Spring Preview: The Defense

Paul Chryst says it's nearly impossible to ask someone to come in and replicate exactly what Aaron Donald did in 2013. Instead, he's looking for each position to step up in numbers.

When you look at defense, one key replacement comes to mind for Pitt in 2014. And that's a question of how Paul Chryst plans to replace Aaron Donald.

Starting with the defensive line, Chryst says it's impossible to replace a player of Donald's caliber with just one player.

Last week's NFL Combine performance by Aaron Donald was just the latest accomplishment Donald passed with authority.

Donald had 35 bench press reps, the second-most of any player at the Combine. He followed that with a 4.68 time in the forty.

All the more evidence Donald has put together for his case in becoming a first-round pick.

"It's nice to see," Chryst said. "I tell our players, 'you lived it, you were right next to this guy, make sure your eyes were open.'

"Obviously, he was a good player. He chose to be a great player, and did everything about it. He's a great competitor. He was the story of the Senior Bowl, one of they stories of the Combine. People should take notice of it."

Chryst said that while it's too tall an order to ask one player to come in and replicate every thing that Donald accomplished. He's going to be relying on more of a group effort at defensive tackle.

"We gotta have strength and numbers, positionally, collectively, across the board," Chryst said. "Guys have to step up. How Darryl (Render) progressed, how KK (Mosley-Smith) comes in, Justin Moody in his first spring, Tyrique (Jarrett) in his second spring, Laquentin (Smith). The standard line would be we have to make up for it in numbers, but your not going to replace it."

Mosley-Smith is coming off a year-long suspension, and someone he seems confident in.

"Ronald Jones and KK Smith, they did everything except playing the games," Chryst said. "Both, I think have had a good spring, a good winter; how they embraced their situation."

At defensive end, Pitt will be without Devin Cook this spring, who was sidelined with a knee injury in 2013. Bryan Murphy, David Durham, Shakir Soto and Ejuan Price all started games in 2013, and all four are back. Price missed the second half of the 2013 season with an unspecified injury, but has been cleared for practice in the spring.

As with the defensive tackles, production will be a question, but there are numbers to provide the position with enough competition for the starting spots.

Chryst will need to find a new starting middle linebacker. He does have players such as Nicholas Grigsby and Matt Galambos, who started games in 2013. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas return as starters on the outside.

It's thg one position where Chryst has already made one personnel switch, moving receiver Reggie Green to outside linebacker.

"When we were recruiting him, we liked the way he played hoops. The more you're around him, he's one of our best workers. I think he's got a chance to get a lot more work. He's got a great frame."

The biggest addition to the secondary is new position coach, who comes to Pitt from Iowa State.

Long-time starters K'Waun Williams (corner) and Jason Hendricks (safety) must be replaced. The spring will be a big opportunity for a couple players to make claim to those starting jobs.

Ray Vinopal, an honorable mention All-ACC performer, will start at one safety spot. Reggie Mitchell, who had to sit out a year after transferring from Wisconsin, may be the guy to replace Hendricks at safety. He'll be competing with Jevonte Pitts, Ryan Lewis and Terrish Webb.

At corner, Lafayette Pitts returns as a starter. Competing for the opposite spot will be Jahmahl Pardner, Trenton Coles and Titus Howard--all of whom saw significant action in 2013.

Pardner's true freshman season was cut short due to a knee injury. He made one start last year. Chryst admits that Pardner is regaining somg of his confidence, after being cautious in recovering from the knee injury.

"Jahmahl truly has regained the confidence from the knee," Chryst said. "He's been moving very well. It's fun to see a guy feeling good."

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