Aaron Donald, DT
Even though there are nine returning defensive starters on Pitt's roster, everything the Panthers do revolves around the play of Donald.
A unique talent, Donald shows explosiveness off the ball that has been difficult for opponents to defend. He's coming off his most productive year, where he finished with 42 tackles and 18.5 tackles for losses.
The matchup of the night is going to be an experienced Florida State offensive line against an experienced Pitt defensive line. Without question, Pitt's success on defense starts with Donald establishing a presence. If he does, it will open up room for the rest of Pitt's front seven to make plays.
Ejuan Price, DE
Price was one of Pitt's top overall players in training camp. The last time we saw him in action, he was an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, playing in a different scheme under a different coach.
Price missed 2012 due to a pectoral injury. With the 4-3 defense, he continued to practice as a linebacker as recent as the spring. When training camp opened, Price was moved to defensive end. The coaching staff has a lot of confidence in the abilities of starters David Durham and Bryan Murphy. Still, Price is listed as a co-starter with both players.
"I like playing defensive end better," Price said last week. "There is less coverage, so I can just go after the quarterback."
If that doesn't sum up why Price was moved, or what the intentions are, I don't know what does.
Anthony Gonzalez, LB
From quarterback, to H-back, to quarterback, to safety, and now linebacker, Gonzalez feels he finally has a home.
"I think so," Gonzalez added. "I feel real good here and am playing really well. I just have to keep getting better every day with my technique and the little things that go with the defense."
Gonzalez was a fourth-team safety at this point last year. He made his first career start at outside linebacker for the BBVA Compass Bowl against Ole Miss.
Hit hard by injuries late in the season, Gonzalez stepped up to help the team and this particular position. In turn, the move appears to have helped Gonzalez athletically, and from a confidence standpoint as well.
Gonzalez has remained with the first group going back to the tail end of last season. If he can use his athleticism to give this linebacker unit a boost--it will give an already experienced defense another playmaker.
It was redshirt freshman Mike Caprara working with the first team to start camp. Caprara has shown a good understanding at the position, and at middle linebacker where he worked with the first-team in spring ball.
It was Bradley who started to take first-team reps into the second week of camp. He held on to those reps, and is listed as the starter heading into Monday night's game.
He appears to be a cross between Caprara and Thomas--thorough understanding of the defense on par with Caprara, more than Thomas--a main reason for Thomas' demotion in the first place. Similar athleticism to Thomas, more so than Caprara.
"With Bam, when he truly gets comfortable, he can really go," head coach Paul Chryst said. "When he was unsure about his responsibility, he was different than when he knew it and could turn it loose a little bit more. Bam is still young, he's a [redshirt] freshman, but he started camp well and then progressed that way through camp."
MATT HOUSE, DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR
House was promoted from defensive backs coach to coordinator in February. It makes Pitt's fourth defensive coordinator in a many seasons.
Familiarity with personnel is a plus for House coming in. Being a first-time coordinator is a bit of an unknown. Dave Huxtable--who left Pitt in December to head to N.C. State in the same capacity--guided Pitt to a No. 17 national ranking with 330.54 yards allowed per game. With much of the same personnel in place, there's no reason Pitt can't repeat that feat.
What will be interesting to see, is if there are more personnel used, and how many different packages we'll see based on the versatility of some others in backup roles.