That position clearly is the most talented for Pittsburgh with a two-deep rotation that should maintain the level of play no matter who's in the game. And as far as the leadership goes, Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso mentioned five players with those qualities.
Starting tackles Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas, ends Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus and backup tackle Myles Caragein all bring something different to the table for the Panthers.
"Greg, I'm trying to get him to step up a little more,'' Gattuso said. "Jabaal is a great leader, but in a quiet kind of way. Mick, he's a fiery, emotional leader, at times, but something has to trigger it. Gus is a good, consistent leader.
"He'll be vocal in the room, and he'll take control. He talks with the young guys, but they all share leadership on the D-line. They all are willing to supply it, but it seems like none of them want it. And that's what makes them good. They're all capable. Even Myles, he leads by example. That's why they're good.''
Mustakas is an interesting character. He probably doesn't get as much publicity as the two "flashy'' ends, who already are being scouted by NFL teams, or even Williams. But Mustakas is the only guy who gets mentioned by all the others for his leadership and solid, consistent play.
Mustakas does little things to keep the guys together like organizing group dinners during an evening off or getting special wristbands made for the defensive line. It reads: Pitt D-line in 2009, it all starts with us. Every defensive lineman wears one, as does Gattuso (as well as his wife and daughter, he says) and Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.
The color is camouflage. Gattuso bought hats with the same color that read: Pitt D-line and has the player's name and number on the back. Last year, Gattuso got the group T-shirts with "Mad Dog Defense'' printed on them.
"They're an interesting group, because they've been together for so long,'' Gattuso said. "They're friends on and off the field. Mick and Gus are real tight. Mick asked me to put Gus in more alongside him in the bowl game. He likes having Gus in there, so it's great to have Gus back at full strength. Our two ends might stand out more, at least as far as stats are concerned.
"And I've always called Mick the heart of our defensive line, the spark plug. But Gus, I guess you could say he's the mortar that holds them together. The foundation of the defensive line. He was a big-time playmaker before he got hurt, and he's back now. He'll play both spots and will make some plays. He has confidence, but wants to prove himself again. I think he'll have a big year.''
Wannstedt believed that Mustakas was playing as well in training camp as he did before he had season-ending knee surgery in 2007. Recurring problems hampered him throughout last season.
"Oh, I feel 100 times better,'' Mustakas said. "Last year was a rough year, with my knee. I really wasn't fully healthy. But I feel great this year. Camp went great, and I can't wait to get out there this season. I'm ready to go. The guys who play next to me, Mick and Greg, I'm so lucky to play next to those guys.
"Two great players. My sophomore year, it probably was just me and Rashaad Duncan in the room as the two oldest players. But Coach Wannstedt and Coach Gattuso have done a great job recruiting on the D-line. This is how it's supposed to be. You take time and learn until it's your time to play.''
With leaders like Mustakas and the other D-linemen, sixth-year senior Adam Gunn and senior cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel, the Panthers have a much different approach this season.
"We definitely have a different attitude this year,'' Mustakas said. "We were more relaxed going into the opener last season, but you definitely can tell the difference this year. More people are in watching film. Even when we were supposed to be off Monday, everybody pretty much was in watching film.
"We almost got yelled at last year for not enough guys putting in the time, but that's not the case so far this year. We're preparing for this game just like any game, like it's a big game on our schedule, not the opener against a Division I-AA team. We're definitely going to be prepared for these guys.''
And that could make a huge difference for Pitt this season.
It Starts Up Front For Pitt's Defense
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