Pittsburgh Defensive PersonnelDE: Brandon Lindsey – Lindsey is Pitt's best defensive player, period. That might not equate much to a team that is allowing over 400 yards a game, but the coaches enjoy having Lindsey; a player they can do a lot with. Lindsey led the Panthers with sacks last year—that was as a rush end opposite of Big East Defensive Player of the Year Jabaal Sheard. He took advantage of the double-teams drawn against Sheard. With Sheard now playing with the Cleveland Browns, Lindsey is the guy teams focus on putting a double-team on.
He started the season at the ‘Panther' position—the name that has been given to Pitt's primary rusher at outside linebacker. The last two games, he's been moved to start at defensive end. He will still play both positions in certain packages. Still, despite playing in a down position and standing up sometimes, Lindsey is tied for the team lead with two sacks. He's also bolstering his NFL potential; proving that he can play as an end in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, as well as the standing end/linebacker.
NT: Myles Caragein – Myles Caragein provides a lot of experience and leadership in the Pitt huddle, but doesn't provide that same explosive gear that the defensive ends around him do. With a three-man front, you'd expect to see the nose tackle draw double teams or at least be a threat off the ball. We haven't seen that yet from Caragein this season. He is one of Pitt's most experienced players, with 40 career games played including 16 starts.
DE: Chas Alecxih – While Caragein has the easier transition going from defensive tackle to a nose (and in some cases, Caragein did line up at the nose in the 4-3), Alecxih has the tougher challenge of moving out to defensive end. A former walk-on, Alecxih has quickly worked his way up the chart. He provides similar explosiveness off the edge like Donald, but has more of the ideal frame for it, at 6-5. Alecxih can also do other things—like the 47-yard interception return he had against Buffalo. Alecxih is the defensive lineman who is just as much of a threat in stopping the run as he is rushing the passer. He's an ideal defensive end in the 3-4—an even better fit from what he was before.
OLB (Spur): Todd Thomas – This past week, it was redshirt freshman Todd Thomas getting the start at the Spur—the outside linebacker position that is a hybrid safety/linebacker position. Of the two outside linebacker positions, this one relies more on pass coverage situations. Both he and senior Greg Williams—who started the first two games at Spur—were beaten badly for Iowa touchdown passes, in the Hawkeyes' come-from-behind victory. There's no question if Notre Dame passes the ball a lot—or at least intends to come out throwing—they're going to go after Pitt's linebackers from the start. The linebackers have struggled with their coverage on underneath routes. Since this Spur position has an extra emphasis in pass coverage, we haven't seen anyone step forward yet and do it.
WILL: Tristan Roberts – Similar to the Spur, we could also see sophomore Shane Gordon get the call. He started the first two games, but at Iowa, Tristan Roberts got the call. Gordon saw the field sporadically, which makes us wonder if the coaches have concerns about his understanding of the schemes. They like his athleticism. In fact, of the three inside linebackers, Gordon is by far the most athletic. His downfall is that he lacks the experience the other two linebackers possess, and he hasn't made the type of plays that Pitt needs from its linebackers—either in the passing game or in run support. Though Roberts—a fifth-year senior—got the start, the Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg picked him apart as well. The linebackers have had some rough outings this season; none rougher than this past Saturday at Iowa.
SAM: Max Gruder – Gruder is Pitt's most experienced linebacker, and is a solid leader in the defensive huddle. Much like the others, he's had some trouble adjusting to some of the pass coverages—particularly the underneath routes—in this new defensive scheme.
OLB (Panther): Ejuan Price – Price is the true freshman who actually signed with Ohio State. The four-star prospect decided in June—just a couple days before Pitt began summer school and its conditioning program for all the freshmen—that he would request to get out of his scholarship, and stay at home and go to Pitt. Ohio State signed off on it, and he was allowed to play immediately. Price has made the last two starts at Panther.
Even though the position was designed with Lindsey in mind, the coaching staff feels they can still get pressure from Lindsey from a down lineman spot. The move was made because they wanted to get Price on the field that badly. Judging by how the other linebacker spots haven't performed up to par, you can see why. Price can also play the Spur at times. Through three games, you can make the argument that Price has been Pitt's most consistent linebacker. He's still learning the system, but does not look lost when he's out there.
CB: K'Waun Williams – Williams was labeled the team's No. 1 corner back in the spring. Though he took the team by surprise as a true freshman, working his way onto the field and playing well, Williams has been somewhat of a disappointment. Moreso than anything, he's having trouble adjusting to the schemes. One problem that's still not clear is how far the corners are going to play off the receivers—this will be something as a Notre Dame fan, you'll want to watch for—again, just for the fact of how much the Irish love to throw the ball. In the first game, there was some miscommunication between the players and coaches as to how far off the corners were supposed to play.
Williams came out and took the blame himself, saying it was just that—a misunderstanding. We're still seeing it, and we saw it on Saturday as James Vandenberg found receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley for a pair of fourth quarter scores. Not to take anything away from Martin-Manley's career day, the Pitt corners didn't exactly challenge him.
CB: Antwuan Reed – When thinking of corners, take this into consideration of what makes a good corner a great one. Antwuan Reed—with Pitt up 24-10 in the third quarter—came up to break up a pass. Instead of following the receiver to the sideline, he read the quarterback's eyes and positioned himself to make a play. It was the right call—he broke up the play, but the problem was that he didn't secure the interception. If he had done that, he had nothing but 60 yards of green grass in front of him. Pitt would have gone up 31-10. That play sums up Reed's career at Pitt. He's been in position to make good plays, but he hasn't made any great ones. He's not extremely fast, and he's not known as a ballhawk, but he's solid enough to play corner; nothing else.
S:Jarred Holley – Holley is the quarterback of the Pitt secondary; possibly the Pitt defense. Todd Graham is putting a lot of emphasis on forcing turnovers. Finally, they got their second one of the season last week when Holley picked off a Vandenberg pass and returned it 26 yards. It didn't set up a score, but gave the Pitt defense enough confidence to hold Iowa on the next series, which was answered by Pitt's first touchdown of the game.
Holley is the voice of the secondary. He's not one of those hard-hitting safeties. He is a ballhawk, and has done a pretty good job of his career reading the quarterback's eyes, and positioning himself to a point where there's no one else around him. His first pick of the season on Saturday came in similar fashion.
S:Jason Hendricks – Another player who the coaches are hoping will turn the corner at some point. Hendricks played in a lot of games last season as a redshirt freshman. He's struggled in one-on-one coverage this season. That could come into play if Notre Dame likes to throw to its tight end a lot. That's what Maine did, as tight end Derek Buttles caught seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown—which came with one-on-one coverage from Hendricks.