Pitt's spring football practices are moving right along and the team is already 1/3 of the way through them. There hasn't been a ton of news out of these yet, but one thing that's stuck out to me in the quotes provided afterwards is that the defensive line is still very much a work in progress.
Defensive line coach Tom Sims sees the guys up front on a regular basis. His assessment? They've got work to do.
"We have to get more consistent. We saw flashes of being a pretty solid group but then other times, not as much up to the standard that we expect. We're working hard and trying to get better every day."
"Up and down. Sometimes we looked good, other times we didn't look good. You strive to be consistent. That'll be our focus going in into this week."
And without a standout on the line, it's sort of a lead-by-committee sort of deal:
"I expect every man to lead this group. I expect us to establish a standard and then work to surpass that standard every day. Some days we do and some days we don't. We have to get it to a point where we do it every day."
To say that it's important that the defensive line get better would be a gross understatement. I won't go so far as to pin all of the secondary's woes on the lack of pressure from the defensive line, but you can probably attribute a good chunk of it to that. No secondary, no matter how talented, can cover wide receivers for long stretches of time if the opposing quarterback isn't pressured.
Pressure from the line, of course, was an issue all year. The Panthers had a measly 19 sacks all year, led by Rori Blair's five (no one else had more than three). That ranked the team 101st in Division I last year, firmly near the bottom. Improving that could go a long way to helping take some pressure off of the defensive backs.
The good news is that the Panthers should be in slightly better shape there this season if only by default. Not only do they have a defensive coach running the ship now placing a little more emphasis on that side of the ball (a few players like Nic Grigsby and Avonte Maddox, for example, have commented about that), but there isn't the amount of turnover among starters that there was last year. Last season, the team replaced three starters on the defensive line, including NFL Draft first-round pick Aaron Donald.
This year, the Panthers really only lose one full-time starter, David Durham, and bring back much of the unit. That should make the transition from last season to this one go much smoother. And when you factor in that everyone gets a year older, it's hard to imagine the line being worse than the 2014 unit.
Only place to go is up, really.