Yesterday, I gave my views on Pitt's offense to date. Today, we've got the defense, special teams, and my conclusion up.
The defensive line has looked great through the first few games. Brandon Lindsey, originally a defensive end, had moved to a "Panther" linebacker spot, but is now back to end as Juan Price has gotten the starting bid at the Panther spot. Lindsey has been a bright spot through four games and seems to be all over the field. The other guys have also been applying pressure and Chas Alecxih had a great interception return. As long as they keep up the pressure and consistently get into the backfield, the defense as a whole will keep getting better because of it.
The linebackers have been kind of a mixed bag - good at stopping the run, but poor in the passing game. Converted receiver Todd Thomas leads the pack and he's done a good job of getting pressure on the outside edge and tracking defenders down elsewhere on the field. His speed and athleticism is definitely noticeable on the field. Look for he and Lindsey to create a great speed pass rush throughout the season. Other players like Greg Williams and Max Gruder have also looked good in stopping the run. They have been holding their ground as the second line of defense and have been stuffing runners as soon as they approach them. Along with Thomas, Price has done a good job, too. He seems to be improving every week and is looking like he will be a huge part of our defense for the next few years. Both of these players are freshman (Thomas a redshirt) and should continue to be impact players in the future.
At defensive back, this unit has had its ups and downs. When they play well, they play very well. They practically shut down one of the best receivers in the country, Malcolm Floyd, last week. They also have let up some big passing plays, though. With only one interception they also need to get some more takeaways. No one has really stood out so far, but the most disappointing might be Jarred Holley. It's not that the guy has played bad thus far, it is just that he was such a ball hawk last season that I expected much more out of him at this point. I'm sure by season's end he will get his hands on a few balls.
In the return game, Ronald Jones has done a good job returning punts. It's nice to finally see some stability at that position. You've got to believe it's only a matter of time until he takes on to the endzone. He makes guys miss and is very exciting as a returner. Corey Davis has also been returning kickoffs. He is very, very fast and if he can catch a hole, I expect him to hit it and hit it hard. Just like Jones, this guy brings some solid play to the return game.
Then there's the kicker and punter. Kevin Harper struggled in the first few games, missing some close field goals and even an extra point. He has, though, made some longer kicks and seems to have his act together now. He has also done a pretty good job on kickoffs, putting the ball near the goal line or in the end-zone pretty frequently. The punting has been split between Matt Yoklic, Mark Myers, and Tino Sunseri. Yoklic is the true punter and has been punting when the team is on their own side of the 50-yard line. He has been a little sporadic so far, but has also hit a few good ones. Myers is looking like the situational punter. He punted against Notre Dame and pinned the Irish deep in their territory. He gets a great spiral on the ball when it leaves his foot - usually a sign that the ball will get a good hop. Tino has been punting out of a little extended shotgun formation, usually used to assure no return on the punt. He has done a decent job up until this point and I do like when Graham's had him do that.
At this point in the season I am still excited about where this team can go. Earning the title of Big East Champions is still not out of reach with the first conference game coming against South Florida tonight. The team still has so much upside that it is hard to count them out just yet. A few completions here, a few defensive stops there, and this team is probably in the top 25. Coach Todd Graham is still looking ahead to the Big East schedule and I have to agree with him when he says the talent is there. Unfortunately, there are some fundamental issues that need to be resolved. Look for this team to play much better in the next few weeks. If they lose tomorrow night against South Florida, don't be discouraged. This is a good team coming in to Heinz Field. Even with another loss, the season is far from over.