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Is Defensive End The Key for Pitt?

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There are many questions for Pitt, but none may be bigger than defensive end

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

If someone tells me that Pitt has concerns at quarterback or cornerback, I am not going to argue. They are razor thin at the quarterback position, but Chad Voytik does have experience and despite my own concerns about him, he played very well in the 2nd half of the Pizza Bowl last year in leading the Panthers to a victory. With Titus Howard's suspension, I know that the defensive backfield could use a few more capable bodies. The players that are there are either proven or pretty talented with Lafayette Pitts, Trenton Coles, and some very talented freshmen.

The question that concerns me the most is the defensive end position.

It isn't talked about very much, but with Ejuan Price's season ending injury at an already thin position and Aaron Donald not eating up double teams in the middle this season, Pitt needs someone to step up and the question remains: who is going to do it?  The position is filled with question marks. Let's take a look at the candidates:

Shakir Soto - The success of the position could begin and end with Soto.  As a true freshman last season, he played nicely, even if his youth showed at times. I expect him to play well and do more than hold his own.  He is the man at this position that I have the least question marks about.

David Durham - Durham did not have a strong year last year after converting to the position and stepping in full-time when Price went down with an injury mid-way through the year. He was undersized and struggled at times. We have documented that he is poised and has committed himself nicely since the end of last year, but until it is seen on the field, he will be a question mark.

Luke Maclean - The big-time state of Michigan recruit redshirted last year, but when reading up on all of the practice reports, you just don't see his name very often.  Maclean is still very young though and hopefully he is progressing nicely, but until we see or at least hear about him making some plays in training camp, I'll continue to wonder how much of a factor he will be.

Now, just like Charlie Day in "Always Sunny"....here are the "WILDCARDS" at the position:

Rori Blair - Blair's story has been well documented. He suffered a stroke after his junior year in high school. Once a high-rising recruit, Blair instead missed his senior season and then was able to play his senior year one year later. He is a complete mystery, but we have heard good things and from reports at camp, Blair seems to have bounced back nicely and has put on a good amount of weight.  His story is a nice one and we hope nothing but the best for him, but I could see him either going boom or bust.

Devin Cook - Where to begin here? The redshirt junior seemed to make a play every time he was on the field for Pitt a couple of years ago and many wondered why he was buried on the depth chart at the start of last season. He saw some action early on last season and while the fan base wanted to see more, a knee injury stopped his season short. He is starting to get into the two-deep mix and is badly needed by Pitt to step up and solidify this position on the team.

Nicholas Grigsby - This is my favorite. Maybe it was his performance in the Pizza Bowl against Bowling Green when they kept bringing on Grigsby in pass rush situations, but I want to see more of him. He's undersized and there is no doubt about that, but reports have him moving around a lot and have many speculating that he's moving full-time to defensive end from linebacker.  He definitely has the speed to make life miserable for slower offensive tackles, but can he put it together to be a consistent and every down defensive end on this team?

James Conner - Do I need to go here? He's talented. It's been documented.  We all know about it. We'll see what happens with the running back. I just don't want to see a talented running back that could have a monster year injured playing defensive end...especially in practice!

The true freshmen - Besides Blair, we don't know much about the freshmen except for their names. Hez Trahan and Shane Roy look like they can play right now, but until they get on the field and do something, it will remain to be seen. Trahan is also dealing with a minor injury right now.

Many thought that the middle of the defensive line would be a big problem with Aaron Donald gone, but KK Mosley-Smith, Justin Moody, Darryl Render, and Tyrique Jarrett seem to have a pretty nice thing going to dispel those rumors. The defensive ends are another story and until they can prove they won't be a weakness on the field, they will be under the microscope.

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