Panthers Add a new Defensive Twist

Pitt's offense saw something new today when it lined up on third downs early in the second spring scrimmage at Pitt's South Side Facility: a 3-4 defense. Pitt added the wrinkle to its defensive scheme last week and tested it live for the first time on Saturday.

Pittsburgh's junior-to-be linebacker Shane Murray said it was a new asset to Pitt's third-and-long defensive schemes. He said new Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett wanted to add speed personnel and better coverage with the fourth linebacker to third-and-long sets.

In the 3-4, Doug Fulmer and Greg Romeus line up as defensive ends and Mick Williams, a 6-foot-1, 290-pound redshirt junior-to-be, clogs the middle as the nose tackle. Redshirt freshman Tristan Roberts enters the scheme as the fourth linebacker, lining up on the outside. Murray pushes inside, next to All-American middle linebacker Scott McKillop, and redshirt senior-to-be Adam Gunn stays on the outside.

"It's just part of our package," Bennett said after Pitt's defense dominated a scrimmage for the second time this spring. "Tristan Roberts gives us another guy in coverage. He's fast and athletic and we wanted to try to use him a little bit more."

Murray said he has no problem moving inside for the scheme. His gap responsibilities shift to the inside, but he felt just fine in the scrimmages this week. Bennett seconded that.

"Shane is a headsy player," Bennett said. "He's got some awareness and that's why we'll use him however we can."

Gunn mentioned that the familiarity of the three amigos – he, McKillop and Murray – makes any wrinkles or changes to the defense easy to adjust to.

"We've been playing with each other for so long now that we know everything the other one does," Gunn said. "We added the 3-4 to mix it up, add a new aspect to this defense. It'll work fine."

The 6-2, 230-pounder from Kiski Area High School said Pitt ran the 3-4 a little bit last year, so the linebackers are used to it already. He also added that it will play a much larger role in the defensive game plans under Bennett.

Under former defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, Pitt ran a three-down-linemen set, but the 3-3-5 set featured five defensive backs. This spring, the usual four defensive backs stay on the field for the 3-4. The speed just changes levels up to the linebackers.

"We'll mix it in," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Depending on the team we're playing and the situation in the game, we'll throw in the three-down linemen. Not a whole lot different from last year but it will be a part of our defensive package this year."

Bennett changed the package this year by taking out nickel back Jovani Chappel and adding a fourth linebacker, but Wannstedt said it's very similar to last year's set.

"Some of our pressure stuff we weren't happy with," Wannstedt said. "A couple of the things we've added will make a difference once the season starts."

Time will tell. In the meantime, Pitt's offense is certainly having trouble with it in those long situations.

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