Charles LeClaire, USA Today

Shakir Soto enjoying success at defensive tackle

Pitt defensive tackle Shakir Soto struggled to find a meaningful role during his first three seasons at Pitt. The year, however, Soto has drawn rave reviews from Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi for his play through six games.

OAKLAND--Since taking over at Pitt two years ago, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff have enforced a fair amount of change.

The change has come in many forms. He’s called for facility renovations and fresh team policies. Another physical change is seen with personnel; Ten percent of Pitt’s players have switched positions at some point under Narduzzi’s direction.

The likes of Dennis Briggs, Tyrique Jarrett, Brian O'Neill, Zach Poker, Ejuan Price and Elijah Zeise have changed positions in recent years. Another one, Shakir Soto, is a senior who has come into form at the right time after undergoing an offseason transition from defensive end to defensive tackle.

“We've always had success with moving guys that are big, athletic, defensive end that we just made a lot more athletic inside,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “[Soto has] been special inside, and he's been good all year to be honest with you.”

Narduzzi called Soto Pitt’s “defensive player of the week” on Monday after Narduzzi was able to digest Soto’s performance Saturday in Pitt’s come-from-behind win against Georgia Tech at Heinz Field.

Soto collected a season-high 7.5 tackles, two of which were in the offensive backfield for loss.

Narduzzi says that when his staff considers a position change, they look at three attributes:  size, athletic ability and potential. The staff’s position changes, he says, are the product of a mindset to get its best 11 players on the field.

Soto was approached by coaches in January with a proposed position switch. He accepted their challenge, putting on 45 pounds over the spring and summer and drilling with other inside linemen, nose tackle namely Tyrique Jarrett, who offered pointers.

He is now at 285 pounds after undergoing a rigorous boost in daily food intake. Soto eats two large Domino’s pizzas a day, and he wakes up in the middle of the night to eat peanut butter sandwiches.

Heading into week seven, Soto is fourth on the team in solo tackles (21). Five of those tackles have been for a loss.

“He's a guy that's transitioned well because he's physical,” Narduzzi said. “He's tough and he uses his hands well. So it didn't surprise me he's having the success he's having.”

“You think about stopping the run, D-tackles better play well,” Narduzzi added. “He's been consistent in what he's done, really.”

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