Jaylen Twyman
Keyshon Camp, Devin Danielson
There’s a real chance that 2019 is the year Pitt’s defensive tackles make an impact. Aside from Shakir Soto’s one-year breakout campaign in 2016, the tackles haven’t produced much since Aaron Donald left town. But Amir Watts and Keyshon Camp are both fourth-year players who can move well, and combined with the top line of defensive ends, they should have some success getting into the backfield this season.
But the real star of the bunch might be Jaylen Twyman. The redshirt sophomore played a decent amount as a reserve last season, but as he continues to mold his body, he looks like he’s ready to step into a major role. He’s fast and explosive, and either as a rotational player or as a starter - if he climbs to that level or an injury necessitates it - the D.C. native could have a big season.
Redshirt freshman Devin Danielson will likely fill out the four-man rotation, and as if often the case, health will be key. If Watts, Camp, Twyman and Danielson can stay healthy, there’s a real chance for the tackles to make an impact.
Elias Reynolds, Saleem Brightwell
Cam Bright, Phil Campbell
Chase Pine, Phil Campbell
The three linebacker spots are interesting because there’s a fair amount of crossover among positions, which should allow the coaches to truly achieve their goal of getting the three best players on the field. So while Elias Reynolds (middle), Cam Bright (Star) and Chase Pine (Money) are pretty set at their spots, Phil Campbell and Saleem Brightwell both have some versatility, with Campbell able to play both outside positions and Brightwell capable of playing middle or Money.
Reynolds is the returning starter in the middle, having taken over that spot at midseason last year when Quintin Wirginis got hurt. Chances are, Reynolds will hold onto the starting job, but the coaches spoke highly of the work Brightwell did at that position this spring, having moved back to the middle - where he started 12 games in 2017 - after spending 2018 at Money linebacker.
At Star linebacker, Bright showed promise while playing in sub-package roles last season and seems to have taken a step toward every-down work this spring, but he’s getting pushed by Campbell, a redshirt junior who moved from safety in the offseason.
During spring camp, the coaches talked about trying to get Bright and Campbell on the field at the same time, leading the latter to get reps at Money linebacker, which put him in competition with Pine. Only the coaches know who’s ahead in those two outside linebacker battles, but again, the end result should be that they have options when it comes to putting together a starting lineup, as well as enough bodies for a healthy rotation.
Dane Jackson, Marquis Williams
Jason Pinnock, Damarri Mathis
Cornerback was Pitt’s strongest position on defense last season, and that’s going to continue this year. Dane Jackson and Jason Pinnock should be among the best in the ACC in 2019, and the Pitt coaches have repeatedly referred to Damarri Mathis as a third starter, so he’ll probably rotate in and be a more-than-adequate substitute if Jackson or Pinnock needs plays off.
Those three should handle the lion’s share of the snaps. Marquis Williams could see some playing time, as could Judson Tallandier or even V’Lique Carter, but Jackson, Pinnock and Mathis will be the top corners.
Damar Hamlin, Therran Coleman
Paris Ford, Jazzee Stocker
At safety, Damar Hamlin returns as one of the surest things on Pitt’s entire roster - offense or defense - but the question all offseason was which boundary safety would start next to him. Phil Campbell was an option but then he moved to linebacker. Jazzee Stocker has some experience, so perhaps he would be the one.
But by the end of spring, Pat Narduzzi made it clear that one player had emerged: redshirt sophomore Paris Ford. Now, after two long years, it looks like the former four-star prospect is ready to take a big step, and if he does, the sky could be the limit - for Ford, for the safeties and for the defense. He’s that kind of playmaker and can make that kind of impact.
If Hamlin and Ford stay healthy, Pitt should have a good pairing in the back end of the secondary. Stocker, Bricen Garner and Therran Coleman are the likely backups, with Coleman primarily at field safety and Stocker and Garner capable of playing either spot.