Pitt will have a mostly-new defensive line this year (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Yesterday, I gave a few reasons why Pitt isn't faring well in too many preseason football predictions. Over the next few days, I'll be looking at four of Pitt's perceived weaknesses. You could, of course, add to this list, but these are some of the most oft-cited reasons for expectations being lowered for this season.
The first reason? A new defensive line.
Pitt is not only changing from a 3-4 to 4-3 this season, but Aaron Donald is the only returning starter on the defensive line. This inexperienced unit is one cause for concern when it comes to media projections. But count me in the camp that thinks the line will be just fine.
While Donald is the only one returning, that's a pretty good chip to have. He had a team-high 11 sacks last year and was one of the nation's most underrated pass-rushers. Moving to the inside of the line might mean he doesn't rack up as many sacks, but while sacks are nice, the main focus of any defensive line is usually about getting constant pressure on the quarterback. Even if the line doesn't rack up as many sacks, if they're able to pressure the quarterback constantly, they'll be even better off.
Murphy has maybe the most promise in the bunch. After looking good early on, he's had some unfortunate things happen. In 2010, he looked strong in camp until he broke his foot. Then last season, he was academically ineligible. By all indications, Murphy's a player. Had those things not happened to him, we'd have seen him by now and I think he'll be ready to go in 2012.
Mosley-Smith was academically ineligible in 2010 as well. But even though he didn't start last year, he did see playing time in several games, so he's not completely inexperienced. Yes, he is a bit green, but this will be his third year in the program.
Then there's Hale, a bit of a wild-card. Hale was a highly-touted recruit just now fighting for a starting spot. He's a senior this season, so he hasn't panned out to date, but there are steps he's taking major strides. He saw some playing time last year and this spring, was named the recipient of the Ed Conway defensive award, given to the player showing the most improvement. It sounds as if Hale is ready to break through this season and really contribute.
And don't forget, these guys had to battle for time on a pretty strong defensive line the past few years with the likes of Donald, Brandon Lindsey, Jabaal Sheard, and others. On the surface, Pitt's inexperienced line is a bit troubling. But when you take a look at the guys stepping in this year, things don't look so bad.