Cardiac Hill's 2012 Football Season Preview - Part II (Defense / Special Teams)

Pitt's defense will be counting on Jarred Holley and Todd Thomas (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Yesterday, we took a look at Pitt's offense for 2012. Today, the defense and special teams are up.

Defensive Line

It's funny, but I just didn't see the level of panic there was about Pitt's defensive line that was being thrown around quite a bit by national media. The Panthers just always seem to be able to churn out a great unit and even with younger guys, I think Pitt will be fine here. Plenty has been made of the fact that the line returns only Aaron Donald, but that's a really good piece to have. Last year, he had 11 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, 11 hurries, and a forced fumble, wreaking all kinds of havoc on opposing quarterbacks. The first team defensive line isn't totally confirmed at this point, but it's looking like KK Mosley-Smith, Tyrone Ezell, and T.J. Clemmings. The thing to remember is that while they're inexperienced, all three were solid prospects and Clemmings was a five-star recruit. In other words, there's talent with those guys. Also in the mix for significant playing time are Bryan Murphy, Shayne Hale, and Jack Lippert.

Linebackers

There's lots of questions about how this unit will fare. They were eaten up a bit in pass coverage last season and there are plenty of new faces here. Injuries have taken a bit of a toll on the team in training camp and with Todd Thomas still recovering from an injury, there are too many questions to really be sure of a starting lineup here. If everyone were healthy, it might be Thomas, Shane Gordon in the middle, and Manny Williams. But others that have gotten a ton of time and playing in their stead have been Eric Williams, Jason Frimpong, and Joe Trebitz. Two freshman also got some first-team looks in camp - Deaysean Rippy and Bam Bradley. They're really the young future of the team and while both have shown a little bit in training camp, without the injuries, they might not be playing all that much in the season.

Secondary

The secondary goes from one of the defense's weaknesses in previous years to one its strengths. Cornerback K'Waun Williams and safety Jarred Holley appear to be pretty set in stone as starters. The other corner battle is coming down to Lafayette Pitts and Cullen Christian, but I'd give Pitts the edge at this point. At the other safety spot, veteran Andrew Taglianetti appears to be competing with transfer Ray Vinopal and Jahmahl Pardner. Everyone mentioned should see time, though, and there's some quality depth here for the first time in a little while.

Special Teams

Punting is Matt Yoklic and the kicker is Kevin Harper. Both were broken in last season so it's nice to have some returning players with experience at each spot. The knock on Harper has always been strong leg, but needs to work on his accuracy a little. We saw that in training camp this year, but for the most part, he's been pretty steady. The strong leg is unsurprisingly still there and he should have a good chance at even field goals from 50 yards away.

The return game has been a pleasant surprise that I mentioned in the write-up from the second scrimmage. Several players including Cam Saddler, Ronald Jones, K'Waun Williams, Lafayette Pitts, and Corey Davis have all showed some great skill there and this is a group the team should feel good about. Breaking off a long return in practices are entirely different than in a regular season game, but I'd be surprised if we didn't see a few more than usual. Whoever gets the starting spots in the return game should be exciting to watch.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt football and basketball.

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