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Pitt linebackers could provide stability and flexibility on defense

Pitt's linebackers have a chance to perform well in 2014

Nicholas Grigsby looks to answer some questions at linebacker.
Nicholas Grigsby looks to answer some questions at linebacker.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In looking at the depth chart of Pitt's defense, there are lots of question marks. I feel like the front four on defense may be a little better than people expected after the departures of Aaron Donald, Bryan Murphy, and Tyrone Ezell. I also believe the combination of Lafayette Pitts, Ray Vinopal, and the younger defensive backs will hold their own in the fall.

Turning our attention to the linebackers, that group could be dynamic and there's some reason for optimism despite a few questions.

At the middle of the linebacking corps, it all starts with Matt Galambos, who received a fair amount of playing time last year with Shane Gordon's injuries and held his own. Mike Caprara also stepped in at times. Both guys are slightly undersized, but with the new strength and conditioning program getting rave reviews, hopefully they will bulk up a little by September. If they put on the size and kept their speed where it was, I have faith that they can be solid in the middle. Both have received good marks for their leadership and intelligence, which are important for a middle linebacker, but there are also questions about their ability to truly handle the load there. Incoming freshman James Folston Jr. could also help out in when he arrives in Oakland.

When we move to the outside linebackers, this group could provide some serious momentum swings in the upcoming season. You have athleticism, experience, size, and just all-around excitement in 2014. These guys provide defensive coordinator Matt House with flexibility to move them around in the upcoming season, including the ability to put them up on the line of scrimmage or drop them back in coverage.

Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas are the two we know the most about in this group. They are both athletic. Gonzalez is the more consistent player and really broke out in 2013. Thomas' 2013 was a little rough due to some problems off the field. Fortunately, he stuck it out and we ended up seeing him turn in some great plays, but there were questions as to why he wasn't always on the field. It seems like someone with that ability should be on the field on almost every defensive series, yet too often he was left standing on the sidelines.

Bam Bradley and Nicholas Grigsby both walked onto Pitt's campus as big-time recruits and while they haven't set the world on fire, you could see their ability at times last season. Both have the ability to turn in big plays and Grigsby did so in fine fashion in the bowl game last season against Bowling Green. As a matter of fact, Grigsby shows exactly what I am talking about with flexibility with this group. Last season he played outside linebacker, middle linebacker and then looked so dangerous as a stand-up defensive end in that bowl game win where he terrorized the Falcons' backfield with 2.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks.  Many feel that House is looking at using him in the same spot in passing situations in the coming year.

There are certainly questions about this unit and with the issues we've seen in passing downs before, that's an area of concern as well. Overall, though, there's experience, flexibility, and talent with this group for the upcoming season.

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